40. Bayern Munich 1984-90
Thanks to performances at the World Cups of 1982 and 1986, German football earned a somewhat deserved reputation for joyless persistence throughout the decade. Unsurprisingly, the national team consisted of a core of Bayern Munich players such as Lothar Matthaus and Olaf Thon. Even less surprisingly, that Bayern team earned a similar reputation within Germany.
As Rudi Voller honed in on goal and the effective people’s champions Werder Bremen honed in on the title at Bayern’s old Olimpiastadion on 23 November 1985, Klaus Augenthaler did the only he could. He took Voller out. And not just out of that run. Out of the season. Voller missed all but two more games in that campaign while Bayern won the match and, eventually, the title.
Whatever about their winning-at-all-costs approach though, the point is Bayern were also winning. In fact, their total of four titles in five years – including a three-in-a-row and a double – represented the most extensive spell of dominance in Bundesliga history. They also did it with some of the best defensive records in history.
What’s more, their quality extended beyond the domestic game. In that, this wasn’t quite the same as Manchester United’s monopoly of the Premier League in the mid-90s, when they’d win multiple titles but toil in Europe. That Bayern team never went out before the last eight in any continental competition and got to the final of the 1987 European Cup. Their arrogance arguably cost them in that trophy, but it also brought the Bundesliga’s most suffocating spell of success.
Trophies won: German league 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990; German Cup 1986; European Cup runners-up 1987
Managers: Udo Lattek, Jupp Heynckes
Best XI: Pfaff; Nachtweih, Brehme, Augenthaler, Pflugler, Thon; Dorfner, Matthaus; Hoeness, Kogl
39. Liverpool 1985-90
A team whose brilliance was unfortunately bookended by tragedy. England’s deserved ban from European football after Heysel denied everyone the chance to see how good Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool really were before Hillsborough ended an era. Although not quite as relentless or as capable of racking up successive titles as Bob Paisley’s team, they did win the club’s only domestic double – as well as just miss out on a further two – while playing more exquisite football. They regularly hit over two goals a game with some of the best scoring rates in the history of the English game. The 5-0 win over Nottingham Forest in April 1988 proved a particular high point. They still never retained a trophy though. And it remains forever open to question whether the likes of John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and Ronnie Whelan would have had enough to beat Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan.
Trophies won: English league 1986, 1988, 1990; FA Cup 1986, 1989
Managers: Kenny Dalglish
Best XI: Grobbelaar; Nicol, Beglin, Lawrenson, Hansen; Whelan, McMahon, Houghton, Barnes; Beardsley, Rush
38. Chelsea 2004-07
The best team never to win the Champions League? A few sides below might take issue with that as well as Jose Mourinho’s ways of doing things. But there’s no debating his record in English football. The Portuguese raised the bar to unseen and still-unmatched levels in the Premier League. Chelsea’s totals in 2004-05 and 2005-06 constitute the highest points-per-game averages in the history of the English game. The biggest compliment that can be paid to him is that, essentially, he ensured you dare not make more than one error if you had any notions of winning the league.
At times, Chelsea were utterly relentless. But, crucially, not invincible. For all of the highly personal battles that Mourinho won, he ultimately lost three times to his Bete Noirs in the competition he wanted most: twice in the Champions League semi-finals to Rafa Benitez, once in the last 16 to Barcelona. All in acrimonious circumstances.
That, of course, is exactly how you could describe Mourinho’s departure. It may have provided some vindication that they got to the final later that season. But Chelsea’s failure to win the Champions League still stands against an otherwise intimidating team.
Trophies won: English league 2005, 2006; FA Cup 2007; English league cup 2005, 2007
Managers: Jose Mourinho
Best XI: Cech; Ferreira, Gallas, Carvalho, Terry; Makelele, Lampard, Essien; Robben, Duff, Drogba
37. Barcelona 1950-54
For reasons that go far beyond football, this Barcelona team are among the most cherished in the club’s history. Their victory in Paris in the 1952 Copa Latina – the forerunner of the European Cup – for example, gave Catalans their first chance to wave the region’s flag since the end of the Civil War. But that conquest also only topped off Barca’s total domination of Spanish football.
With the revered Hungarian Ladislao Kubala at his uncontainable best, Barca produced goal returns that weren’t bettered in Spain until Pep Guardiola’s team. And they helped win almost every competition they entered over two years. The only problem was that their consecutive domestic doubles in 1952 and 1953 were the ultimate pyrrhic victories. So brilliant were Barcelona becoming that the regime simply couldn’t countenance the addition of Alfredo Di Stefano. The rest made history. But, for a brief time, so did that Barca. Just a pity we’ll never know how good they could have got.
