Water polo is a sport that has a rich history. It is one of the oldest Olympic team sports. It was introduced in the Olympic program in 1900.
The golden era of the competitions for clubs began in the early ‘60s when the LEN Champions League was established. To date, the trophies in this competition have been won by 25 different clubs. Today, we will present some well known and lesser-known facts on the Champions League history, the most decorated coaches, players…
Names of the competitions
1963 – 1996 European Water Polo Cup for national champions
1996 – 2003 Champions League
2003 – 2011 LEN Euroleague
2011 – present LEN Champions League
First final tournament in Zagreb
The first European Cup for national champions was held in the season 1963/64, and 15 teams took part. They were split into two groups (in Naples and in Magdeburg). The top three teams from each group advanced to the final tournament. Partizan Belgrade, Canottieri Naples, and Dynamo Moscow applied for the organization of the final group. LEN elected Partizan as a host, but the tournament was played in Zagreb, not in Belgrade. The final competition was held in the middle of March. Belgrade didn’t have an indoor pool in the early ‘60s, so Partizan was the host in Zagreb.
The final competition was a round-robin tournament.
Partizan recorded five wins in as many games and became the first winner of the European Cup.
The final tournament, ranking: 1. Partizan Belgrade (YUG) 10 pts, 2 Dynamo Moscow (URS) 8, 3. Dinamo Magdeburg (GDR) 6, 4. Amateur Duisburg (FRG) 4, 5. Canottieri Naples (ITA) 2, 6. Legia Warsaw (POL) 0.
The teams which were eliminated in the preliminary stage were: Barcelona (ESP), Gent (BEL), CSKA Sofia (BUL), WSU (AUT), Strasbourg (FRA), Ethnikos (GRE), Amersfoort (NED), and CH Kosice (TCH). Ferencvaros (HUN) withdrew.
Pro Recco, Mladost, Partizan
HAVK Mladost Zagreb was the first club that won 7 titles of the European champion (1968 – 1996). Partizan equaled Mladost’s record in 2011. Next season, Pro Recco caught Mladost and Partizan by winning its 7th title. In 2015, Pro Recco became the first club with eight titles.
Mladost is the only club that managed to win the competition three times in a row (1968, 1969, 1970).
Six clubs have won two consecutive titles: Partizan ( two times — 1966, 1967 & 1975,1976), Spandau (1986, 1987),Mladost (1990, 1991), Jadran Split (1992, 1993), Posillipo (1997, 1998) , and Pro Recco (2007, 2008).
(The list of all winners is at the end of the article)
Recorders Perisic and Felugo
The most decorated players in the Champions League are Djordje Perisic and Maurizo Felugo. Each of them has six gold medals in a treasury. Perisic won six titles playing for Partizan in 13 years (1963/64; 1965/66; 1966/67; 1970/71; 1974/75; 1975/76). Maurizio Felugo climbed the throne with Posillipo in 2005 and then won five titles as Pro Recco’s player (2006/2007, 2007/08; 2009/10; 2011/12; 2014/15). Felugo is now Pro Recco’s president.
Prlainovic’s five trophies with four clubs
Andrija Prlainovic and Dusko Pijetlovic, playing together, won three titles in a row with three different clubs – with Partizan in 2011, Pro Recco in 2012, and Crvena Zvezda in 2013.
After these three, Prlainovic clinched the titles in 2015 (Pro Recco) and in 2017 (Szolnok). He shares third place in the table of the players with the biggest number of winning appearances (behind Perisic and Felugo). He is also the only one who won the Champions League playing for four different clubs.
Besides Prlainovic, five players have five titles in their careers: Ozren Bonacic (Partizan 1964, Mladost 1968,1969, 1970, 1972), Mirko Sandic (Partizan 1964, 1966, 1967, 1971,1975), Tibor Benedek (Ujpest 1994, Pro Recco 2003, 2008, 2010, 2012) , Tamas Kasas (Posillipo 1998, Pro Recco 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012), and Stefano Temesti (Pro Recco 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2015).
Porzio, Bonacic, Antunovic, Milanovic…
Several persons have won the European Cup/Euroleague/Champions League both as coaches and players.
Guiseppe Porzio is the recorder with seven titles. As a player, he climbed the highest step of the podium with Posillipo in the seasons 1996/97 and 1997/98. Then, he guided Posillipo, as a coach, to the title in 2005, and Pro Recco to four trophies (2007, 2008,2010, 2012).
Ozren Bonacic is just a step behind Porzio. As a player, Bonacic collected five trophies (Partizan 1963/64, Mladost 1967/68, 1969/69, 1969/70 and 1971/72), while he guided Mladost, as a coach, to the club’s 7th European title (1995/96).
