Only four teams in the history of European football have won each of UEFA’s three main competitions but Manchester United are in great shape to join that elite group by winning the Europa League this season. Juventus have not been the champions of Europe since the 1995-96 season but are the best team left in the competition and can win the trophy for the third time.
When teams from different countries across Europe began competing against each they played in the European Cup, UEFA Cup and Cup Winners Cup. In 1999 this was reduced to two tournaments as the Cup Winners was abolished to leave the UEFA Cup as the consolation competition for teams that did not qualify for the Champions League. The UEFA Cup was rebranded as the Europa League at the start of the 2009-10 season and the same structure has existed since that year.
Juventus, Ajax, Bayern Munich and Chelsea are the only teams to have won the three main trophies that UEFA administer which means greats like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool and the two Milan clubs are not in this illustrious band of clubs. Bayern Munich and Juventus have actually won the European Cup and Champions League as have United so they could join an even more elite group of clubs to have won four separate trophies contested by the best club sides in Europe.
United won the European Cup in 1968, the first English club to achieve the honour. They won the Cup Winners Cup in the early days of the Sir Alex Ferguson era and were the champions of Europe in two seasons before he departed. They usually qualify for the Champions League which means there have been few opportunities to play in the Europa League and never mind winning it but this could be their year.
Jose Mourinho sees the Europa League as a chance to lift a trophy and the added bonus of qualifying for the Champions League would be the icing on the cake. In an ideal scenario for the manager United would make the Champions League through both routes, their league position and by winning the Europa League. The winning mentality could be carried forward into next season and the pursuit of the Premier League and Champions League.
The club will never have a better chance of becoming the fifth to win three European trophies. They are a shade of odd-on to win the Europa League in Stockholm at the end of May. The achievement would appeal to Mourinho’s sense of history and legacy. He is also no doubt aware that the two managers who led United when they were champions of Europe were knighted. He’d love to join Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex in the pantheon of former managers at Old Trafford. United have to qualify for the Champions League first and winning the Europa League is the best route.
Juventus are in that elite group who have won three different UEFA competitions and can win the Champions League again this season. They are the dominant team in Italy but that has not been translated into European football. They were far too good for Barcelona in the last round. They took a three goal lead to the Nou Camp which was never under any threat. At the end of the match Barcelona were frustrated and could not make inroads into the deficit in a match that ended goalless.
Real Madrid are the most likely opponents in the Champions League final which Juventus can win to set up a Super Cup showdown with the winners of the Europa League. That should be Manchester United who can add another strand to their history by joining the quartet of clubs with the three main European honours in the record books.