FC Internazionale Milano rode their luck against FC Bayern München in the round of 16, but their European defence ended in Germany after all on Wednesday as they fell to FC Schalke 04 7-3 on aggregate. As a result, the holders have now failed to retain their crown in each of the 19 seasons since the UEFA Champions League era began.
In the days of the old European Champion Clubs' Cup, it was far from unusual for a team to lift the trophy twice or even more times in succession. Real Madrid CF famously won the first five editions and SL Benfica the next two. Inter did similarly in 1963/64 and 1964/65, AFC Ajax and Bayern both completed hat-tricks between 1970/71 and 1975/76 and, in the following four seasons, first Liverpool FC and then Nottingham Forest FC lifted the cup twice in a row.
By the time Milan were celebrating their second successive triumph in 1989/90, it was the 13th time in 34 seasons that the reigning champions had had gone all the way again. More than two decades on, this has not happened since.
There have been various near misses, of course. Ajax beat holders Milan in the 1995 showpiece only to lose to Juventus on penalties in the next, and the Turin club reached the denouement the following year, where they succumbed to Borussia Dortmund. In more recent times, Manchester United FC's 2-0 loss to FC Barcelona in the 2009 decider came the season after their triumph against Chelsea FC in Moscow.
The fate of Barcelona in the very first UEFA Champions League season in 1992/93, when PFC CSKA Moskva beat them to a group stage berth, certainly looks to have been an omen. Although the titleholders are ensured a spot in the competition proper these days, between 1997/98 and 2003/04 they always fell in the quarter or semi-finals.
Milan's painful exit to RC Deportivo La Coruña in the last of those years then signalled a further downturn in fortunes for the holders as four round of 16 eliminations promptly followed. In fact, since certain countries have been permitted to enter more than one team, in 1997/98, only once have the defending champions even reached the final – Manchester United in 2009.
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