The tournament was inaugurated in 1955, at the suggestion of the French sports journalist and editor of L'Équipe Gabriel Hanot as a continental competition for winners of the European national football leagues, as the European Champion Clubs' Cup, abbreviated to European Cup.
The competition began as the 1955/56 using a two-leg knockout format where the teams would play two matches, one at home and one away, and the team with the highest overall score qualifying for the next round of the competition. Entry was restricted to the teams that won their national league championships, plus the current European Cup holder. This qualification system continued until 1992. In the 1992–93 season, the tournament was renamed UEFA Champions League and in 1997/98, eligibility was expanded to include not just domestic champions but also the best performing runners up according to UEFA's coefficient ranking list.
Between 1960 and 2004 the winner of the tournament qualified for the now defunct Intercontinental Cup against the winner of the Copa Libertadores of South America. Since then, with FIFA taking over, the winner automatically qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup with other winners of continental club championships.
The 2008-09 Champions League Final was won by Barcelona who beat Manchester United 2-0 in the Olympic Stadium in Rome.
Spanish clubs have now won Europe's top club prize 12 times, which is once more than both Italy and England.