Finding the Real, Ultimate Champions League Holders

The Chaaaaaaampiaaaaaaaaans!
The Chaaaaaaampiaaaaaaaaans! | 90min

Let's expand our brains for some conceptual thinking. It's 2020, we can do this.

What if...the Champions League title was on the line every single week? Essentially, what if it wasn't a trophy, but a championship belt – and the holders could lose it in any competitive game, in any competition?

After all, you're only as good as your last game. Treat every game like a final. That's what they do on social media, why not bring that energy into the game?

RB Leipzig v Paris Saint-Germain F.C - UEFA Champions League Semi Final
Literally a tin pot. Get rid. | David Ramos/Getty Images

What if, since Marseille first won the newly minted Champions League in Munich in 1993, the title had been in constant circulation?

After weeks of poring over historic results and getting way too into Google Sheets, the hypothetical belt's entire history has been tracked. And the current holders?

The team who are defending European champions?

Real Sociedad.

'But wait! Last time I looked at this page, it said Osasuna! Now it's La Real? What gives?'

A new season, baby. It's true that the belt came to Pamplona via Barcelona, Roberto Torres' 94th-minute winner at Camp Nou in July snatching Europe's least coveted, most non-existent honour from Quique Setien's side before defending it at El Sadar against Mallorca in their final game of the season.

That was great...but they lost to Getafe in their second game of the season, who themselves surrendered the title to La Real at the start of October. So here we are.

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-OSASUNA
That 'Champions League belt holder' feeling | LLUIS GENE/Getty Images

It was Osasuna's first time holding the belt – making them the 159th different club to reign supreme over Europe (kinda) in the last 27 years. And you bet we can name every single one. We won't, though. Nobody needs to pad a word count that much – but if you want to look at the history of the belt, it's in a mildly ramshackle spreadsheet here.

The belt does exist in international football too, the 'Unofficial Football World Championships' even has its own website and an actual, honest-to-god book. We're not going that far (yet), but here are some little snippets. Think of the following as little vignettes, little snatches of tales of the history of a title that hasn't ever actually existed.

The team who have claimed the belt the most often? Bayer Leverkusen, eight times.

The team who have held the belt for the most games in its history? Real Madrid, 49 games across four different spells – just ahead of Barcelona's 46.

Zinedine Zidane
Didn't have the belt. Still quite happy | TF-Images/Getty Images

The longest single reign? Barcelona successfully defended their title 21 times in a row in 2019, eventually giving it up to...Celta Vigo. Celta lost it to Athletic Club in the very next game.

In the early 2000s, the belt had a three-year sojourn to the Oberliga NOFV-Süd, Germany's fourth tier (at the time) – and it turns out worldfootball.net has results from regional German football from nearly 20 years ago, which...bless up, that's so helpful.

Less helpful was the half-season spent in Serie C1 in 1995/96 (thanks, Lecce). The belt spent about seven seasons outside of top divisions all told, across 11 different countries, and was held by the then-European Champions just three times; Milan in 2007/08, Inter in 2010/11 and Barcelona in 2011/12.

Southampton, thanks to the Premier League's festive schedule, had the belt for just two days at the end of 2015, winning it off Arsenal before immediately surrendering it to West Ham – who managed to claim the title on five different occasions across just two seasons.

37 teams failed to make a single successful defence of the belt, but the crown princes of failure in that regard are Levante. Three times they brought glory to Valencia, and on all three occasions they immediately coughed it up at the first opportunity.

Ruben Rochina
'We are like little baby, watch this' | Angel Martinez/Getty Images

The longest any club went between losing the belt and winning it again? The 9034 days between original holders Marseille being beaten by Cannes in August 1993 and their Europa League first leg win over RB Salzburg in April 2018. The lost the belt the following week in the second leg. Easy come, easy go.