1999 was a vintage year for the Champions League. At the semi-final stage, there were three teams going for unprecedented trebles.
Valeriy Lobanovskyi had built one of the most exciting teams in Europe with his young Dynamo Kyiv side, who featured future Balon d’Or winner Andriy Shevchenko.
They won the domestic double but, after knocking out Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter finals, were edged out by Bayern Munich in the semis - 4-3 on aggregate, after leading 3-1 until late on in the first leg in Kyiv.
Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga title but agonisingly lost both finals they competed in, after leading Manchester United 1-0 until the last moments in the Champions League final. They followed that with a loss on penalties to Werder Bremen in the DFB Pokal.
With the two unforgettable injury-time goals, Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United were the ones to do it - as the first and only English club to win the European Cup, FA Cup and league title in the same season.
Before them, only Celtic, PSV and Ajax before had won one in over forty years of the European Cup.
But what was once vintage, the unprecedented domination in 1999 now appears commonplace - and we could well see it again in 2018.
In the last ten years - trebles have been won for the first time in Spain, Germany and Italy, by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in 2009, Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan in 2010 and Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern Munich in 2013.
Luis Enrique would add another for Barcelona in 2015, whilst last season was the first time Real Madrid won both the European Cup and league title in nearly 60 years.
Domestically, Bayern Munich have won the last five league titles in Germany, Juventus have won six in a row in Italy, whilst Monaco’s title win in France last season looks like a blip after PSG won four in a row and are returning to the top this season.
Meanwhile, PSG have won both domestic cup competitions, the Coupe de la Ligue and the Coupe de France for the last three seasons.
In each of his last three seasons in charge at Juventus, Massimiliano Allegri has won the domestic double, adding the Coppa Italia alongside the league title.
Over in Germany, in three of the last five years, Bayern Munich have won the DFB Pokal, while Barcelona have just made it five Copa del Rey finals in a row, winning the last three.
English football hasn’t been the same. No team has retained the league title since 2009, whilst the cup competitions have had a variety of winners - that Arsenal have won three FA Cups whilst floundering in the league shows this.
On few occasions has an English team won multiple domestic trophies - Chelsea and Manchester City added league cups to their 2014 and 2015 league titles, but no one has won a FA Cup and league double since Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea in 2010.
Continuing the trend
This season has been business as usual for the European giants. The domestic cups, lack of title races and last 16 of the Champions League reflect the now predictable domination by the elite clubs.
In France, PSG have a comfortable lead of 12 points in the league and are well equipped to have another clean sweep of domestic trophies. Into the final of the Coupe de la Ligue against Monaco, they're also into the last eight of the Coupe de France and should be strong favourites.
Bayern Munich, since Jupp Heynckes' return, have won all but one game in all competitions and now have an impressive 18 point lead in the Bundesliga. They’ll also be strong favourites in the last four of the DFB Pokal, playing Bayer Leverkusen in the semis with Schalke or Eintracht Frankfurt to play in the final.
Barcelona’s seven-point lead over Atletico in La Liga is not unassailable but the Catalan club still find themselves in a strong position. They'll also be expected to win the Copa del Rey final against a struggling Sevilla.
|Juventus||One point behind in Serie A; Semi-finals of Coppa Italia (1-0 first leg against Atalanta)|
|Barcelona||Seven point lead in La Liga; Final of Copa del Rey (against Sevilla)|
|Paris Saint-Germain||Twelve point lead in Ligue 1; Quarter finals of Coupe de France (against Marseille); Final of Coupe de la Ligue (against Monaco) |
|Manchester City||Sixteen point lead in Premier League; Last 16 of FA Cup (against Wigan); Final of League Cup (against Arsenal)|
|Bayern Munich||Eighteen point lead in Bundesliga; Semi-finals of DFB Pokal (against Bayer Leverkusen)|
Juventus are involved in the only real title race in Europe’s top five leagues. They find themselves one point behind a formidable Napoli side. In Naples, there’s a real momentum and feeling a first league title will return since the days of Maradona.
However, bookmakers still make Juventus favourites, as they have form of grinding out wins relentlessly. They've also re-found their defensive solidity, conceding once in their last 16 games. They also have one foot in the final of the Coppa Italia after beating Atalanta 1-0 away in the semi-final.
English football looks to be emulating the other major European leagues for the first time, with Manchester City’s dominance.
Their 16 point lead renders the title a formality, they should be strong favourites in the league cup final against Arsenal, whilst a favourable draw against third-tier Wigan should see them in the last eight of the FA Cup. Cleaning up all the domestic trophies is certainly possible.
Could we see a treble or quadruple winner?
This makes the last 16 of the Champions League feel similar to 1999 but far earlier in the season - in February, certain trophies feel like processions.
Juventus, Bayern, Barcelona, Man City and PSG look capable of winning all the available domestic silverware and they represent five of the favourites in the European competition.
It's very possibly the case that we're about to witness a historic season from a European team. A first quadruple can be won by PSG or Manchester City and Barcelona could add an astonishing third treble in ten years.
Added to this, Heynckes could win another treble on his return to Bayern or Allegri could do what’s he come so close to doing in recent seasons and win Juventus a first treble.
Such a feat is not unlikely anymore. In four of the last nine seasons, teams have won a treble - as many occasions as the previous 54 years of the European Cup.
Domestic doubles and trebles are now routinely won in Spain, France, Germany and Italy - there’s no reason at all one of those teams won't do the same and add the Champions League.
Of course, there’s a lot of football still to play and a lot of trophies to be contested. Real Madrid have a historic habit of remedying domestic failure with European success - likewise the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Spurs shouldn’t be written off.
It’s also by no means a certainty that PSG or Juventus make the quarters, let alone the final. Sevilla, Monaco and Arsenal could cause upsets in the cup finals, and Napoli firmly believe this is their season in Serie A.
The future of European competition
Should it happen this season, a treble would have been won in half of the last ten seasons.
There’s an argument to be made that we’re lucky to live in an era of historic teams but the counterpoint to that is that’s just a consequence of the world’s finest footballers hoarded by a small pool of elite clubs.
This raises questions about how healthy this is. It’s no coincidence that the clubs competing in this way have resources that dwarf their domestic rivals. Recent years have seen the major clubs consolidate their wealth into a monopolisation of trophies.
There must come a point that such sustained domestic success undermines itself. It will be considered an underwhelming season if Juventus, PSG and Bayern have a clean sweep of domestic trophies but don’t have a good run at the Champions League.
There are also questions of sustainability.
How much longer will fans be happy with domestic fixtures that are becoming increasingly redundant, with the flip side being a season defined by two knockout fixtures whereby good work can be ruined by refereeing decisions, injuries or a solitary off night?
When will fans of other clubs become disillusioned with a glass ceiling on their success and an increasing inability to challenge for trophies? Is the natural conclusion to this the formation of a European Super League?
What do you think? Is European football slowly being atrophied by money? Get in touch by writing to us in the comments section below.