Trophies won: Spanish league 1952, 1953; Spanish Cup 1951, 1952, 1953
Managers: Ferdinand Daucik
Best XI: Velasco; Tejada, Segarra, Gracia; Simatoc, Gonzalvo, Moreno, Kubala; Seguer, Manchon, Rodriguez
36. St Etienne 1973-76
Having set the bar in France with two successive domestic doubles and three leagues in a row, St Etienne could only hit it in the European Cup. They were denied by the woodwork three times in the 1976 final against Bayern Munich. The ultimate 1-0 defeat has gone down as one of the most unjust in the competition’s history.
That moral victory as well as the manner of their stylish football has ensured that St Etienne have assumed something of a mythic image in France. But there was a lot more to them than romance. Bankrolled by factory boss Roger Rocher, their youth system sparked a resurgence in French football as well as the revival of the ’80s. Young stars like Christian Lopez, Domenique Bathenay and brothers Herve and Patrick Revelli were enhanced by the assuredness of international pros like Oswaldo and Yvan Curkovic.
The Yugoslav keeper Curkovic was particularly influential in one of the club’s greatest moments. Not that it felt like it at the time. Absolutely pummelled away to Lobanovskiy’s first great Dynamo Kyiv side in the 1974-75 quarter-finals, only Curkovic’s acrobatics kept the score at 2-0. And, inspired by their fervent home crowd in the return, St Etienne staged one of the European Cup’s great comebacks with a 3-0 victory. Despite that, they didn’t quite have the character to eventually break Bayern’s grip on the trophy.
Trophies won: French league 1974, 1975, 1976; French Cup 1974, 1975; European Cup runners-up 1976
Managers: Robert Herbin
Best XI: Curkovic; Repellini, Piazza, Lopez, Janvion; Bathenay, Santini, Larque; P Revelli, H Revelli, Rocheteau
35. Real Madrid 1999-2003
After Real Madrid utterly unravelled Manchester United in the 2002-03 Champions League quarter-finals, Gary Neville described the ordeal as like playing the Harlem Globetrotters. In the first leg in particular, United simply couldn’t get close to the ball as Real produced the kind of performance to rival anything Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona have managed.
It was just unfortunate that Florentino Perez started to take Neville’s description a little too meaningfully. As his ostentatious Galactico project progressed, Perez began to confuse exhibitionism with effectiveness. In the summer of 2003, he swapped the David Beckham circus for Claude Makelele and a whole lot of the club’s dignity.
Infamously, Vicente Del Bosque was also sacked that summer as Perez evidently tried to build a trademark rather than a team. The dignified Spanish coach had memorably steadied a freefalling Real mid-season to improbably deliver the 1999-2000 Champions League. Indeed, the point at which the club’s recent history appeared to turn was marked in the moment Fernando Redondo also turned Henning Berg inside out with an exquisite backheel.
An exciting team’s quality shouldn’t be overstated though. In the seasons when Real won the Champions League, they also finished fifth and third in the Spanish league. Essentially, Del Bosque just about facilitated the favourable formation of some brilliant individuals. Without the true collectivism to produce consistent domination, they instead produced many isolated moments of quality – chief among them Zinedine Zidane’s volley.
Nevertheless, their two European Cups in three years – and a third in five if you take in the 1998 victory a largely different team achieved – is the closest any club has got to dominating the competition since Milan in 1990.
Trophies won: Champions League 2000, 2002; Spanish league 2001, 2003
Managers: Vicente Del Bosque
Best XI: Casillas; Salgado, Roberto Carlos, Helguera, Hierro; Redondo, Zidane, Figo; Raul, Ronaldo, Morientes
34. Borussia Monchengladbach 1969-78
For Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali in ’70s heavyweight boxing, read Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayern Munich in ’70s German football. The only problem was that it was difficult to tell which was which.
Many in Germany, of course, did their best to split the teams down specific lines: attack v defence; creation v caution; good v evil and – above all – Gunter Netzer v Franz Beckenbauer. In truth, they really defined each other with the rivalry driving both on to higher levels.
Gladbach won the Bundesliga’s first two-in-a-row in 1970 and 1971, so Bayern immediately followed with the competition’s first three-in-a-row. Gladbach won the Uefa Cup in 1973, so Bayern followed with, well, three European Cups… and that’s the true line where the teams split.
