Ajax, Barca, Bayern among Europe’s great treble winners

BAYERN MUNICH’s 2019-20 side joined the illustrious list of teams that have won the treble of domestic league and cup and Champions League.

The Bavarians’ success was remarkable given they changed their coach earlier in the campaign, appointing Hans-Dieter Flick as head coach. Flick had been the number two at Bayern and had filled similar roles with RB Salzburg and the German national team. Prior to that, he was coach of Hoffenheim in the regional league. While Flick inherited a team, he rekindled the fire at Bayern and won three major prizes. Bayern Munich joined eight previous winners of the “treble”:

Bayern Munich 2020

IT should be noted that Bayern Munich had won the previous seven Bundesligas when they clinched the title so there was already strong momentum at the club. Bayern started 2019-20 a little out-of-sorts and after a 5-1 defeat in Frankfurt, coach Niko Kovač was sacked. Hans-Dieter Flick took over, initially on an interim basis, and Bayern transformed their season. The CV-19 pandemic disrupted football but by the time the lockdown came into effect, Bayern were top of the table and had made their mark in Europe, including a stunning 7-2 win at Tottenham. Goals were not a problem for Bayer, especially with Polish forward Robert Lewandowski in the form of his life. After lockdown, Bayern won all nine of their league games, averaging three goals per game. In the DFB Pokal, they beat Bayer Leverkusen in the final 4-2. Meanwhile, their UEFA Champions League campaign saw them win every single game, scoring 24 goals in six group games and then beating Chelsea 7-1 on aggregate in the round of 16. The quarter-final with Barcelona resulted in a phenomenal and seismic 8-2 victory against one of the favourites. After Lyon were comfortably beaten in the semi-final, Bayern’s 1-0 win in the final against PSG confirmed their status as Europe’s best team in 2020.
Games played: 51 (Lge, Cup, Europe) – win percentage 84.31%
Team: Manuel Neuer, Niklas Süle, Benjamin Pavard, Javi Martinez, Jérôme Boateng, Alphonso Davies, Lucas Hernandez, David Alaba, Thiago, Philippe Coutinho, Ivan Perišić, Leon Goretza, Serge Gnabry, Corentin Tolisso, Thomas Müller, Kingsley Coman, Joshua Kimmich, Robert Lewandowski.

And here’s the others…

Celtic 1967

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.
Games played: 49 (Lge, Cup, Europe) – win percentage 77.55%
Team: Ronnie Simpson, Jim Craig, Tommy Gemmell, Bobby Murdoch, Billy McNeill, John Clark, Jimmy Johnstone, Willie Wallace, Steve Chalmers, Bertie Auld, Bobby Lennox

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. Games played: 48 – win percentage 87.5%
Team: Heinz Stuy, Wim Suurbier, Barry Hulshoff, Horst Blankenburg, Ruud Krol, Johan Neeskens, Arie Haan, Gerrie Muehren, Sjaak Swart, Johan Cruyff, Piet Keizer

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.
Games played: 49 – win percentage 73.47%
Team: Hans van Breukelen, Eric Gerets, Ivan Nielsen, Ronald Koeman, Jan Heintze, Søren Lerby, Berry van Aerle, Gerald Vanenburg, Edward Linskens, Wim Kreft, Hans Gillhaus, Willy van de Kerkhof, Anton Janssen

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.
Games played: 59 – win percentage 57.63%
Team: Peter Schmeichel, Gary Neville, Denis Irwin, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham, Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville, Jesper Blomqvist, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Dwight Yorke, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, Henning Berg, Jaap Stam

Barcelona 2009

You would be forgiven for believing that Barcelona have won everything for the past few years, but they’ve only achieved the treble twice – in 2008-09 and 2014-15. 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. Games played: 62 – win percentage 67.74%
Team: Victor Valdés, Gerard Piqué, Yaya Touré, Carles Puyol, Sergio Busquets, Sylvinho, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry, Rafael Márquez, Dani Alves, Éric Abidal, Seydou Keita, Bojan

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.
Games played: 56 – win percentage 66.07%
Team: Júlio César, Maicon, Lúcio, Walter Samuel, Christian Chivu, Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso, Wesley Sneijder, Samiel Eto’o, Diego Milito, Goran Pandev, Dejan Stanković, Thiago Motta, Suleyman Muntari, Mario Balotelli

