Champions League final

The Treble club

May 21, 2010
By Tom Adams
(Archive)

Etching a club's name onto the European Cup always guarantees immortality for the group of players involved, but on Saturday, both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan have added incentive to emerge victorious at the Bernabeu.

Manchester United proudly display their trophies
GettyImagesManchester United proudly display their trophies

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Both clubs are champions of their respective countries and have captured their primary domestic cups, meaning either Italy or Germany will be celebrating its first ever Treble winners come Saturday, as Inter or Bayern become the sixth European club to have secured a Holy Trinity.

The Treble club is an exclusive one. So apologies to Liverpool fans, but we do not count the class of 2001 in this list of the few clubs that enjoyed a perfect season on three or more fronts.

1. Celtic, 1967 - the Lisbon Lions

Billy McNeill
GettyImagesBilly McNeill prepares to lift the European Cup in 1967

With a local squad famously all recruited from within 30 miles of Glasgow, Celtic set the benchmark for British clubs when securing a historic Quadruple with triumphs in the Scottish League, European Cup, Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup. Under legendary manager Jock Stein, and with a team that included the likes of inspirational captain Billy McNeill and gifted winger Jimmy 'Jinky' Johnstone, Celtic enjoyed domestic dominance over rivals Rangers. But it was their victory in Lisbon that was the defining moment of a memorable year.

Facing an Inter Milan side that under Helenio Herrera, the godfather of catenaccio, had won the European Cup in both 1964 and 1965, Celtic met defensive resolve with attacking intent. Though they went 1-0 down to a penalty from Sandro Mazzola, Celtic took the game to an unadventurous Inter and prevailed thanks to goals from Tommy Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers. Having countered the Italians' pragmatism, Stein said: "There is not a prouder man on God's Earth than me at this moment. Winning was important, but it was the way that we won that has filled me with satisfaction. We did it by playing football; pure, beautiful, inventive football. There was not a negative thought in our heads."

What happened next? Celtic were unable to defend the trophy the following season when losing to Dynamo Kiev in the first round, and though they returned to the final in 1970, they lost to Feyenoord. In Scotland, they went on to win nine league titles in a row until 1974, as well as numerous cup victories.

2. Ajax, 1972 - a Total success

Johan Cruyff
GettyImagesJohan Cruyff is Ajax's greatest ever player

Only a second-placed league finish behind Feyenoord had prevented Ajax from claiming the Treble the previous year, and while iconic coach Rinus Michels departed in the summer, to be replaced by Stefan Kovacs, the legacy of the Dutchman's 'Total Football' philosophy lived on in a mesmerising campaign. Inspired by the untouchable Johan Cruyff, Ajax scored 104 goals in 34 league games, conceding only 20 and losing just one match, before defeating Den Haag 3-2 in the final of the Dutch Cup on May 11. Attention then turned to May 31, and a meeting with those committed exponents of the defensive game, Inter Milan.

Ajax had already seen off Dynamo Dresden, Marseille, Arsenal and Benfica to reach the final at Feyenoord's De Kuip stadium, and only 90 minutes separated the Amsterdam club from immortality. For 46 of those, Inter's asphyxiation of the game had served to frustrate Ajax, but with superior exploitation of space and clever movement built into their DNA, they could not be denied and Cruyff struck twice to secure a well-deserved victory. Remarkably, Kovacs had almost lost his job in April after an unconvincing semi-final win over Benfica. "The results show that Kovacs was not wrong," Cruyff said, in a wonderful piece of understatement.

What happened next? Ajax secured their third successive European Cup the following season when beating Juventus 1-0 in Belgrade, but Cruyff subsequently joined Barcelona. Though Ajax remained a formidable force in domestic football, they would have to wait until 1995, and a 1-0 victory over AC Milan, before being crowned champions of Europe once more.

3. PSV Eindhoven, 1988 - All hail Hiddink

Guus Hiddink
GettyImagesGuus Hiddink rallies his troops prior to extra time

Following a rather ordinary playing career, a certain Guus Hiddink enjoyed a quite remarkable first full season in management as he secured the Eredivisie title along with the Dutch Cup and European Cup, despite selling Ruud Gullit to AC Milan in the summer of 1987. With players of the calibre of Ronald Koeman, Soren Lerby and Eric Gerets remaining, PSV won the title by a clear nine points from Ajax, scoring 117 goals in the process. The Dutch Cup final in Tilburg on May 12 was to be settled after extra time, a goal from Lerby giving PSV a 3-2 win over Roda, and supporters were subjected to another nervy night two weeks later in Stuttgart's Neckarstadion.

