Impossible to Retain: Can Real Madrid Become the First to Break the Champions League Curse?

Jamie Spencer
90Min

Real Madrid moved one step closer to the Champions League semi-finals this week after Cristiano Ronaldo's 99th and 100th European goals gave the Spanish giants an invaluable 2-1 win away from home in the opening leg of their last eight tie against Bayern Munich.

All Los Blancos have to do is keep their nerve in the return leg later this month and they will be just three games away from potentially retaining the trophy they won in dramatic fashion last May.

FBL-EUR-C1-BAYERN MUNICH-REALMADRID

While Real famously won the old European Cup five times on the bounce in the 1950s, and the likes of Benfica, both Milan clubs, Ajax, Bayern Munich and Liverpool went on to retain it at least once over the years that followed, still no team has managed to win back-to-back

trophies since the competition was rebranded as the Champions League in 1992 - 25 years ago.

The last European champions to successfully defend their title was AC Milan in 1990 after also claiming victory in 1989. The Real Madrid class of 2017 will be desperate to make history this season and break what is now increasingly known as the 'Champions League Curse.'

A handful of clubs have come close over the years. After inaugural Champions League winners Marseille were banned from the competition in 1993/94, AC Milan, winners in 1994, Ajax, winners in 1995, and Juventus, winners in 1996, all made it as far as the final when holders the following season.

EUROPEAN CUP FINAL

All three failed to get over the line, though. Discounting Marseille, Borussia Dortmund were the first Champions League winners not to reach the final as holders, while Manchester United in 1999/00 were the first not to make it to at least the semi-finals.

Having lost manager Jose Mourinho and several key players, 2004 winners Porto's failure to defend their Champions League crown kick-started a spell of poor defences. The Portuguese side were knocked out in the Last 16 by Inter in the 2004/05 campaign, while subsequent holders Liverpool, Barcelona and AC Milan all fell at the same stage in the three seasons that followed.

UEFA Champions League: Liverpool v Barcelona

When Manchester United reached the final in 2009, where they were comfortably beaten by Barcelona in Rome, they were surprisingly the first holders to get that far for 12 years - since Juventus played in the 1997 final.

What's more, nearly a decade on, that Sir Alex Ferguson team is also still the last team to reach the Champions League final as holders. The all-conquering treble-winning Barcelona team of 2009 fell at the semi-final stage when they were reigning champions, while Barcelona's great side of 2011 were also beaten in the last four, falling to eventual underdog champions Chelsea.

Manchester United v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Final

Chelsea remain the only holders that has failed to not at least progress to the knockout rounds after being eliminated in the group stage in a quarter of century of Champions League football,

Real Madrid's Decima side couldn't get beyond the semi-finals in 2014/15, while Barcelona's second generation of treble-winners were once more knocked out relatively early last season. On that occasion they were beaten at the quarter final stage by losing finalists  Atletico Madrid.

Club Atletico de Madrid v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: Second Leg

It will be a tall order for Real to break the 'curse', but they have so far given themselves a good chance. And if there is one club that should do it, it is surely the club that set the original standard in European football with those five straight wins more than half a century ago.

The question is...will they?

Every Winner in the Champions League Era and Their Fate as Holders:

Season Cup Holders​ Eliminated By (Round)
​1992/93 ​- ​-
1993/94​ Olympique Marseille​ Banned​
1994/95​ AC Milan​ Barcelona (F)​
1995/96​ Ajax​ Juventus (F)​
1996/97​ Juventus​ Borussia Dortmund (F)​
1997/98​ Borussia Dortmund​ Real Madrid (SF)​
​1998/99 Real Madrid​ Bayern Munich (SF)​
1999/00​ Manchester United​ Real Madrid (QF)​
2000/01​ Real Madrid​ Bayern Munich (SF)​
2001/02​ Bayern Munich​ Real Madrid (QF)​
2002/03​ Real Madrid​ Juventus (SF)​
2003/04​ AC Milan​ Deportivo La Coruna (QF)​
2004/05​ Porto​ Inter Milan (L16)​
2005/06​ Liverpool​ Benfica (L16)​
2006/07​ Barcelona​ Liverpool (​L16)
​2007/08 ​AC Milan ​Arsenal (L16)
​2008/09 Manchester United​ Barcelona (F)​
2009/10​ Barcelona​ Inter Milan (SF)​
2010/11​ Inter Milan​ Schalke (QF)​
2011/12​ Barcelona​ Chelsea (SF)​
2012/13​ Chelsea​ Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk (GS)​
2013/14​ Bayern Munich​ Real Madrid (SF)​
2014/15​ Real Madrid​ Juventus (SF)​
2015/16​ Barcelona​ Atletico Madrid (QF)​
2016/17​ Real Madrid​ ??​

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