The Road To Wembley: Breaking Down the past 10 Champions League Finals
Just like with the Super Bowl post back in February, I’m going through the past ten UEFA Champions League Finals with a uni-centric perspective and seeing how often the better dressed team wins the CL Final. Now for those who are familiar with soccer kits know that unless the two teams clash, the teams are allowed to wear there home uniforms in a game, so I will mark any specific uniform changes along the way, let’s see if this will dictate who will take the title at Wembley a week from Saturday.
2001: Bayern Munich 1-1 Valencia (5-4)
Believe it or not, this was Valencia’s second consecutive UEFA Champions League Final in as many years (They lost out the year before to Spanish rivals Real Madrid.) This was an interesting affair between two well dressed teams. For Bayern Munich, they were in the midst of their fourth decade of partnership with Adidas, as of 2011 they are entering year 51.) One note: Bayern decided to debut their 2001-02 kit for this match. You will notice this is a common theme for some of these matches involving Adidas sponsored teams. (This is the 2000-01 strip)Sponsors Opel were not over imposing and the all red ensemble with the traditional Adidas tri-stripe was classy as usual, the white collar and sleeve accents added a great touch to the kit. On the other side, Valencia was still in their Nike heyday (prior to their Kappa-induced hell) Like many Nike teams during the 2000 season, they were given a collared top, and the stripes were not imposing nor was the collar detail. Overall however, Bayern was easily the better dressed team, and managed to win in penalties 5-4. Better Dressed Teams: 1-0
2002: Real Madrid 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Real Madrid returned to the Champions League Final for the second time in three years in 2002, and were pitted against Bundesliga side Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Real Madrid were in the midst of their year long centenary celebration, donning a classic all-white kit with no sponsor, leaving ZZ Top and the rest of Los Galacticos looking extra sharp. Bayer Leverkusen on the other hand were sporting an AC Milan like kit, and were being led by a young Dracula-esque bulgarian who now plays for a certain team in England, yes, Dimitar Berbatov before his english adventure led Leverkusen to the CL final. Now one problem I have with Leverkusen from the very start is that their NAME contains a sponsor in it – Bayer – as in Bayer aspirin, this was amplified in the 1990’s when Bayer aspirin was the shirt sponsor. Regardless, after the sponsor was swtiched to RWE the kits looked a bit better, but could not stack up to Los Blancos classic look. Madrid completed a great comeback with this excellent Zidane goal, and led the side to their record 9th European Cup championship with a 2-1 win. Better Dressed Teams: 2-0
2003: AC Milan 0-0 Juventus (3-2)
For Juventus, this was a continuation of the success during the 1990’s, they rebounded from the loss of players such as Zidane and Eddie Van Der Sar and reached the pinnacle of European cup competition for the first time since 1998. For AC Milan, they were returning to the promised land for the first time in nine years. This marked the first and most recent all Italian final (Thank God, because Serie A is unbearable to watch today.) Kits wise, AC Milan came in in a standard white Adidas away (very similar to this year’s bar the sponsor) and Juventus came in in their standard black and white stripe, but were still under contract with Italian kit company Lotto. Due to Lotto’s logo creep, Juve’s jersey was far too busy, as you can see on Edgar Davids above. The Scudetto is off center, the CL patch is muddled by the red lotto logo, and TAMOIL was a horrible looking sponsor for Juve’s color scheme. AC Milan‘s simplicity takes the cake, much like AC Milan took this snoozer into penalties and won the match. Better dressed teams 3-0
2004: Porto 3-0 Monaco
This final was an absolute nightmare for the UEFA bigwigs, as they had no marketability as both Porto and Monaco were relative unknowns when it came to the world’s premier international club competition, but a young manager by the name Jose Mourinho worked his magic and parlayed the title into his gig at Chelsea. Porto has been with Nike for years and has had that marine blue and white shirt every subsequent season. AS Monaco were the original pioneers of the split kit which has been copied by other teams. Overall, I can’t go against a kit as unique as Monaco’s and since Porto destroyed them in this game, this is the first time the better dressed team lost. Better Dressed Teams: 3-1
2005: Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan (3-2)
The game that was crowned the best Champions League final of all time by many, Liverpool sporting their traditional all red look (with longtime sponsors Carlsberg) and not so longtime kit provider Reebok (1996-2006) combined to make a not imposing, nor memorable Liverpool kit, but it will be known that it was worn when the side took the field against AC Milan down 3-0, and managed a miraculous 3 goal comeback in six minutes to force penalties. Much like 2 years prior, AC Milan took the field in all white kits with sponsors Opel and Adidas, the only difference being they had the scudetto (Juve did in 2003.) Liverpool’s miracle comeback and classic look were enough to propel them to their only Champions League title of the decade and a 3-2 victory in penalties.
