Today, we’ll pause the introduction of the Champions League clubs. Still, Total Waterpolo’s series of articles about the elite clubs’ competition continues.
We’ll look back at the history of the Champions League and present some facts about the beginnings, interesting finals, the most decorated coaches and players, etc.
In eight days, the 60th LEN Champions League will begin. The first edition was held in the season 1963/64.
To date, 25 clubs have won the title of European champion. Reigning champion Pro Recco is the record-holder with 10 trophies.
Throughout its history, the CHL changed its name four times: 1963 – 1996 European Water Polo Cup for national champions;1996 – 2003 Champions League;2003 – 2011 LEN Euroleague;2011 – present LEN Champions League.
Fifteen teams played in the first European Cup for national champions in the season 1963/64. They were split into two groups (in Naples and in Magdeburg) in the Preliminary Stage. The top three teams from each group advanced to the final tournament. Partizan was the host of the final group and organized the tournament in Zagreb, because Belgrade didn’t have an indoor pool then.
The final group was a round-robin tournament. Partizan won the trophy with five wins in as many games.
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 other national champions that applied for the first European Cup were: Barcelona (ESP), Gent (BEL), CSKA Sofia (BUL), WSU (AUT), Strasbourg (FRA), Ethnikos (GRE), Amersfoort (NED), and CH Kosice (TCH) and Ferencvaros (HUN), but the Hungarians withdrew.
The Belgrade-based daily Yugoslav Sports Newspaper “Sport” awarded the trophy to the winners in the first years of the European Cup.
The second final tournament was held in Milan and organized by Pro Recco. A “football result” decided the winner.
Four teams played in the final group. It was a round-robin tournament, as well as in Zagreb. The decisive match for 1st place was an encounter between Pro Recco and Partizan in the last round. Both teams had two wins before this game. Pro Recco recorded a 1:0 victory (the only goal was scored in the third quarter) and won 1st place. However, a result like that wasn’t a big curiosity at that time. The game lasted for 20 minutes (four quarters of five minutes), and the possession of the ball for the attacking team wasn’t limited.
Two Yugoslav clubs – the first winner Partizan and Mladost Zagreb – dominated in the early years of the European Cup. Partizan was the first team that defended the title (1965 and 1966), while Mladost became the first and, so far, the only club to win three titles in a row (1968,1969,1970).
Partizan clinched its 6th title in 1976 and was the record-holder for 15 years – until Mladost won its 6th trophy.
In 1996, Mladost became the first club with seven titles of European champion.
Partizan equaled Mladost’s record in 2011, while Pro Recco won its seventh crown in 2012. Pro Recco improved the record with its 8th title (2015) and added two more trophies to its treasury in the following years (2021 and 2022).
The competition formula of the European Cup/Euro League/Champions League has been changed several times.
The season 1966/67 was interesting because three final matches were played. Partizan and Pro Recco faced in the final on a home-and-away basis. Partizan won 5:3 at home, while Recco took revenge in the return leg (2:1). Partizan was better in the aggregate score. But, the rule about an aggregate score wasn’t introduced in that season, and there were no penalty shootouts. A team had to win two games in the final to become the champion.
So, LEN scheduled the third final game in a neutral field. The champions of Yugoslavia and Italy played their third game in Geneva. Partizan recorded a 4:3 victory and won its third title.
Only two Champions League finals ended in penalty shootouts. Ferencvaros defeated Olympiacos 14:13 (10:10) in Hannover in 2019. In June this year, Recco won its 10th title after a 17:16 (14:14) victory over Novi Beograd
Five months ago, Pro Recco became the first club to win the Champions League 10 times. At the same time, Recco’s coach Sandro Sukno became the 12th man to win the European title both as a player and a coach.
Three of those 12 will feature in the 2022/23 Champions League. Besides Sukno, the titles in two roles have current Olympiacos’ head coach Igor Milanovic and Jug’s Vjekoslav Kobescak.
Counting titles as a player and a coach, Italian Giuseppe Porzio is a record holder with seven titles (two as a player and five as a coach).