Bayern Munich 2013

Bayern had 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 had flair – Robben and Ribery – as well as the traditional German qualities of power and strength in Schweinsteiger.
Games played: 53 – win percentage 84.91% 
Team: Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Jérôme Boateng, Dante, David Alaba, Javi Martinez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arjen Robben, Thomas Müller, Franck Ribéry, Mario Mandžukić,  Mario Gómez

Barcelona 2015

With a spectacular forward line that included Lionel Messi, Neymar and new signing Luis Suárez, who scored 122 goals between them in all competitions, Barcelona were a fearsome attacking force in 2014-15. They were pushed all the way by rivals Real Madrid in La Liga, but finished two points clear at the top. In the Copa Del Rey, they beat Athletic Bilbao 3-1. In Europe, they disposed of Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich in the knockout stages before meeting Juventus in the final. In Berlin, Barca won 3-1, thanks to two goals in the last 20 minutes.
Games played: 60 – win percentage 83.33%  Team: Marc-André ter Stegen, Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Ivan Rakitić, Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, Neymar, Xavi, Rafinha, Pedro.

Other clubs have won a European prize and completed the double at home: IFK Göteborg (1982), Porto (2003 and 2011), Galatasaray (2000) and CSKA Moscow (2005).

So, according to our data, Ajax 1972, with a win rate of 87.5% were the most impressive champions!

The drama of Italian football

ITALY are out of the World Cup and won’t be in the finals for the second consecutive competition. In this age of 32-team formats, it does seem very hard not to qualify, so Italy’s failure is all the more humbling for one of the homes of football. One of Europe’s top five football countries-  and four times World champions – have come up short once more, losing in dramatic circumstances to North Macedonia.

England know all about the pain of failing to qualify, but there are not too many around who remember the period between 1970 and 1982 when the three lions were more like three blind mice. When England were beaten 3-2 by West Germany in the quarter final of the Mexico World Cup in June 1970, they had to wait until 1982 for their next World Cup tie. 

The intervening period saw careers rise and fall, players like Kevin Keegan, Mick Channon, Martin Chivers, Trevor Brooking and Roy McFarland and Colin Todd. A whole generation of England internationals was deprived of the chance to play in football’s greatest boy scout jamboree when they were at their peak.

A World Cup without Italy is almost unthinkable, especially as they are the reigning European champions. But it’s not the first time that the winners of the Euros have fallen in the qualifying stages of the World Cup: Czechoslavakia (1978), Denmark (1994) and Greece (2006) have all gone missing after winning the continental prize two years earlier. In the reverse situation (World Cup winners attempting to make the cut for Europe), Italy in 1984 were the only champions (1982) who lost their momentum. 

Italy’s defeat in the play-off was certainly unexpected, but their decline has been a slow burner and hasn’t been without its high points. Any other nation would be delighted with their record in the 21st century: one World Cup win (2006) and one European Championship success (2020), along with two Euro finals (2000 and 2012).

And while two successive blanks in the current World Cup format looks dreadful, other major nations have missed out on two consecutive finals, including Spain (1970 and 1974), Netherlands (1982 and 1986), France (1990 and 1994) and Portugal (1990, 1994 and 1998).

Doubtless, the post-mortem will go on for some time in Italy, the media are quite unforgiving and the future of coach Roberto Mancini has to be in some doubt. Despite votes for confidence for Mancini from the likes of Giorgio Chiellini, the 37 year-old central defender, and the president of the Italian Football Federation, Gabriela Gravina, the press have already lined-up possible replacements. World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro, Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti and Marcello Lippi have all been listed. 

Mancini, understandably, was crestfallen after North Macedonia’s win, apologising to the nation. He still has his supporters, though, and will long be credited with rebuilding the national team and few would deny the Azzurri deserved to win Euro 2020. Italy enjoyed a 37-game unbeaten run that was ended by Spain in the UEFA Nations League semi-final, but they rebounded well from that setback.

Why Italy didn’t win their play-off semi-final is a mystery, they enjoyed 66% possession and had 32 shots to their opponents’ four. Gianluigi Donnarumma, Italy’s 23 year-old goalkeeper, has come in for criticism and he’s had a bad month, being on the end of Paris Saint-Germain’s capitulation in the UEFA Champions League. But Italy’s problem is clearly at the opposite end of the pitch, they have scored 13 goals in their last 10 games, but five of those came in a victory against Lithuania. At the same time, they have conceded just seven goals in 10. Bizarrely, Italy were unbeaten in the qualifying group, but drew four of their eight games, again emphasising their lack of firepower.

