What is a Treble in Football and Notable Teams Who Achieved It

Josip Brajkovic
Josip Brajkovic
Published: 12.5.2024.

One of the steepest summits of football’s landscape, a treble is a rare feat even for the most titanesque clubs. The answer to what is a treble could be picturesquely explained as a seasonal hat-trick. A player scores three goals, it’s called a hat-trick. When a club wins three trophies in a single season, it’s called a treble.

But it’s not any three trophies, a treble consists of a domestic national league title such as the Premier League. A domestic cup, such as the FA Cup in England. And the cherry on top and the hardest task is the continental trophy - Champions League.

Such a feat is quite rare even when we look at the best 15 leagues in Europe.

The truth is that we have been spoiled with trebles in the 21st century. Of the 10 treble seasons, only three happened in the 20th century.

Perhaps it's most shocking that the two clubs with the most Champions League trophies - Real Madrid (14) and Milan (7), never won a treble. The same goes for the six times CL champions Liverpool.

While we're looking at only European sides in this breakdown of football trebles, it's showing that there hasn't ever been one in South America! Certainly the second-best continent football-quality-wise with a vibrant continental tournament scene.

Clubs Who Won a Treble

Before we move on to detail the sides, it's important to remind everyone that the European Cup is the old name for the current Champions League. When the competition had a different format.

Only eight clubs have ever won a continental treble in Europe.

This means that two clubs won the treble twice!

Celtic (Scottish League, Scottish Cup, European Cup) - 1966/1967

The first ever treble-winning side actually won five trophies that season, but the Scottish League Cup and the Glasgow Cup are minor trophies at best. This generation of Celtic is known now as the Lisbon Lions, because the European Cup final was held in Lisbon. The green and white side celebrated 2:1 against Inter Milan after falling behind early on in the match.

The manager of the squad was Jock Stein, who won 10 Scottish League titles, eight Scottish Cups, six Scottish League Cups, and one European Cup.

Ajax (Eredivisie, KNVB Cup, European Cup) - 1971/1972

When considering clubs outside of the top five leagues (Italy, France, Spain, Germany, England) Ajax is the biggest standout. European royalty with a heavy impact on the nature of the game itself, like football formations and playing styles.

Ajax's lone treble was a surprising one, as it came in the first season without one of the most important figures in the club's history - Rinus Michels. Instead of him, the manager was Stefan Kovacs, and in that transitional season he managed to win the Dutch league, Dutch Cup, and the European Cup.

Having Johan Cruyff helped, as the Dutch superstar scored 33 goals in the season. Ajax won the league convincingly, the KNVB Cup dramatically 3:2 against Den Haag, and then in late May the cherry on top. Once again, Inter had to succumb to a treble winner, this time Ajax celebrated 2:0 with two goals from Cruyff.

PSV (Eredivisie, KNVB Cup, European Cup) - 1987/1988

Even though they are Ajax's biggest rivals sporting-wise, albeit not culturally, from the outside looking in PSV are a step below the Amsterdam side. Certainly, the second team of the Netherlands, but Ajax holds a greater mystique. Yet, PSV managed to achieve a treble as well! Doing so in the late '80s, when the difference between the top five leagues and the rest of Europe was bigger than in the '70s.

Believe it or not, Guus Hiddink was PSV's manager back then in the 1987/1988 season! The manager earned his longevity in great part that year, as the side won the Eredivisie comfortably, the Cup in extra time 3:2 against Roda, and then the European Cup against Benfica. After a goalless draw, penalties decided. Such seasons make legends and in this case the honour was earned by Wim Kieft, who scored 29 goals throughout.

Manchester United (Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League) - 1998/1999

Perhaps the most romanticized treble of all time and for good reasons. United started the season by losing the Charity Shield to Arsenal but eventually won the Premier League with a point ahead of the Gunners. The entire season, including the run to the FA Cup won against Newcastle, had comebacks. None more important and memorable than the Champions League final! The first in the new format amongst the treble-winners.

Bayern Munich was leading at Nou Camp since the sixth minute, and United fired back in the 91st minute with a Teddy Teheringham goal. Two minutes later the late sub Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored the famed winner. In recognition of his success, Ferguson was awarded a knighthood. If that doesn't encapsulate just how important a treble is, nothing does.

Inter Milan (Serie A, Coppa Italia, Champions League) - 2009/2010

In the 101st season of Inter Milan's existence, the club recorded the most special season they ever had. Under the guidance of The Special One himself, Jose Mourinho. Inter secured a Serie A triumph with just two points more than Roma, besting the same rival with the minimum margin in the Italian Cup final as well.

The Champions League run was the most memorable one, as Inter went past Chelsea and then Barcelona in the semis. With Bayern as the last hurdle, surpassed by the brilliance of Diego Milito the most. As the Argentinian scored two proper number nine goals to secure the treble in Madrid.