Two players won titles in a double role. They were players and head coaches at the same time in the winning teams. Boris Cukvas did it with Partizan three times (1963/64, 1965/66 and 1966/67). Eraldo Pizzo played for Pro Recco and coached the team in the season 1964/65 when the Italians won the title, thanks to a 1:0 win over Partizan.
Giuseppe Porzio – player 2 titles (1996/97 and 1997/98 with Posillipo), coach 5 titles (2004/05 with Posillipo, 2006/07, 2007/08,2009/10, 2011/12).
Ozren Bonacic – player 5 titles (1963/64 with Partizan, 1967/68, 1969/69, 1969/70 and 1971/72 with Mladost), coach 1 title ( 1995/96 with Mladost)
Dusko Antunovic – player 3 titles (1970/71, 1974/75 and 1975/76 with Partizan), coach – 2 titles (1989/90 and 1990/91 with Mladost).
Igor Milanovic – player 3 titles (1989/90 and 1990/91 with Mladost and 1994/95 with Catalunya), coach – 2 titles (2010/2011 with Partizan and 2014/2015 with Pro Recco).
Ivo Trumbic – player 3 titles (1966/67,1967/68, 1968/69 with Mladost), coach – 1 title (1987/88 with Sisley Pescara)
Paolo De Crescenzo – player 1 title ( 1977/78 with Canottieri Naples), coach – 2 titles ( 1996/97 and 1997/98 with Posillipo)
Veselin Djuho – player 1 title (1980/81 with Jug), coach – 1 title (2000/01 with Jug).
Marco Baldineti – player 1 title (1983/84 with Pro Recco), coach – 1 title (2002/2003 with Pro Recco)
Vjekoslav Kobescak – player 1 title (1995/96 with Mladost Zagreb), coach – 1 title (2015/16 with Jug)
Sandro Sukno – player 1 title (2011/12 with Pro Recco), coach – 1 title (2021/22 with Pro Recco)
PLAYER AND COACH AT SAME TIME
Boris Cukvas – player and coach – 3 titles (1963/64, 1965/66 and 1966/67 with Partizan)
Eraldo Pizzo – player and coach – 1 title (1964/65 with Pro Recco)
The last season’s title was something special for Pietro Figlioli, not only for Sandro Sukno. He won his 6th European title as a player. Before him, only two players managed to achieve this feat – Djordje Perisic and Maurizio Felugo.
Djordje Perisic – 6 titles with Partizan (1963/64; 1965/66; 1966/67; 1970/71; 1974/75; 1975/76)
Maurizio Felugo – 1 title with Posillipo (2004/2005) and 5 with Pro Recco (2006/07, 2007/08; 2009/10; 2011/12; 2014/15).
Pietro Figlioli – 6 titles with Pro Recco (2006/07, 2009/10, 2011/12, 2014/15, 2020/21, 2021/22 with Pro Recco)
Perisic played in all six finals in which Partizan triumphed. Felugo and Figlioli missed one final each. Figlioli wasn’t on the roster in the final in 2012. Felugo missed the 2015 Final Six.
Six cities are home of two or more European water polo champions. Even five clubs from Budapest clinched the title. Barcelona has three, Belgrade, Split, Naples and Moscow have two Champions League winners each.
Budapest – OSC (2), Vasas (2), Ujpest (1), Honved (1), Ferencvaros (1)
Barcelona: Barcelona (1), Catalunya (1), Barceloneta (1)
Belgrade – Partizan (7) and Crvena Zvezda (1)
Naples: Posillipo (3), Canottieri (1)
Split – Jadran (2) and POSK (1)
Moscow – MGU Moscow (1) and CSK VMF (1)
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)
2019/2020 season canceled
2020/2021 Pro Recco (ITA)
2021/22 Pro Recco (ITA)
Titles by clubs – 10: Pro Recco, 7: Mladost and Partizan, 4: Spandau and Jug, 3: Posillipo, 2: OSC, Vasas, Jadran Split, Olympiacos, 1: MGU Moscow, CSK VMF Moscow, Canottieri Naples, Barcelona, Pescara, Ujpest, Catalunya, POSK, Becej, Honved, Primorac, Crvena Zvezda, Barceloneta, Szolnok, Ferencvaros.