Igor Milanovic has three titles as a player (Mladost 1989/90 and 1990/91, and Catalunya in 1994/95), and two as a coach (Partizan in 2010/2011 and Pro Recco in 2014/2015).
Dusko Antunovic also won five titles, but with two clubs – playing for Partizan in 1970/71, 1974/75 and 1975/76, and coaching Mladost in 1989/90 and 1990/91.
Ivo Trumbic won three consecutive titles playing for Mladost (1966/67,1967/68, 1968/69). In the season 1987/88, he guided Sisley Pescara to the trophy, as a coach.
Paolo De Crescenzo is in the 6th place of this list. He played for Canottieri Naples, which won 1st place in the 1977/78 European Cup for national champions. In the late 1990s, he coached Posilllipo, which clinched its first European title in the season 1996/97 and retained the trophy next year.
Veselin Djuho took the European title playing for Jug Dubrovnik in the season 1980/81. Twenty years later, he led Jug to the title as a coach (2000/01).
Marco Baldineti has two trophies with Pro Recco – 1983/84 as a player, and 2002/2003 as a head coach.
Vjekoslav Kobescak was the European champion as a player of Mladost Zagreb (1995/96) and as a coach of Jug (2015/16).
Two players were players and coaches at the same time in the winning teams.
Boris Cukvas won three titles in a dual role. He was a player and, as well as Partizan’s coach during the seasons in which the Belgrade-based club won its first three titles (1963/64, 1965/66 and 1966/67).
Eraldo Pizzo was a player and Pro Recco’s coach in the season 1964/65 when the most successful Italian club clinched its first title.
1963/1964. Partizan Belgrade (YUG)
1964/1965. Recco (ITA)
1965/1966. Partizan Belgrade (YUG)
1966/1967. Partizan Belgrade (YUG)
1967/1968. Mladost Zagreb (YUG)
1968/1969. Mladost Zagreb (YUG)
1969/1970. Mladost Zagreb (YUG)
1970/1971. Partizan Belgrade (YUG)
1971/1972. Mladost Zagreb (YUG)
1972/1973. OSC Budapest (HUN)
1973/1974. MGU Moskow (USSR)
1974/1975. Partizan Belgrade (YUG)
1975/1976. Partizan Belgrade (YUG)
1976/1977. CSK VMF Moscow (USSR)
1977/1978. Canottieri Naples (ITA)
1978/1979. OSC Budapest (HUN)
1979/1980. Vasas Budapest (HUN)
1980/1981. Jug Dubrovnik (YUG)
1981/1982. Barcelona (ESP)
1982/1983. Spandau Berlin (FRG)
1983/1984. Stefanel Recco (ITA)
1984/1985. Vasas Budapest (HUN)
1985/1986. Spandau Berlin (FRG)
1986/1987. Spandau Berlin (FRG)
1987/1988. Sisley Pescara (ITA)
1988/1989. Spandau Berlin (FRG)
1989/1990. Mladost Zagreb (YUG)
1990/1991. Mladost Zagreb (YUG)
1991/1992. Jadran Koteks Split (CRO)
1992/1993. Jadran Koteks Split (CRO)
1993/1994. Ujpest Budapest (HUN)
1994/1995. Catalunya Barcelona (ESP)
1995/1996. Mladost Zagreb (CRO)
1996/1997. Posillipo Naples (ITA)
1997/1998. Posillipo Naples (ITA)
1998/1999. POSK Splitska Banka (CRO)
1999/2000. Becej (YUG)
2000/2001. Jug Dubrovnik (CRO)
2001/2002. Olimpiacos Piraeus (GRE)
2002/2003. Pro Recco (ITA)
2003/2004. Honved Budapest (HUN)
2004/2005. Posillipo Naples (ITA)
2005/2006. Jug Dubrovnik (CRO)
2006/2007. Pro Recco (ITA)
2007/2008. Pro Recco (ITA)
2008/2009. Primorac Kotor (MNE)
2009/2010. Pro Recco (ITA)
2010/2011. Partizan Belgrade (SRB)
2011/2012. Pro Recco (ITA)
2012/2013. Crvena Zvezda Belgrade (SRB)
2013/2014. Barceloneta (ESP)
2014/2015. Pro Recco (ITA)
2015/2016. Jug Dubrovnik (CRO)
2016/2017. Szolnok (HUN)
2017/2018. Olimpiacos Piraeus (GRE)
2018/2019. Ferencvaros Budapest (HUN)