Six clubs have won the European Cup, which turned into the UEFA Champions League, four times or more: Ajax, Barcelona, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Real Madrid.
Bayern Munich are the only one of the teams with more than two wins in the finals that only have a 50% success rate when reaching it, winning (5 times thanks to Arjen Robben) just as much as they’ve lost.
Ajax – 4 Times
After losing the final in 1969 to AC Milan, Ajax didn’t need very long to become the dominant force in European football, winning three in a row between 1971 and 1973. Their first title came at Wembley, as the great Rinus Michels led them to a 2-0 win over Panathinaikos with goals from Dick van Dijk and Arie Haan. A year later, in Rotterdam, Ajax beat Inter 2-0, as Johan Cruijff scored both goals. In 1973, in Belgrade, it was another Italian team, Juventus, that Ajax didn’t account for, winning 1-0 through an early goal from Johnny Rep.
It took them 22 more years to make a return to the Champions League final (now no longer the European Cup), playing AC Milan in the final. It was a young Patrtick Kluivert that scored the only goal in a 1-0 win. A year later Ajax faced another Italian team in the final, losing to Juventus after a penalty shootout.
FC Barcelona – 4 Times
Barcelona lost in two European Cup finals (1961 vs Benfica, 1986 vs Steaua) before winning their first. It came in 1992 at Wembley, beating Sampdoria in extra time thanks to a goal from Ronald Koeman. Two years later they lost another final (to AC Milan, the notorious 4-0) before waiting 12 more years to reach another final and begin their 21st century domination.
They beat Arsenal in 2006 at the Stade de France, coming back from an early Sol Campbell goal to score two late goals through Samuel Eto’o and Juliano Belletti to win 2-1. Three years later, and it was Manchester United they met in the final (Rome), beating them 2-0 thanks to goals from Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi. Their third title in six seasons came again vs United, at Wembley this time, winning 3-1 with goals from Pedro, Lionel Messi and David Villa, countering one Wayne Rooney goal.
Liverpool – 5 Times
Liverpool won on their first four attempts at the European Cup trophy. They won their first in 1977, with Bob Paisley as their manager, beating Borussia Monchengladbach in the final 3-1 with goals from Terry McDermott, Tommy Smith and Phil Neal. They repeated in 1978, beating Club Brugge at Wembley 1-0 thanks to a goal from Kenny Dalglish.
Three years later, at the Parc de Princes, Liverpool beat Real Madrid 1-0 thanks to a goal by Alan Kennedy. In 1984, they completed the English domination that began in 1977 and included three more trophies for Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest, beating Roma in Rome after a penalty shootout, as the 120 minutes ended in a 1-1 draw.
In 1985 Liverpool lost a final for the first time – the tragic and infamous Heysel disaster, leading to English clubs being banned from European competition until the turn of the decade. They returned to the Champions League final in 2005, winning against AC Milan in another penalty shootout, but the match is mostly remembered for Liverpool staging an amazing second half comeback after going down to the dressing rooms 0-3 at halftime. In 2007, they lost to AC Milan 2-1 in a rematch.
Bayern Munich – 5 Times
Bayern are the only team among the elite to lose in as many finals as they’ve won. They were triumphant in their first three; in 1974, beating Atletico Madrid 4-0 (Gerd Muller twice, Uli Hoeneß twice); 1975, beating Leeds 2-0 (Muller & Franz Roth); and 1976, beating Saint-Etienne (again Roth).
Then came the series of losses: In 1982, 1-0 to Aston Villa; 1987, losing 2-1 to Porto with two late goals that erased the early Ludwig Kögl lead; and 1999, losing 2-1 to Manchester United with two goals that came as late as possible.
In 2001, Bayern won their first Champions League era title, beating Valencia after a penalty shootout. Both regulation goals in that match also came from penalties. Nine years later Bayern began another streak of losses: first to Inter (2-0) in 2010, and in 2012 to Chelsea in another penalty shootout. They won for the fifth time in 2013, beating Dortmund in the final 2-1 thanks to goals from Mario Mandzukic and Arjen Robben.
AC Milan – 7 Times
Milan lost the first final they participated in, the first of 11, beaten by Real Madrid 3-2 after extra time in 1958. Their first triumph came in 1963, beating Benfica 2-1 in the final thanks to a brace from Jose Altafini. Their next title came six years later, beating Ajax 4-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu with goals from Angelo Sormani and a Pierino Prati hattrick.
Milan waited 20 years before being crowned European champions again, mostly thanks to their Dutch trio, winning back-to-back in 1989 (against Steaua, 4-0, two goals for Ruud Gullit and two for Marco Van Basten) and 1990 (against Benfica, 1-0, Frank Rijkaard), the last team to win the competition two years in a row.
In 1994 came one of the most memorable finals, beating Barcelona 4-0 in Athens with goals from Daniele Massaro (x2), Dejan Savicevic and Marcel Desalliy. Milan lost the final next year to Ajax 1-0, but won for a sixth time in 2003 after a 0-0 and terrible 120 minutes against Juventus, ending beatifully for the Milanese after a penalty shootout.
The next few years were the Liverpool saga. Milan had a 3-0 lead at half time against the Red in the 2005 final at Istanbul, but gave that lead up in the second half, losing after a penalty shootout. Two years later, in Athens, Milan won 2-1 against Liverpool with a Filippo Inzaghi brace.
Real Madrid – 9 Times
For the first five years of the competition, Real Madrid were head and shoulders above the rest of the competition, winning it consecutively from 1956 to 1960. Their first win came against Remis, winning 4-3 with goals from Hector Rial (twice), Alfredo Di Stefano and Marquitos. The next year they beat Fiorentina 2-0 with goals from Di Stefano and Gento.
In 1958 Real beat Milan 3-2 in extra time, with goals from Di Stefano, Rial, and a 107th minute winner from Gento. In 1959 it was Reims again they beat in the final with goals from Enrique Mateos and Alfredo Di Stefano. Their five-peat ended in 1960 with their most famous win; 7-3 against Frankfurt, as Ferenc Puskas scored 4 goals, aided by a Di Stefano hat-trick.
Real lost their next three finals: In 1962 to Benfica, losing 5-3 despite a Puskss hat-tirck; 1964 it was Inter who beat them 3-1; and in 1981, losing to Liverpool 3-1.
In 1998, the 32-year wait for the title that seemed to belong to them was over. Mijatovic scored the only goal for Real Madrid as they beat Juventus 1-0, and began an impressive run of three trophies in five years, continuing in 2000 with a 3-0 win over Valencia with goal from Fernando Morientes, Steve McManaman and Raul, and culminating with a 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen in 2002, enjoying goals from Raul and Zinedine Zidane. They haven’t been to the final since.