For all their adventure, all their 12-0 wins and all five domestic titles that bettered Bayern’s four throughout this period, Gladbach never won Europe’s greatest prize. They got to the final in 1977 only to be beaten by Liverpool and lost to the same opposition in the following year’s semi-final. In that, they were possibly unlucky to be caught between two great dynasties – one in Munich, one in Merseyside. But the only complaint that can be held against this exhilarating Gladbach team is that they never created their own dynasty on the continent.
Trophies won: German league 1970, 1971, 1975, 1976, 1977; German Cup 1973; Uefa Cup 1975; European Cup runners-up 1977
Managers: Hennes Weisweiler, Udo Lattek
Best XI: Kneib; Vogts, Klinkhammer, Wittkamp; Schafer, Netzer, Bonhof, Wimmer; Stielike; Heynckes, Simonsen
33. Real Madrid 1960-64
The sort of team that illustrated just how routine victory came at Real. Despite winning the Spanish league’s first four-in-a-row, a double and also reaching two European Cup finals, this team is almost treated as an afterthought. But that’s also because they were essentially caught between eras. Guiding the side were aging heads like Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas. Shifting the gears were new young stars like Amancio and Felo. Unfortunately for Real, it didn’t quite provide the right mix to reclaim the European Cup.
Trophies won: Spanish league 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964; Spanish Cup 1962; European Cup runners-up 1962, 1964
Managers: Miguel Munoz
Best XI: Vicente; Santamaria, Zoco, Sanchez, Pachin; Muller, Di Stefano, Felo; Gento, Amancio, Puskas
32. PSV Eindhoven 1985-89
In getting the absolute maximum out of a moderate side, Guus Hiddink also got his team to display ultra-minimalism.
Along the way to the 1988 European Cup, PSV won only three games out of nine and none of their last five. A mere two away goals took them from the last 16 to the final – as they drew 1-1 at both Bordeaux and Real Madrid – both of which formed the lowest ever goals haul by any European Cup winner: one a game. Inevitably, they failed to score in 120 minutes of the final against Benfica. But they did put away all six of their penalties in the shoot-out.
Oddly, their frugality in Europe was in vast contrast to their flourishes in a highly respectable Dutch league. PSV scored 100, 99 and 117 goals in the 1986, ’87 and ’88 seasons respectively. That European Cup completed a treble, too, which also saw Hiddink’s team set a record of winning 17 consecutive games. It added up to four consecutive titles and another double. Perhaps emphasising Hiddink’s alchemy in 1988, however, the following season’s quarter-final exit represented their next best European performance. Nevertheless, although they found it hard to win at the very top level, PSV were clearly very difficult to beat.
Trophies won: European Cup 1988; Dutch league 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989; Dutch Cup 1988, 1989
Managers: Guus Hiddink
Best XI: Van Breukelen; Gerets, Nielsen, Koeman, Heintze; Lerby, Van Aerle, Vanenburg, Linskens; Kieft, Romario
31. Feyenoord 1968-74
Unlike in the Bundesliga in the ’70s, there was no debate over who was who in the same decade in Holland. Feyenoord were emphatically Frazier to Ajax’s Ali. Less charismatic, less iconic, less influential and – above all – less successful. But the latter only relatively so. With one European Cup, three leagues, three Dutch Cups and a Uefa Cup over six seasons, Feyenoord’s golden period would have been unforgettable in any other area. The only problem was that, such was Ajax’s erstwhile domination of the competitions and the public consciousness, it’s too often overlooked that Feyenoord were the first Dutch side to break the European Cup. The 1970 victory over Celtic was the country’s maiden win in the competition as Ernst Happel outwitted Jock Stein. It was another result in that same month, however, that ultimately saw Ajax outwit Feyenoord. As both sides drew 3-3, Ajax coach Rinus Michels had noted how the Feyenoord midfield was swamping his. So, from that date, he switched from 4-2-4 to 4-3-3. The rest made history… and consigned Feyenoord to its fringes.
Brilliant. But their great rivals were always just that bit better.
Trophies won: European Cup 1970; Dutch league 1969, 1971, 1974; Dutch Cup 1969, 1974; Uefa Cup 1974
Managers: Ben Peeters, Ernst Happel, Wiel Coerver
Best XI: Graafland; Rijsbergen, Laseroms, Israel, Van Duivenbode; Jansen, Van Hanegem; Wery, Kindvall, Moulijn