Better Dressed Teams: 4-1
2006: Barcelona 1-0 Arsenal
Ah 2006, the year Arsenal FINALLY reached the pinnacle of the Champions League and were set to face Barca in the final in Paris. Arsenal wore what is one of my favorite yellow Arsenal kits in the match with their change grey shorts. Barcelona wore their traditional blue and red striped shirts with just a hint of yellow (bottom left corner of the shirt.) Now if this matchup had been reversed, with Arsenal wearing their first choice kits and Barcelona in their change strip then Arsenal would get the win, however, no change kit can top Barcelona’s classic, no sponsor look (this was the last game before Unicef took over) and Barcelona won the match 1-0. Better Dressed Teams: 5-1
2007: AC Milan 2-1 Liverpool
A rematch of two years prior, Liverpool returned in a much better kit from Adidas than the Reebok strip they wore in Istanbul, however, this would not help them. AC Milan took the field for their third Champions League Final in five years wearing a very similar white kit to the ones of past games, but this time with new sponsor BWIN.com. This Liverpool kit is one of my favorite Liverpool home shirts, the collar looks excellent and the white piping is not invasive. You may notice AC Milan has a similar kit template but without the collar. Unfortunately, Liverpool lost this game 2-1, taking bland AC Milan to their 2nd CL title of the decade in fairly boring fashion. Better Dressed Teams: 5-2
2008: Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea (6-5)
Finally, the all-England final that many soccer fans had been craving, and it was between EPL top dogs Chelsea and Manchester United (Both teams combined have won every EPL title since the 2002-03 season.) Remember how I mentioned earlier about Adidas teams sporting new home kits in the final? That is exactly what Chelsea did in this game, they ditched the top they had been wearing for two full seasons to debut their 2008-09 kit, which did not look terrible, but introduced Adidas dreaded new incomplete stripes concept. Manchester United on the other hand were wearing probably the most recognizable home kit of the decade, as they achieved some of their greatest successes in the shirt. My favorite feature is the racing stripe that adorned the back. This is a pretty easy matchup here, Nike gave United one of their best home kits where as Chelsea was just so-so, but this match was one of the most exciting in recent memory, coming all the way down to a John Terry slip and miss to win the game for United. Better Dressed Teams 6-2
2009: Barcelona 2-0 Manchester United
Of this list, not only is this possibly the best matchup, but it shows both teams at their uniform best. Barcelona’s 2008-09 110th anniversary kit is one of my favorites of all time. The split design was a nice change of pace but was done by Nike in a very classy fashion. On the other side, Manchester United donned an alteration of their change kit, as their royal blue shorts would have directly clashed. However, this was a look the team had worn before and looked great on the pitch in Rome. United’s play however was not as good, as they lost to the better team, and to the better dressed team. I can’t take white on white over that stellar split look, and Barcelona took the match 2-0. Better Dressed Teams: 7-2
2010: Inter Milan 2-0 Bayern Munich
And finally we reach the most recent matchup, the battle of the stripes, Red vs. Blue, Germany vs. Italy, this looked like a good matchup going into the final and was close bar Diego Milito’s sublime form and two goals that won the game for Inter. Much like 9 years before, Bayern continued the Adidas tradition of introducing the next season’s shirt during the CL Final. The team’s 11oth anniversary kit looked fairly sharp but could not hold against the power of the Nerazurri’s black and blue. Inter was finally given a kit by Nike that had no riff-raff, simple black and blue stripes, no odd pattern, a very traditional shirt for the Mourinho coached side that claimed the Treble with 2-0 victory, looking great doing so.
Better Dressed Teams: 8-2
2011: Wait until next week for my full Manchester United vs. Barcelona breakdown and how I determine the winner for the May 29 matchup at Wembley.
Important Note: funny how every odd year since 2005 that we have had a rematch of teams isn’t it? Liverpool and AC Milan played in 2005 and 2007, and Manchester United and Barcelona played in 2009 and 2011, I wonder who will take over for 2013 and 2015.