30. FC Porto 2002-04
In the years since, the 2004 Champions League campaign has been regarded as something of a freak season because of the fact it saw an ‘underdogs’ final’. All of the big teams cancelled each other out and the eventual winners apparently only got so far because a Paul Scholes goal was wrongly disallowed.
But it shouldn’t be seen like that. Because, so well-drilled and driven were Jose Mourinho’s team, they would have caused any team from any era difficulty. Indeed, they proved that throughout their brief cycle. The 2004 Portuguese Cup final was the only consequential game they lost as Mourinho lifted every other trophy he entered.
Along the way, his team also managed some remarkable feats: such as humbling Lyon and puncturing Deportivo La Coruna’s then exceptional home record in the semi-final with a 1-0 win. Ultimately, the victory has been regarded as almost wholly Mourinho’s. But his alchemy doesn’t mean he didn’t construct a formidable outfit.
Trophies won: Champions League 2004; Portuguese league 2003, 2004; Uefa Cup 2003; Portuguese Cup 2003
Managers: Jose Mourinho
Best XI: Baia; Ferreira, Nuno Valente, Carvalho, Jorge Costa; Costinha, Maniche, Mendes, Deco; Derlei, Carlos Alberto
29. Steaua Bucharest 1984-89
A large asterisk should always be placed beside Steaua’s name in the Champions League’s records. And not because they were the first team to win the competition after the Heysel ban. More for the undoubted corruption within Ceausescu’s Romania that saw them win four consecutive titles, three domestic doubles and go a ridiculous 104 games unbeaten in the league.
A truer reflection of their undoubted quality, however, comes in Europe. In four seasons, they lifted the trophy itself once, reached another final to Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan and went out in the 1988 semis. And, despite the ultimately dour manner in which they nervously came through the 1986 against Barcelona, they were usually a hugely slick team. That was in no small part to technically brilliant players like Laszlo Boloni, Marius Lacatus, Miodrag Belodedici and, later, Gheorge Hagi. As Ajax great Arie Haan said after his Anderlecht team were hammered 3-0 in the Bucgarest leg of the semi-final, it’s hard to think of a team who played with so much rhythm.
Trophies won: European Cup 1986; Romanian league 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989; Romanian Cup 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989; European Cup runners-up 1989
Managers: Emerich Jenei, Anghel Iordanescu
Best XI: Duckadam; Petrescu, Belodedici, Bumbescu, Iovan; Balint, Hagi, Boloni, Majearu; Lacatus, Piturca
28. Nottingham Forest 1977-80
In separate interviews around Forest’s two victorious European Cup finals, Brian Clough called winning scorers Trevor Francis and John Robertson a “cunt” and a “little fat lad” respectively. It was that very unique management that brought the very unique achievement of taking a provincial club from the second division to the top of the first and successive European Cups in four years.
But the scale of Clough’s achievement shouldn’t be confused with Forest’s exact quality though. Clough created a winning team but not a wondrous one. Like many of the great teams who had come from relatively moderate clubs, they were necessarily disciplined and driven to the Nth degree. Their defence, underpinned by Peter Shilton, was statistically the fourth best in English history and one of the meanest in Europe. That did result in some resounding performances – most of all the 2-0 win over defending champions Liverpool in the 1978-79 opening round and the 3-1 victory away to Dynamo Berlin.
But the success did take its toll on the team. In 1980, they finished as low as fifth in the English league. And, within months, that unique style of Clough’s had seen him fall out with co-manager Peter Taylor to call time on a pragmatic but prized team.
Trophies won: European Cup 1979, 1980; English league 1978; English league cup 1978, 1979
Managers: Brian Clough
Best XI: Shilton, Anderson, Clark, Lloyd, Burns; McGovern, Francis, Gemmill, Robertson, Woodcock, Birtles
27. Juventus 1930-35
The team that effectively created the unique Juventus winning culture – and reputation. At a time when Italian radio and sporting press first began to cover ‘Calcio’ as the country’s true national sport, Juventus won Serie A’s first – and only – five-in-a-row. In the absence of an Italian and European Cup, the Fiat-funded team never got to truly emphasise their dominance. But the club would effectively win the World Cup as Juve provided nine starters to Italy’s maiden 1934 victory.