Bordeaux and Real Madrid had been narrowly defeated on the away goals rule in the previous two rounds, and PSV were again in cagey form in a largely uninspired 90 minutes plus extra time against Benfica. The game went to penalties and goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen would emerge as the hero, saving from Antonio Veloso's spot-kick in sudden death to hand the trophy to PSV. Van Breukelen would go on to win Euro '88 with Netherlands, commenting: "It was a season that could not have been more perfect and you can only dream about achieving so much in such a short space of time. To collect so many major medals in six weeks was incredible for me."

What happened next? PSV won the domestic Double the following season but their European Cup challenge was ended by Real Madrid at the quarter-final stage. European success has eluded them since, although Hiddink returned to the club and led PSV to the semi-finals in 2005.

4. Manchester United, 1999 - the late show

Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrate their success
GettyImagesTeddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrate their success

"Football, eh? Bloody hell!" was a yet-to-be-knighted Alex Ferguson's reaction to an unforgettable season that ended in one of the most dramatic climaxes in the history of football. The first of ten days that would prove a defining period in United's history came on May 16 when they came from behind to defeat Tottenham 2-1 and take the Premier League title following a bitter battle with Arsenal. Having also defeated the Gunners in a thrilling FA Cup semi-final replay, courtesy of a Ryan Giggs wonder goal, strikes from Teddy Sheringham and Paul Scholes saw them beat Newcastle at Wembley to add a second trophy on May 22.

United were deprived of both Scholes and captain Roy Keane for the Champions League final against Bayern Munich due to suspension though, and fell behind against Bayern Munich in Barcelona when Mario Basler scored after only six minutes. But on what would have been Sir Matt Busby's 90th birthday, United had luck on their side and after Bayern twice hit the woodwork, Ferguson's side orchestrated a remarkable comeback in injury time when Sheringham and then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wrote their names into club folklore. Camp Nou was shaken to its very foundations and for once, Ferguson was almost lost for words. Not so his opposite number, Ottmar Hitzfeld: "It could take days, even weeks to recover from such a blow. Losing in such a way is very tragic. It is inconceivable what has happened tonight."

What happened next? United maintained their domestic dominance, despite sporadic flourishes from Arsenal and the emergence of Chelsea under Roman Abramovich, but European success would prove elusive until John Terry's slip on the Moscow turf allowed Ferguson to claim a second Champions League trophy in 2008. The knight of the realm remains in place, though Solskjaer and Sheringham have since retired.

5. Barcelona, 2009 - Guard of honour

Lionel Messi
GettyImagesLionel Messi watches his header float past Edwin van der Sar

In his first 18 months as a coach, Pep Guardiola set a benchmark that may never be matched. A surprise choice to replace Frank Rijkaard in the summer of 2008, Guardiola quickly galvanised a Barca side garnished with the genius of Lionel Messi, securing the 2008-09 Primera Liga title by nine points and scoring 105 goals. A 4-1 win over Athletic Bilbao delivered the Copa del Rey and Barcelona headed to a Champions League final against Manchester United in Rome hoping to be named European champions for the third time in their history.

United were reigning champions, but Barca outclassed and outpassed Sir Alex Ferguson's side, with midfield magicians Xavi and Andres Iniesta in mesmeric form. Samuel Eto'o, soon to depart for Inter, scored the first goal, while Messi secured the victory with a placed header from a Xavi pass. Their semi-final win over Chelsea may have been mired in controversy thanks to the suspect refereeing of Tom Henning Ovrebo, but victory in the final was nothing other than fully deserved. Guardiola joked: "I'm leaving, I'm leaving tomorrow, right away. I can't do anything else. I'm delirious. We are not the best team in Barcelona's history. But we have played the best season in history."

What happened next? Guardiola didn't leave, and Barcelona's annus mirabilis continued. Athletic Bilbao were beaten in the Spanish Super Cup, Shakhtar Donetsk defeated in the European Super Cup and Estudiantes had no answer in the final of the Club World Cup. The first ever Sextuple had been achieved, and while Barca were knocked out of the Copa del Rey and Champions League in 2010, they beat Real Madrid to the title when amassing a record 99 points.