Everyone’s darlings, Bayern Munich, became the first German team to win the three main prizes they competed for in a single season: the UEFA Champions League, the Bundesliga and the DFB Pokal. They are the latest team to acquire the tag “invincible”.
Surprisingly, only seven teams have managed to win a comparable trio of competitions, although many have gone close. Some of this select group have been built around outstanding individuals, such as Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Ajax’s Johan Cruyff, while others – like Celtic in 1967 – were founded on the team ethic. Inevitable comparisons will be made about “who’s the greatest?”, but it’s an impossible exercise. A team can only beat the opposition in front of it and in all cases, the treble winners have done just that.
Jock Stein’s team actually won five cups in 1966-67: the European Cup; the Scottish League; the Scottish League Cup; the Scottish FA Cup; and the Glasgow Cup. Critics will look at Scotland today and say, “so what?”, but in 1967, the best Scotland had to offer was every bit as competitive as south of the border. Celtic in 1967, including the excellent Jimmy Johnstone, beat Inter Milan, the dark princes of catenaccio, to become the first British side to win the European Cup. Back at home, Celtic lost just twice in 34 league games and beat Aberdeen 2-0 in the Scottish Cup at Hampden Park in front of 126,000 people. For good measure, they disposed of Rangers in the Scottish League Cup final. Some might say that in the European Cup, they had an easy run to the final, beating Zurich, Nantes, Vojvodinia and Dukla Prague, but Inter Milan, coached by the godfather of defensive football, Helenio Herrera, were a tough nut to crack. Sandro Mazzola gave Inter the lead after seven minutes from the penalty spot. Tommy Gemmell levelled just after the hour mark and six minutes from the end, Steve Chalmers scored the winner. Legend will tell you that Celtic fans are still arriving back from Lisbon after celebrating this unlikely triumph.
Ajax Amsterdam 1972
Ajax provided the perfect antidote to catenaccio, “total football” – a fluid system that called on any member of the team to play anywhere at any time during the game. An emerging Ajax reached the final of the European Cup in 1969 and were cruelly exposed by AC Milan, but a year later, Ajax’s rivals, Feyenoord, won the competition. In 1971, Johan Cruyff and his team-mates won the cup and a year later, they retained it by beating Inter Milan. Dutch football was in the ascendancy and Cruyff was becoming Europe’s – if not the world’s – top player. Ajax scored 104 and conceded 20 goals in 34 Dutch league games, and Cruyff scored a quarter of them. On May 11 1972, they made it “Double Dutch” as they won the KNVB Cup, beating Den Haag in Rotterdam. Twenty days later, they returned to the Dutch port to beat Inter Milan 2-0, both goals scored by the irrepressible Cruyff. On the way to winning the competition for the second time, Ajax beat Dynamo Dresden, Marseille, Arsenal and Benfica. There was a wonderful liberated feel about the way Ajax played, in many ways, they were highly representative of the era itself, all long-haired, bead-wearing and trendily-dressed. If ever a football team was “cool”, it was Ajax.
PSV Eindhoven 1988
PSV Eindhoven, the team linked to electronic giant Philips, became Holland’s top side as Ajax declined. They were not as glamorous as the Amsterdamers, and they relied a lot on the Danish national side that threatened to steal the show at the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico. Four of that squad – Ivan Nielsen, Jan Heintze, Soren Lerby and Frank Arnesen – were in the PSV team that reached the European Cup final. PSV beat Benfica on penalties in the final after a goalless draw. Also in the team was Ronald Koeman and Wim Kieft. They comfortably won the Dutch league, finishing nine points ahead of Ajax. And they beat Roda JC in the KNVB final.
Manchester United 1999
There have been fewer more dramatic European finals than United’s 2-1 win over Bayern Munich, with two goals in a matter of seconds – from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunar Solksjaer – breaking the hearts of Bayern. United’s team, including the home-grown talent of David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, the Neville brothers and of course, the evergreen Ryan Giggs, was one of the most successful in the history of the British game. They finished one point ahead of reigning Premier champions Arsenal, thanks to a 20-game unbeaten run to the end of the campaign, and beat Newcastle United in the FA Cup final. In Europe, they beat Juventus and Inter Milan and had earlier played Bayern and Barcelona in the group stages. If ever anyone had it hard on the way to the final, it was United.
You would be forgiven for believing that Barcelona have won everything for the past few years, but they’ve only achieved the treble once – in 2008-09. They won 27 of their 38 goals in La Liga, scoring 107 goals in the process. In the Copa Del Rey, they thrashed Atletico Madrid 4-1 in the final. Meanwhile, in Europe, they beat Manchester United 2-0 in Rome with goals from Samuel Eto’o and the rising talent of Lionel Messi.
Inter Milan 2010
Jose Mourinho picks up prizes wherever he manages, and in his two-year stint with Inter, he won everything in his second season. Inter won Serie A in his first season by a street mile, but in 2009-10, they were run close by Roma, who finished just two points behind. Inter also beat Roma in the Coppa Italia, with Diego Milito netting the only goal. The Argentine striker was the matchwinner in the Champions League final, scoring both goals as Inter beat Bayern Munich 2-0. It provided Mourinho with the perfect farewell.
Bayern Munich 2013
Bayern have been an emerging force for the past few years – beaten Champions League finalists in 2010 and 2012, so their dominance of European football in 2012-13 was no great surprise. Only Bayer Leverkusen beat them this season, 1-2 at the Allianz Arena. They finished a massive 25 points ahead of second-placed Dortmund and scored 98 goals. VFB Stuttgart were beaten 3-2 in the DFB Pokal final. The Champions League saw some stunning performances – a double over both Juventus and Barcelona, and a memorable display in London as they put Arsenal in their place. This Bayern side has flair – Robben and Ribery – as well as the traditional German qualities of power and strength in Schweinsteiger. The worry for Europe is that the team will undoubtedly be stronger next season, with the added impetus of one of the world’s top coaches in Pep Guardiola.