English clubs can complete a clean sweep of three European club trophies – Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League – this season, a feat not seen for more than 30 years, writes Frank Dalleres.
Vienna, May 1990: Frank Rijkaard darts on to a pass round the corner from Marco van Basten, sprints clear of the Benfica defence and, with the outside of his right boot, flicks the goal that ensures AC Milan retain the European Cup.
The final was notable not only for cementing Milan’s status as the team to beat but also because it completed a clean sweep by Italian clubs of the three European club competitions that took place that season.
A week earlier, Juventus had been crowned winners of the Uefa Cup after beating another Serie A side, Fiorentina, in a two-legged final. That followed Sampdoria’s victory over Anderlecht in the Cup Winners’ Cup final.
That remains the only instance of one nation providing winners of three Uefa club competitions, partly because the governing body downsized from three tournaments to two when it merged the Cup Winners’ Cup into the Uefa Cup in 1999.
We have seen doubles since then – including in 2019, when Liverpool and Chelsea won the Champions League and Europa League respectively – but this year the elusive treble could happen again, and it is English teams in the running for a clean sweep.
Manchester City and Liverpool are in the last four of the Champions League, with West Ham United in the same stage of the Europa League and Leicester City similarly advanced in the new Europa Conference League.
It is by no means unlikely that a Premier League trio emulates Milan, Juve and Sampdoria 32 years later. City and Liverpool are arguably the best teams in the world, while bookmakers fancy the chances of West Ham and Leicester.
West Ham, who host Eintracht Frankfurt in the first leg of their semi-final tomorrow, are rated second favourites to win the Europa League, after RB Leipzig. Leicester, who play Jose Mourinho’s Roma on Thursday, are the shortest price of any teams remaining in the Europa Conference League.
A hat-trick of European trophies would underline the Premier League’s dominant position. Just as Italy was home to the richest league and biggest concentration of top players in the 1990s, the same is now true of England.
English teams have won two of the last three Champions League titles – Chelsea last year and Liverpool in 2019 – and provided five of the last eight finalists. A third all-Premier League final in four years is a possibility next month.
Which English teams qualify for Europe if West Ham and Leicester win trophies?
A potential clean sweep has also caused a scramble for Uefa’s rulebooks to decipher how many English clubs would qualify for Europe next season – and precisely which competitions they would gain access to.
The Europa League winners get promoted to the Champions League, so if West Ham lift the trophy in Seville next month they will join the Premier League’s top four in the most prestigious competition next term.
Similarly, if Leicester win the inaugural Europa Conference League they will step up to next season’s Europa League, along with the teams that finish fifth and sixth in the English top division.
Ironically, because Uefa caps at seven the number of Premier League clubs that can qualify for its three competitions, a clean sweep by English teams would mean none in the Europa Conference League, and therefore no chance of a repeat in 2023.
And in a further twist, one of the men plotting to prevent the English hat-trick by knocking out City, Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti, was the central midfield partner of Rijkaard in that Milan side that clinched Italy’s European treble of 1990.