Trophies won: Serie A 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935
Managers: Carlo Carcano
Best XI: Combi; Caligaris, Rosetta; Bertolini, Varglien, Monti; Cesarini, Ferrari, Sernagiotto, Orsi, Borel
26. Barcelona 1958-61
A frightening, free-scoring side. In winning the Spanish double in 1959, Barcelona broke records in terms of points and won and set still-standing ones in terms of goals scored. Such was the potency of the team that many accused manager Helenio Herrera of doping his players with some journalists calling him “the pharmacy cup coach”.
In truth, Herrera was ahead of his time rather than ahead of the testers. By applying primitive forms of sports psychology and dieting to players as talented as Sandor Kocsis, Zoltan Czibor, Evaristo and Luis Suarez, the Argentine achieved alchemic results. What’s more, despite his later reputation as the patron of Catenaccio, Herrera often put inside-forwards in the normally defensive wing-half positions to turn matches into massacres.
The 1959-60 European Cup campaign was particularly impressive. Barca put eight past CSKA Sofia, seven past Milan and nine past Wolves. It was, of course, Real’s spell of success in that very competition that ensured Herrera’s Barca never got the global recognition they deserved. But they were still the team to end the Bernabeu’s reign, becoming the first side to beat Madrid in a European tie in the 1960-61 first round. By then, however, Barca had already sacked Herrera for losing to the same opposition in the previous season’s semi-finals. It ended a run a of success much too early. By rights, Barca could have Inter’s place in the all-time pantheon.
Trophies won: Spanish league 1959, 1960; Spanish Cup 1959; Fairs Cup 1958, 1960; European Cup runners-up 1961
Managers: Helenio Herrera, Ljubisa Brocic, Enrique Orizaola
Best XI: Ramallets; Foncho, Gensana, Gracia, Verges; Garay, Kubala, Kocsis, Evaristo, Suarez; Czibor
25. Barcelona 2004-06
A Barca team that electrified Europe with their passing before Pep Guardiola’s boys. Indeed, they undoubtedly set the path for him. With Ronaldinho enjoying an all-too-brief rampaging reign as the world’s greatest player and Samuel Eto’o in devastating form, Barca cruised to two consecutive titles and a European Cup. The problem was that they too frequently displayed the kind of flaws that Guardiola had to set about fixing. Never as all-consuming as their successors, Frank Rijkaard’s side were afflicted by a much greater brittleness. That was only covered as long as Ronaldinho remained fully fit and Rijkaard kept the rest motivated. Without assistant Henk Ten Cate, that ultimately proved not long enough.
Trophies won: Champions League 2006; Spanish league 2005, 2006
Managers: Frank Rijkaard
Best XI: Valdes; Belletti, Van Bronckhorst, Puyol, Edmilson; Van Bommel, Xavi, Deco; Giuly, Ronaldinho, Eto’o
24. Red Star Belgrade 1987-92
When Graeme Souness sent Walter Smith to watch Red Star Belgrade ahead of their 1990-91 European Cup second round tie, the Rangers assistant apparently came back with a two-word report: “We’re fucked.”
That was because, as Jonathon Wilson writes in Behind the Curtain, that Red Star team combined “technical brilliance, fluidity, a capacity for moments of staggering flair and supreme organisation”. As such, it’s a pity they will always be remembered for cynically forcing penalties in the 1991 European Cup final against Marseille. Throughout that Yugoslav league season, draws had been decided with shoot-outs so Red Star were well-rehearsed. But their tactics were also down to the last trait Wilson mentioned: “a pervading sense of mental fragility”.
Despite their dominance of Yugoslavia, inner demons and insecurities usually denied Red Star in Europe until external forces like the Balkan War ultimately broke the team up and much more.
