This year’s UEFA Champions League season will be the 60th in the competition’s history. The tournament began with 77 teams from 53 different nations participating, and uses a knockout system to pare down to 32 teams that reach the group stages.
Last year’s victors, Real Madrid, defeated their cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid in the Champions League Final 4-1 in a come-from-behind victory. Real Madrid, who won the competition a record 10 times, also won the inaugural title in 1956, defeating Stade de Reims 4-3.
The past two Champions League Finals have been contests between intra-league rivals. In 2014, Real Madrid faced off against Atletico Madrid, and in 2013 Bayern Munich played Borussia Dortmund. Previously, English giants Manchester United and Chelsea battled for the 2008 title, Italian heavyweights AC Milan and Juventus squared off in 2003, and Real faced off against Valencia in 2000.
The iconic trophy is 74 cm tall, weighs 11 kg, and is made of silver. Successful clubs are rewarded handsomely for progressing through the arduous nine-month competition. Each team that reaches the Round of 16 receives $5 million. Bonuses progressively increase after each stage, with the victors pocketing a cool $15 million.
Raúl, the all-time leading goal scorer in Champions League history, also made his mark with Los Galacticos. He found the back of the net 71 times during his illustrious career, but today finds his record under threat by superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who sit on 68 and 67 goals respectively.
Recently retired Welsh winger Ryan Giggs, who played his entire career for Manchester United, is the most capped player in Champions League history, with 151 appearances. Like Raúl, however, his record is within clear striking distance by Barcelona’s midfield maestro, Xavi, who has appeared in 147 games during his career.
In total, 22 teams from 10 different countries have hoisted the European Champions Clubs’ Cup, including underdog champions such as Benfica, Nottingham Forest, Celtic, Steaua Bucuresti, and Red Star Belgrade. The unexpected winner of the competition was the Jose Mourinho-led FC Porto in 2004.
Managers who lift the trophy are etched into lore for navigating through one of the toughest competitions in soccer. Only 19 managers have won more than once. The all-time leaders are Italian Carlo Ancelloti, who won with both AC Milan and Real Madrid, and Englishman Bob Paisley, who won all three of his titles with Liverpool in the span of five years.
Unlike the knockout stages of other major international soccer tournaments, the Champions League requires its teams to play ‘home’ and ‘away’ legs. The scores of both games are summed, and the team with the greater aggregate score advances. In the case of a tie, the squad that scored more away goals receives the tiebreaker.
The group stages begin on Tuesday, Sept. 16 as groups A to D kick off the season, and Groups E to H get their chance on Wednesday. The most notable matches in the first week include Borussia Dortmund against Arsenal, and Manchester City facing off with Bayern Munich. The UEFA Champions League is a unique competition unlike any other; the high quality and international flair make it a must watch.