Manchester City (Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League) - 2022/2023

The latest treble winners, which frankly didn't get the credit they deserved for it. Yes, City has spent a lot of money, but so have other clubs that haven't come close to a major trophy. Powered by the arrival of Erling Haaland, who scored 52 goals in a season, City won their first-ever treble.

Arsenal was a worthy competitor in the league, but the inexperienced Gunners faltered towards the end. The FA Cup triumph was ever-so-sweet as the city rivals United were beaten 2:1. The Champions League was the Holy Grail Pep Guardiola sought at the Etihad the longest. A run that led them past Bayern and Real, scheduled a final with the unexpected Inter. Despite a valiant effort, the Nerazzurri were the lucky charm to another treble-winning team, with City winning 1:0.

Barcelona (La Liga, Copa del Rey, Champions League) - 2008/2009, 2014/2015

One of the two teams that have won a treble. Having Lionel Messi will do that to you. But it's the entire team, as he was followed by Gerard Pique, Carles Puylo, Xavi, Iniesta, Thierry Henry, Dani Alves... Led by Pep Guardiola. The only manager who has repeated a treble. Doing it with two different teams.

La Liga was a blowout, with nine points ahead of Real Madrid, Copa Del Rey was won convincingly 4:1 against Athletic Bilbao. In the memorable Champions League run, Lyon, Bayern, and Chelsea were bested before a Manchester United team was seemingly routinely defeated 2:0 in Rome.

The second Barcelona treble also had Messi, but this time the focus was on the trio he made with Neymar and Luis Suarez. Xavi and Iniesta were still conducting the machine, under the guidance of Luis Enrique. A hard-fought La Liga triumph saw Barca beat their El Clasico rivals with two points. Once again, in the Copa del Rey, Athletic Bilbao was defeated, this time 3:1.

Barca had a rough CL knockout stage path, defeated Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, and Barcelona, and then faced Juventus in the final at the Berlin Olympic Stadium. While Suarez and Neymar scored in the 3:1 triumph, the season was marked by Messi, who bagged 58 goals in total.

Bayern Munich (Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal, Champions League) - 2012/2013, 2019/2020

One of the most dominating teams in memory, Jupp Heynckes' Bayern Munich was truly a machine. The Bundesliga was won with a 25-point difference to the second-placed and a goal difference of +80. A German Cup triumph was hard-fought as Stuttgart made the final spectacular with five goals in a 3:2 win for the Bavarians.

A CL run saw Bayern best Arsenal, Juventus, and Barcelona before the all-German final. In it, t Mario Mandzukic for Bayern and Ilkay Gundogan for Borussia Dortmund made the score equal. Before Arjen Robben scored a late winner at Wembley stadium.

The second Bayern treble had the rare instances where the season was started with one coach before a switch was made. Hansi Flick took over from Niko Kovac in early November, with the idea of becoming a caretaker. But the team started looking sharp out of the gate and eventually, Bayern secured a title with 13 points ahead of BVB. Bayer Leverkusen was a worthy rival in the DFB Pokal final with the final score 4:2.

The Champions League run was memorable on its own as the season was interrupted due to a pandemic. Hence Bayern's two-leg round of 16 matches against Chelsea stretched from February to August, and in total had a score of 7:1. Despite the rest of the tournament being played with a single game, it wasn't the most convincing/embarrassing result. Barcelona was trampled 8:2 in the quarter-finals, before Lyon and then Paris Saint-Germain fell down in Lisbon.

Other Trebles in Football

Of course, these were the proper, big, or continental trebles when discussing the matter specifically.

Domestic Trebles in Football

But, considering some countries have multiple cups, like the English FA and League Cups, it's possible to win a domestic treble.

Celtic has done so eight times in Scotland, Rangers seven times.

Paris Saint-Germain won Ligue 1, Coupe de France, and Coupe de la Ligue all in one season four times (2015, 2016, 2018, 2019).

Athletic Bilbao and Bayern Munich did it too with the now-defunct third cups.

Manchester City has the most notable recent domestic treble, winning the Premier League, FA Cup, and League Cup in the 2018/2019 season.

Other Continental Trebles in Football

Of course, now we have multiple continental competitions. With the Europa League, we must count on Porto managed to win the Primeira, the Portuguese Cup, and the second-strongest pan-European competition twice!

In the 2002/2003 season, the pre-cursor to their Champions League-winning campaign, Jose Mourinho led the squad to a smaller continental treble. In the UEFA Cup final (precursor to the Europa League), Celtic was defeated 3:2 after extra time.

The then-proclaimed ‘new Mourinho’ - Andre Villas-Boas was the manager in the 2014/2015 season when Radamel Falcao was the star player with 39 goals scored. After a convincing win in the league, Porto secured the mini-treble in an all-Portuguese final against Braga with the minimum score.


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