Date: 15th February 2010 at 2:50pm
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‘We should have done better in Europe over the years’. This is one of the more frequent utterances of Sir Alex Ferguson, known to be obsessed with the Champions League even after winning it twice. But if you actually take a look at the recent history of the competition you might be forced to conclude that he’s setting the bar too high for himself.

United have been competing regularly in the Champions League since the 1993/94 season. In the sixteen seasons passed since that date we won the trophy two times and reached the final on another occasion which, according to many people, can be considered underachievement for a club of Manchester United’s size, especially with the resources we have available. This underachievement, they argue, is down to Fergie’s insufficient tactical knowledge, his lack of European know-how.

But is that true? Let’s have a look at how the other big clubs performed during the period we’re discussing.

AC Milan: head and shoulders above the rest with three wins and two further finals

Real Madrid: three finals, three victories

Barcelona: three finals, two victories

Juventus: four finals, one victory

Bayern Munich: two finals, one victory

Inter Milan: one semi-final

And London still cannot boast a Champions League winner and neither can Rome.

Now I might accept the argument that neither of these clubs were as dominant in their own league during the nineties as United were in England and therefore they did not participate in the Champions League every season. But since the 1999/2000 season these clubs have taken part in pretty much every single Champions League campaign. How have they performed?

AC Milan: three finals, two wins

Real Madrid: two finals, two wins

Barcelona: two finals, two wins

Manchester United: two finals, one win

Juventus: one final

Bayern Munich: one final, one win

Inter Milan: one semi-final

Throw in the fact that right up until the start of the 2000s, the Italian and Spanish clubs were considerably richer than United – in 2000, Lazio paid £35.5M to Parma for Hernan Crespo but United’s record transfer was still Dwight Yorke from Aston Villa for £13M. Since then the Italians have toned down the spending after clubs like Lazio felt the consequences of living beyond their means but the two Spanish giants are regularly outspending United to this day (in the last 5 years, Real Madrid have spent almost the double of what United have during the same period…)

So if we are underachieving in the Champions League then so do every other big club apart from AC Milan. And it’s them who we come up against, giving Fergie another chance to improve his European credentials – after all, there’s no better way to shatter the myths of his European ineptitude than to knock out the club that’s undoubtedly been the leading light in Europe during the 17 seasons of the Champions League era.