Have Aston Villa played in UEFA Champions League before? History in Europe, past record for Unai Emery’s team

Aston Villa are closing in on securing a top-four finish in the Premier League, and the hugely lucrative bonus of a spot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

Unai Emery’s side have taken huge strides since the Spaniard’s arrival in October 2022. The former Arsenal boss took over a team who were languishing two places above the relegation zone under Steven Gerrard, but he has masterminded a transition that now sees them preparing to battle with the elite of European football once again.

The Sporting News takes a look at their history in Europe and what it would mean for Villa to qualify for the Champions League next season.

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Have Aston Villa ever played in the Champions League?

Since the competition was rebranded as the Champions League in 1992, Aston Villa have never played in Europe’s elite club competition. They have, however, competed in the old European Cup, which they famously won in 1982. 

Villa secured the ultimate club prize in Rotterdam in May that year, when they beat Bayern Munich in the final.

They had navigated past Valur (Iceland), Dynamo Berlin (East Germany), Dynamo Kiev (USSR) and Anderlecht (Belgium) to make the showpiece — but their chances took a turn for the worse when goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer was forced off early in the final due to an injury.

He was replaced by Nigel Spink, a relatively inexperienced youngster with only one previous first-team appearance under his belt. However, Spink’s second outing for Villa turned into a spectacle as he made a string of heroic saves to etch his name into Aston Villa club folklore.

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In the 67th minute, winger Tony Morley beat his man to deliver a pinpoint cross from the left flank and he found Peter Withe, who arrived unmarked at the far post and shinned the ball into the back of the net to win the European Cup.

How many times have Aston Villa been in Europe?

Starting with a first-round exit from the 1975-76 UEFA Cup — the predecessor to the Europa League — there have been 18 seasons when Villa have played in Europe, including in the Europa Conference League this season, where they have reached the semifinal stage.

They earned a comeback 2-2 draw in the first leg of the quarterfinals of the 1977-78 competition after Johan Cruyff had scored one of Barcelona’s goals at Villa Park, and they took the lead at Camp Nou before the Spanish giants produced two late replies to progress 4-3 on aggregate.

Better was to come four seasons later, when that 1-0 win over Bayern Munich in Rotterdam landed Villa the European Cup and allowed them to enter the UEFA Super Cup the following season, which they won with revenge over Barca.

Their European Cup defence ended in the quarterfinals against Juventus, and five early exits from the UEFA Cup followed between 1983 and the 1997-98 season, when they reached the quarterfinals but were beaten on away goals despite a second-leg home win over Atletico Madrid.

Alongside Paris Saint-Germain and Troyes, Villa were one of three winners of the 2001 Intertoto Cup — a tournament with a reward of UEFA Cup entry, which was discontinued in 2008.

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Season Competition Stage
1975/76 UEFA Cup Round one
1977/78 UEFA Cup Quarterfinals
1981/82 European Cup Winners
1982/83* European Cup Quarterfinals
1983/84 UEFA Cup Round two
1990/91 UEFA Cup Round two
1993/94 UEFA Cup Round two
1994/95 UEFA Cup Round two
1996/97 UEFA Cup Round one
1997/98 UEFA Cup Quarterfinals
1998/99 UEFA Cup Round two
2000/01 Intertoto Cup Semifinals
2001/02 UEFA Cup** Round one
2002/03 Intertoto Cup Semifinals
2008/09 Europa League*** Round of 32
2009/10 Europa League Playoffs
2010/11 Europa League Playoffs
2023/24 Europa Conference League Ongoing

* Club also won the Super Cup and finished as Intercontinental Cup runners-up

** Won the Intertoto Cup

*** Qualified through Intertoto Cup

Unai Emery’s history in Champions League

While he has never won the Champions League, Emery’s most successful finish in the competition was making the semifinals with Villarreal in 2021/22.

Season Club Achieved Round
21/22 Villarreal CF Semi-Finals
17/18 Paris Saint-Germain Round of 16
16/17 Paris Saint-Germain Round of 16
15/16 Sevilla Group Stage
12/13 Spartak Moscow Group Stage
11/12 Valencia Group Stage
10/11 Valencia Round of 16

MORE: All-time list of UEFA Champions League and European Cup winners

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