The UEFA Champions League, which evolved from the European Champion Clubs' Cup, is a seasonal club football competition organized by UEFA since 1992 (or overall in its older format since 1955) for the most successful football clubs in Europe. The prize, the European Champion Clubs' Cup (more commonly known as the European Cup), is the most prestigious club trophy in the sport. The UEFA Champions League is separate from the UEFA Cup.
The tournament consists of several stages. In the present format it begins in mid-July with three preliminary knockout qualifying rounds. The 16 surviving teams join 16 seeded teams in a group stage. Eight group winners and eight runners-up enter the final knockout rounds, which end with the final match in May. Previously only the champions of their respective national league could participate in the competition; however, this was changed in 1997 to allow the runners-up of the stronger leagues to compete as well.
The title has been held by 21 different clubs, 12 of which have won the title more than once. The all-time record-holder is Real Madrid with their nine wins.
The tournament was inaugurated in 1955, at the suggestion of the French sports journalist and editor of L'Équipe Gabriel Hanot, as a continental competition for winners of the European national football leagues, as the European Champion Clubs' Cup, abbreviated to European Cup.
The competition began as the 1955–56 using a two-leg knockout format where the teams would play two matches, one at home and one away, and the team with the highest overall score qualifying for the next round of the competition. Entry was restricted to the teams that won their national league championships, plus the current European Cup holder. This qualification system continued until 1992. In the 1992–93 season, the tournament was renamed UEFA Champions League and in 1997–98, eligibility was expanded to include not just domestic champions but also the best performing runners up according to UEFA's coefficient ranking list. In UEFA's coefficient system, a team finishing second in the Spanish La Liga would be more deserving of an automatic place in the Champions League than a team finishing first in, for example, Polish Ekstraklasa. As a result, the system was restructured so that national champions from lower ranked countries had to qualify for the group stages, while runners-up from higher ranked countries would automatically get places.
Between 1960 and 2004 the winner of the tournament qualified for the now defunct Intercontinental Cup against the winner of the Copa Libertadores of South America. Since then, with FIFA taking over, the winner automatically qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup with other winners of continental club championships.
The UEFA Champions league is open to the league champions of all UEFA member associations (except Liechtenstein, which has no league competition), as well as to the clubs finishing from second to fourth position in the strongest leagues. Since January 2007 the two lowest-ranked league competitions (currently the Andorra and San Marino leagues) can also represent their domestic champions in the Champions League.
The number of places in the competition depends on the association's rank in the UEFA coefficients table:
An association's rank also determines the stage at which the clubs enter the competition. For example, the three highest-ranked associations have two places in the group stage (for champions and runners-up) and two in the third qualifying round (for third and fourth-placed teams), whereas the lowest-ranked associations have only one place in the first qualifying round for their champions. Nine highest-ranked associations have at least one automatic place in the group stage. The situation with the European Cup holders has not been clearly defined. There was controversy when Liverpool won the competition in 2004–05 but finished outside the top four in the FA Premier League. The Football Association ruled that Everton, who finished fourth in the Premier League, should get the final English place in the 2005–06 European Cup. UEFA came to an agreement that both Merseyside rivals would be allowed to enter the competition with Liverpool starting from the first qualifying round and Everton starting from the third qualifying round. UEFA's current rule is that if the European Cup winners fail to finish in one of its national league's qualifying positions, it will take the place of the lowest placed team in its league. The superseded team will go to the UEFA Cup.
In 2005-06, Liverpool and Artmedia Bratislava of Slovakia became the first teams to reach the Champions League group phase after playing in all three qualifying rounds. In 2008-2009, both BATE and Anorthosis Famagusta FC achieved the same feat.
In addition to sporting criteria, any club must be licensed by its national association to participate in the Champions league. To obtain a license, club must meet certain stadium, infrastructure and finance requirements.
FC Barcelona, Manchester United, and FC Porto are the teams that have appeared most often in the group stages: fifteen each. FC Porto and Barcelona have only won the tournament once each since the establishment of the Group stages (2004 and 2006 respectively), whilst Manchester United have won it twice in 1999 and 2008.
22 teams will now directly qualify for the group stage, the additional 6 teams being champions of associations ranked 10 to 12, and 3rd placed teams in associations ranked 1 to 3. It was also decided that the final would be played on the Saturday evening in calendar week 20 (19:45 BST) from 2009–10 onwards, instead of the Wednesday evening.
Wembley Stadium in London was looking likely to host the event that year, only a week after the FA Cup Final would be played there. This caused some criticism and it was later announced that the 2010 final would be played at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid.
Like the FIFA World Cup, the UEFA Champions League is sponsored by a group of multinational corporations, in contrast to the single main sponsor of either the Barclays Premier League, the Copa Santander Libertadores or Serie A TIM. When the Champions League was created in 1992, it was decided that a maximum of eight companies should be allowed to sponsor the event, with each corporation being allocated four advertising boards around the perimeter of the pitch, as well as logo placement at pre- and post-match interviews and a certain number of tickets to each match. This, combined with a deal to ensure tournament sponsors were given priority on television advertisements during matches, ensured that each of the tournament's main sponsors was given maximum exposure.
The tournament's current main sponsors are:
Adidas is a secondary sponsor and supplies the official match ball, as they do for all other UEFA competitions (excluding the UEFA Cup).
The competition attracts a huge television audience, not just in Europe, but throughout the world. The matches are broadcast in over 70 countries in more than 40 languages each year, and some important matches can attract over 200 million TV audience, often considered as one of the most watched sports events on TV.
|Nation||Wins||Runs Up||Winning Clubs||Runners-Up|
|Italy||11||14||A.C. Milan (7), Juventus (2), Internazionale (2)||Juventus (5), A.C. Milan (4), Internazionale (2), Fiorentina (1), Roma (1), Sampdoria (1)|
|Spain||11||9||Real Madrid (9), Barcelona (2)||Real Madrid (3), Barcelona (3), Valencia (2), Atlético Madrid (1)|
|England||11||5||Liverpool (5), Manchester United (3), Nottingham Forest (2), Aston Villa (1)||Liverpool (2), Leeds United (1), Arsenal (1), Chelsea (1)|
|Germany||6||7||Bayern Munich (4), Borussia Dortmund (1), Hamburg (1)||Bayern Munich (3), Bayer Leverkusen (1), Borussia Mönchengladbach (1), Eintracht Frankfurt (1), Hamburg (1)|
|Netherlands||6||2||Ajax (4), PSV (1), Feyenoord (1)||Ajax (2)|
|Portugal||4||5||Benfica (2), Porto (2)||Benfica (5)|
|France||1||5||Marseille (1)||Stade Reims (2), Saint-Étienne (1), Marseille (1), Monaco (1),|
|Romania||1||1||Steaua (1)||Steaua (1)|
|Serbia||1||1||Red Star Belgrade (1)||FK Partizan (1)|
|Scotland||1||1||Celtic (1)||Celtic (1)|
|Sweden||0||1||Malmö FF (1)|
|Belgium||0||1||Club Brugge (1)|
|Rank||Nation||Player||Goals||Games||Debut in Europe||Clubs|
|1||Raúl González||61||117||1996||Real Madrid|
|2||Ruud van Nistelrooy||59||78||1997||PSV, Manchester United, Real Madrid|
|3||Andriy Shevchenko||56||103||1994||Dynamo Kyiv, Milan, Chelsea, Milan|
|4||Alfredo di Stéfano||49||58||1955||Real Madrid|
|6||Filippo Inzaghi||46||75||1997||Juventus, Milan|
|7||Thierry Henry||46||100||1997||Monaco, Arsenal, Barcelona|