When you think of the football clubs that would be the equivalent of a footballing superpower, there are certain clubs that spring to mind.

For good reason too. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich are the three that are top of the tree when musing upon which club has the most clout, the most illustrious history and crucially – the biggest haul of silverware.

This years European Cup has now separated the wheat from the proverbial chaff, and the rollcall for the knockout stages has the same familiar faces of previous years. The aforementioned trio of Euro behemoths will be taking part as they always do, but they won’t have everything their own way.

There are a host of clubs with liberal sprinklings of stars within their team that can hurt the conglomerate that is Real, Bayern and Barca. The odds for the potential winners of this years Cup is interesting reading, and shows that in terms of stature, the chasing pack are catching up.

What exactly sees a successful club transform into a giant? To start, the respective number of European trophies would be top of the list. Any club that can boast of European honours can show that they not only earned the right to play in Europe by beating their domestic rivals, but they also overcame the cream of the continent. So what club has the most European honours?

No surprise to see Real Madrid and Barcelona in the top 3 of the list, with 19 and 14 respectively, but Bayern Munich have amassed 10 and are 7th on the list. Above them are teams such as Ajax, AC Milan and Liverpool – teams who have failed to maintain a constant presence in Europe’s premier competition.

Do former glories count as much as the present? If so, then Liverpool would be able to claim some part of the dominion that Real, Barca and co currently hold. Ditto AC Milan, who in the 90’s – and were a pretty big deal in the noughties – alone held Europe within their tight grasp. 

These clubs though, have faltered on the domestic front. Liverpool especially have been unable to jump over the first hurdle to ensure their membership for the ‘Giant Club’ is not revoked. The Merseysiders, Milan and Manchester United more recently, have not been able to make a dent in their home countries league. Liverpool have not won a title since 1990, can they really claim to be part of the European heavyweight scene?

Some part of the equation is financial heft. Like it or not, Chelsea and Manchester City have muscled their way into the scene and now compete on a near equal footing to the Barca’s and Bayern’s of this collective. They regularly lift silverware on the domestic front and now have European delights firmly within their reticule. Do they now qualify as a giant even though their previous decades were far from glorious?

Other variables should warrant a mention too. A global fanbase generates interest around the world and more importantly, it ups the amount of income a club gets. If this is included, then Arsenal, United, Real and Barca can renew their membership cards to the Giant Club. 

The only clubs that can really tick the boxes on all of these comprising factors is the first three clubs I mentioned. Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona have trophies in their past, present and more than likely, their future. They contend every year at the top, they have more than enough pulling power in terms of fiscal amount and they can look upon their trophy cabinet with a smile and an empty can of polish.

This season will be no different, as will the next. If a club truly wants to elevate their standing, they need a glittering history, a well stocked trophy cabinet, a revenue stream that allows the club to duke it out in the transfer market, and a regular presence in the Champions League.

Which club will make that leap this season? The Champions League is wide open, but rest assured if any team has genuine aspirations, then they will surely have to beat one of the big three.