Trophies won: European Cup 1991; Yugoslav league 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992; Yugoslav Cup 1990
Managers: Velibor Vasovic, Branko Stankovic, Dragoslav Sekularac, Ljupko Petrovic
Best XI: Stojanovic; Belodedici, Najdovski, Sabanadzovic, Marovic; Jugovic, Prosinecki, Mijajlovic, Binic; Savicevic, Pancev
23. Real Madrid 1984-90
Although known as the ‘vulture squadron’ – ‘La Quinta del Buitre’ – because Emilio Butragueno led a group of five youth graduates, this Real didn’t wait to pick off their prey. They scored bucketfuls of goals along the way to winning the only five-in-a-row in Spanish league history. And all of that made them the team to beat in the European Cup. Unfortunately for those at the Bernabeu, someone always did when it came down to it. The side reached the semi-finals three years in succession and lost to the eventual winners – PSV Eindhoven and Milan twice – three times. The once reached 107 goals in a league season. But, crucially, never lifted that seventh European Cup.
Trophies won: Spanish league 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990; Spanish cup 1989; Uefa Cup 1985, 1986
Managers: Luis Molowny, Leo Beenhakker, John Toshack
Best XI: Buyo; Chendo, Camacho, Sanchis; Gordillo, Martin Vazquez, Michel, Schuster; Butragueno, Valdano, Hugo Sanchez
22. Real Madrid 1964-69
The 1964 European Cup final defeat to Inter marked the final passing of the torch from Puskas and Di Stefano to Pirri and Amancio. But it wasn’t the only thing that Miguel Munoz’s new generation gratefully handled. Known as the ‘Yeah Yeah’ team after the Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’, that Real side lifted the club’s only ‘isolated’ European Cup in 1966. But, while that victory over Partizan Belgrade may have been isolated in continental terms compared to the clubs’ rallies of the 50s and three-in-five of the new millennium, it wasn’t in terms of domestic trophies. Real won four titles in five years – including a three-in-a-row – thanks to some of Spain’s best ever defensive records. In that sense, they were probably more durable than Real’s golden team. They were just nowhere near capable of the same transcendent highs.
Trophies won: European Cup 1966; Spanish league 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969;
Managers: Miguel Munoz
Best XI: Araquistain; Pachin, de Felipe, Zoco, Sanchis; Pirri, Velazquez, Serena, Amancio; Grosso, Gento
21. Inter 2008-10
A team that epitomised an entire philosophy. Given the dominance of Barcelona and Spain’s famously proactive pressing game ahead of the 2010 World Cup, the style in which Inter banished the Catalans came to be heralded as the culmination of the contrasting, ‘reactive football’. Built on a bullishly robust defensive base, the Italian champions then exploited any openings with razor-sharp counter-attacks to secure Italy’s only ever treble.
There were, of course, a few caveats to their success. For a start, two titles came when Inter were still enjoying the after-effects of Calciopoli. In Europe, then, they were effectively dependent on an Icelandic volcano disrupting Barcelona’s travel plans and Andres Iniesta’s injury disrupting their attack.
But it can’t be denied that Inter stepped up in the most emphatic manner possible. Because the real quality of this team was the determination with which they carried out their manager’s instructions. Jose Mourinho whipped the team into a fervour, creating an indomitable, almost unbeatable spirit for the last six months of the 2009-10 season. This was perhaps best illustrated by Lucio in the Champions League last 16 against Chelsea, as the centre-half utterly dominated Didier Drogba.
At the other end, the high-class attacking trio of Wesley Sneijder, Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito gave them a cutting edge that would have exposed any defence.
The eternal wonder is whether they could have defended their European title had Mourinho stayed on.
Trophies won: Champions League 2010; Serie A 2009, 2010; Coppa Italia 2010
Managers: Jose Mourinho
Best XI: Cesar; Maicon, Zanetti, Lucio, Samuel; Cambiasso, Motta, Sneijder; Eto’o, Pandev, Milito