Milan were the last team to win a second European Clubs Champions' Cup consecutively
It is a dream still. Winning the Champions League twice in a row, no team has ever done it before. We thought Luis Enrique's Barça might be the first to do so, as they were dominating La Liga and Europe this year again. Yet, an obstacle named Atlético decided otherwise. The Blaugranas won't be able to fulfill this fantasy that has been going on for over 20 years now (23 to be specific), a performance that seems undoable at this stage. Surely, if we take the Europa League, it is a different story. Sevilla, still in the race for a third consecutive title, doesn't have that kind of problems. But the Champions League is another galaxy, and last night was proof. No matter how superior you're supposed to be, there is always an unknown, some imponderables in the air that you can't control. Football has evolved, Europe has evolved and the Champions League as well. So much that since Van Basten's AC Milan, no one ever could win twice in a row. Here is a reminder of what being on top of European football. Let's go back 23 years ago, and even more.
1989-90: the time when Milan stayed on the European throne
As stated above, the dawn of 1990's football was another time, when shorts were shorter and style less of a preocupation when entering the pitch. A completely different experience for any football fan, and probably an incomparable one as well. Different era, different format, and different name for the competition. At the time, the 'C1' was called European Clubs Champions' Cup, a name that now seems to have been completely overshadowed by current Champions League. Still, winning it was nothing short of a great performance, even though there were fewer games than now.
Indeed, the competition was organised as one final phase, without a previous group stage. Teams could play just two games and get knocked out of the party. Other specificity of that format: only the clubs champions in their country could qualify for the Clubs Champions' Cup, which means that there was only one club by country and fewer chances to participate. Being in this competition meant shining on the national stage as well. The only exception was for the league of the winner of the previous edition, just like it was the case for AC Milan and Italy, as Arrigo Sacchi's team were the defending champion, alongside Inter who were Italian Champions in 1989, Milan ending the Serie A at the 3rd place only. To achieve their third European title, Sacchi's boys had beaten Bulgarians of Vitosha (7-2 on aggragate), Red Star Belgrade (2-2 o.a, 4-2 on penalties), Werder Bremen (1-0 o.a), Real Madrid (6-1 o.a) and Steaua in the final, 4-0, thanks to doubles from Dutch legends Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten. The legend was on track.
Sacchi's masterpiece with the Rossoneri
In the summer of 1989, AC Milan were considered rightfully as the best team in Europe. Just going through the names, we can today have a small feel of what it was to see this squad evolve: Galli, Costacurta, Maldini, Baresi, Tassotti, Gullit, Rijkaard, Ancelotti, Donadoni, Van Basten... Players among the best in Europe, and in the World. Alongside 1989 Ballon d'Or Marco van Basten, Milan won the UEFA Super Cup and the Clubs' World Cup in 1989, a stunning performance that was far from being over.
Defending champions of this ECC (European Clubs Champions' Cup) didn't have an easy run towards back-to-back title. After quietly dispose of Finland's champions Helsinki (4-0, 1-0), Milan had to face an old acquaintance, Real Madrid. That time, the draw was much tighter. But Sacchi's men still manage to beat the Merengues (led by Emilio Butragueño and Welsh coach John Toshack), thanks to a home win 2-0 and despite the second leg loss at the Bernabéu (0-1). On to the quarter-finals.
A few years after the Heysel tragedy, another Italian giant was coming to the stadium, this time not in final but in quarter-finals, to defy the local club of KV Mechelen. Another hard battle of 180 minutes that led to extra-time, as the score was still 0-0 at the end of the second leg. Van Basten (again) and Marco Simone forced fate and sent Milan into the semis, against Bayern Munich. The clash between those two top European clubs didn't disappoint. Intensity, uncertainty, a huge tactical fight that Sacchi's ended up winning, in the extra-time once again. The win 1-0 at San Siro in the first leg wasn't enough, and the German leveled the score on aggregate in the second leg in the Olympic Stadium of Munich (1-0). In the extra-time, it was a different story and Bergonovo gave Milan the crucial goal away, worth double, that would eventually lead Milan to another final, despite McInally's goal for Munich (2-1, 2-2 o.a, Milan wins on away goals). Just a few step away from making the double.
23rd of May 1990: the Dutch connection silences the Portuguese eagle
Benfica's moment of glory corresponds still to this day to Eusebio's presence, and 2 European titles in 1961 and 1962. But throughout their history, the Portuguese have always been tough opponents to beat. 1989-90's team was no exception. Led by Sven-Goran Eriksson, the Lisbon side had taken on Derry City FC, Budapest Honved, Dniepropetrovsk and Olympique de Marseille to get to Vienna. Nothing to impressive, but still a great run for the Portuguese champions, especially two years after their final lost against PSV in 1988 (0-0, 5-6 on penalties).
Milan's back 3 had to stay focused against Benfica's energetic game but they hold on. 0-0 at half-time and a pretty balance duel overall. Valdo, Pacheco and Magnusson tried their best to get a goal but it wasn't enough and as it oftened happend back then, one of Milan's great stars punished the opponent and offered the win. In this specific case, it was Frank Rijkaard, who had just joined the year before. Nothing more was scored and Milan could enjoy another sip of European greatness. They were the last ones to make this incredible back-to-back. But not the only ones.
They also did it:
Real Madrid (1955-56, 1956-57, 1957-58, 1958-59, 1959-60)
Benfica (1960-61, 1961-62)
Internazionale (1963-64, 1964-65)
Ajax Amsterdam (1970-71, 1971-72, 1972-73, with Johan Cruyff)
Bayern Munich (1973-74, 1974-75, 1975-76)
Liverpool (1976-77, 1977-78)
Nottingham Forest (1978-79, 1979-80)
Another era, another football, but still a tremendous achievement that still hasn't found its author in 21st century's football. It won't be FC Barcelona, even though it might still be in the future, as the Blaugranas dominated Europe since 2006 and their 2nd title, with three more in 2009, 2011 and 2015. Probably the best candidate nowadays.