With the World Cup now a dead duck, Italy have to look to the future. The days of Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne and one or two others are surely over. After their revival last year in Euro 2020, Italy should have had the wake-up call they needed, but this defeat is something of a second wave, and frankly, it is easier for a big nation to qualify for the World Cup than it was 30 or 40 years ago. They will be foolish to ignore how and why this has happened.

Despite debt and losses, Serie A is Europe’s most exciting title contest

THE 2021-22 Italian title race promises to be one of the more interesting in Europe as four teams slug it out at the top of Serie A. Italian clubs have suffered during the pandemic, running up big losses and carrying large amounts of debt, but on the pitch, the campaign is shaping up nicely.

AC Milan reminded everyone they are back in the mix with an exciting 2-1 win against Inter Milan at the San Siro, thanks to a late burst from Olivier Giroud, who scored two goals after Inter led from the first half. Milan’s victory ended a 14-game unbeaten run for Inter. It was only the Nerazzuri’s second league defeat of the campaign. But this was not the ideal preparation for Inter’s next game which is a gruelling trip to Napoli on February 12. This is a six-pointer if ever there was one for Napoli are in second place and one point behind Inter, who have a game in hand. 

However, victory for Luciano Spalletti’s team will put pressure on Simone Inzaghi at Inter and also get people talking about a possible Napoli scudetto. It’s now 32 years since Diego Maradona’s team won Serie A for the second time in a four-year period between 1987 and 1990. Napoli strengthened their bid with a 2-0 win at Venezia’s Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo on the banks of the Venice lagoon. 

They were boosted by the return of Victor Osimhen, who cost the club € 70 million when he joined from Lille in 2020. Osimhen, just 23, has been hampered by injury and illness since arriving in Naples and the Venezia game was his first since November. He headed Napoli ahead and prompted coach Spalletti to urge his players to play to the strengths of the big Nigerian striker.

Milan’s win was their first in Serie A this season against the challengers and they have a vital clash on March 6 in Naples. They did well to recover from a first half in which Inter dominated and took the lead. It was a vital turnaround because a defeat would have put seven points between the two Milanese clubs. 

The mood at Milan is definitely in the ascendancy, not just on the field but also behind the scenes. The club’s financial performance, while still concerning, has improved significantly with revenues in 2020-21 climbing by 40% to € 241 million and losses down from € 192 million to € 92 million. The club has net debts of € 101 million. The recovery of Milan was always going to take time, but there are green shoots emerging.

The only real downer in 2021-22 for Milan has been their early exit in the Champions League, but with Liverpool, Atlético Madrid and Porto in their group, it was no great surprise to see them struggle.

While Milan have reasons to be cheerful, Inter’s financial position is still worrying because of the problems faced by their owner, Suning of China. Inter not only lost € 240 million, but their net debt increased by 16% and their wage-to-income ratio was up to 74%. On top of that, they lost coach Antonio Conte and star striker Romelu Lukaku. The Chelsea striker has, quite bizarrely, been making noises about returning to Italy and has been pictured wearing an Inter shirt. Inter have been playing good football and the signing of veteran target man Edin Džeko, Lukaku’s cut-price replacement, has proved to be successful.

Inter’s wage bill is around € 100 million more than their San Siro stable-mates, but Juventus remain the biggest payers in Italy with wages almost hitting the € 300 million mark. Juventus have had a difficult campaign, welcoming back Max Allegri after the departure of Andrea Pirlo and were still coming to terms with the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo earlier in the season. But if there is to be a surprise in the title race, it will surely come from Juve, who may have just made a transformational signing.

Despite making a huge loss in 2020-21 (€ 210 million) and carrying net debt of € 389 million, Juventus were busy in the January transfer window. The much sought-after Dušan Vlahović was signed from Fiorentina for € 70 million and the Serbian striker took just 13 minutes to score on his debut for his new club against Verona. Swiss central midfielder Denis Zakaria, signed from Borussia Mönchengladbach, also scored in his first game.

Juve are unbeaten in 10 league games and are still in the Champions League. They may be eight points behind leaders Inter, but positive momentum is building. Stefano Pioli, the Milan coach, believes Inter and Juve have the strongest squads and nobody is prepared to write off the Turin club.

At this stage, Juve appear to have too much to do, but they have the experience and resources to make a second half bid for the title. It isn’t in their own hands, but they know how to string together long sequences of wins that brush aside rivals. Watch this space, because it will be worth watching in the coming weeks.