The 50 greatest European club sides

Number 16: Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit from AC Milan 1987-91 team

Number 16: Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit from AC Milan 1987-91 team

20. Manchester United 1998-2001

Points: 1015

Whatever about the performance in the 1999 Champions League final itself, the injury-time crescendo was actually a fitting way for Manchester United to end that scarcely believable season. Over the 59 games of the three competitions they won, Alex Ferguson’s team scored 13 late winners – five of them in stoppage time. They also came from losing positions to win on 15 separate occasions. Both are records.

Evidently, this was a side with an awful lot of character. As assistant manager Steve McLaren said, “I don’t think this team ever loses. It just runs out of time.” It was a quality personified by Roy Keane and the core of youth graduates such as Paul Scholes, as well as complemented by a glorious sense of adventure. Ultimately, those attributes brought a unique treble, 97 league goals the following season, a then record points haul and only the English league’s fourth three-in-a-row.

But United were also offset by an inherent haphazardness that ensured reclaiming the Champions League was always hostage to fortune. They may have outfought all-comers but they also had the eternal capacity to be outthought. Vicente Del Bosque said he was shocked by the side’s “tactical anarchy” as Real Madrid put them out at the quarter-finals in 1999-2000. Ferguson wouldn’t lift the Champions League again until he had learned and agonised over his lesson. In the meantime, a magnificent team blazed a trail all too briefly.

Trophies won: Champions League 1999; English league 1999, 2000, 2001; FA Cup 1999
Managers: Alex Ferguson
Best XI: Schmeichel; Neville, Irwin, Stam, Johnsen; Keane, Scholes, Beckham, Giggs, Yorke, Cole

 

19. Olympique Marseille 1988-93

Points: 1020

The 1993 bribery scandal will always sully their reputation as well as cast doubt over the rest of their dynasty. Aside from the infamous game against Valenciennes six days before the 1993 Champions League final, owner Bernard Tapie was eventually found to have influenced scores of transfer deals and refereeing appointments with his money.

But the irony is that they probably didn’t need to engage in such underhandedness. Tapie’s prior, more legitimate spending had brought the absolute highest quality in coaches and players. Chris Waddle once explained that, despite the appointment of esteemed managers like Franz Beckenbauer and Raymond Goethals, the team were so good that they ran training themselves. Certainly, the squad lists over those five years read like a who’s who of the world’s stars.

It all ensured that L’OM won the French league four years in a row in dynamic fashion as well as, eventually, the new Champions League. In between, of course, they endured a shoot-out defeat in the final to Red Star Belgrade. And it was just a pity that pain made Tapie so impatient to secure his Holy Grail.

Trophies won: Champions League 1993; French league 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992; French Cup 1989; European Cup runners-up 1991
Managers: Gerard Gili, Franz Beckenbauer, Raymond Goethals, Tomislav Ivic, Jean Fernandez
Best XI: Barthez; Angloma, Di Meco, Boli, Desailly; Sauzee, Deschamps, Pele, Waddle; Voller, Papin

 

18. Hamburg 1978-83

Points: 1030

Arguably the most underrated and ignored of all European champions. But that was possibly because the 1983 victory over Juventus represented a peak when it should have been the beginning of a dynasty. Through the stellar management of Ernst Happel and commitment of steady pros like Manny Kaltz and Horst Hrubesch, Hamburg overcame the disappointment of the 1980 European Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest to win a second and third Bundesliga and return to the final. There, Happel utterly outthought Giovanni Trapattoni. The Austrian’s tactical tinkering had completely blocked Juventus’s attack before Felix Magath’s long-range strike beat them. The talismanic Hrubesch departed for Standard Liege that summer, however, and with him went the team’s will.

Trophies won: European Cup 1983; German league 1979, 1982, 1983; European Cup runners-up 1980
Managers: Branko Zebec, Ernst Happel
Best XI: Stein; Kaltz, Wehmeyer, Jakobs, Hieronymus; Rolff, Milewski, Magath; Keegan, Hrubesch, Bastrup

 

17. Juventus 1994-98

Points: 1045

By reaching three consecutive Champions League finals, this Juventus team were undoubtedly the team to beat in the late ’90s. Marcello Lippi’s pressing game, tactical intuition and insistence on a cohesive team over superstars – to the detriment of Roberto Baggio’s career – created an often overwhelming style that brought three titles and a double in four years.

Often, they looked untouchable, illustrating a physicality that was scarcely believable. But the only problem with being the team to beat was that, on the two occasions they could have made history with a second Champions League, both Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid ultimately managed to defeat them. Those losses cost a truly imposing team a higher place on this list. The investigations of the Italian courts into some of the medical practices at the team, meanwhile, should leave a few questions about it too.

Trophies won: Champions League 1996; Serie A 1995, 1997, 1998; Italian Cup 1995; Champions League runners-up 1997, 1998
Managers: Marcello Lippi
Best XI: Peruzzi; Torricelli, Pessotto, Ferrara, Iuliano; Deschamps, Sousa, Zidane; Del Piero, Ravanelli, Vialli

 

16. AC Milan 1987-91

Points: 1050

Far too low for a team that gave so many highs? The problem with properly analysing this Milan team, however, is where exactly those highs arrived. Admittedly, they always came on the grandest occasions. Most obviously, there was the 5-0 European Cup semi-final destruction of Real Madrid in 1989, or the 4-0 dismissal of Steaua Bucharest in that final. As Arrigo Sacchi would later say, “if you want to go down in history you don’t just need to win, you have to entertain”.

But the reality is that the emphatic nature of that entertainment created an exaggerated perception that overshadowed the fact Milan team were often a lot more unconvincing than those victories inferred. For a start, they only won a solitary domestic title. Secondly, they generally finished second more often than first in most of the competitions they entered. The routes to those European finals were also quite rocky, taking in controversial and contentious games with Red Star Belgrade, Werder Bremen and Mechelen.

And, sure, there is the rather significant caveat that the Serie A was arguably the most competitive domestic league in history at that point – particularly with the rise of Diego Maradona’s Napoli, Sampdoria and the German Inter. But the manager who succeeded Sacchi, Fabio Capello, illustrated that continental domination could be combined with domestic conquests.

Make no mistake, this Milan team was utterly awesome. Just a lot more intermittently than is often assumed.

Trophies won: European Cup 1989, 1990; Serie A 1988
Managers: Arrigo Sacchi
Best XI: Galli; Tassotti, Maldini, Costacurta, Baresi; Colombo, Rijkaard, Donadoni, Ancelotti, Gullit, Van Basten

 

15. Bayern Munich 1998-2003

Points: 1055

Most people will, of course, only remember the shattering way in which they lost the 1999 final. In truth though, Bayern showed a rare resolve by recovering from the trauma of Camp Nou to reach and win another final, thereby surpassing the United side that beat them.

Indeed, they illustrated how many ghosts they had exorcised with the manner they claimed the Bundesliga that same 2000-01 season. With Schalke having won 5-3 and already celebrating at Unterhaching, Bayern were awarded an indirect free-kick for the very last action of the game as they trailed 1-0 at Hamburg. A point would have done them. So Stefan Effenberg made his own. Nonchalantly, he muttered to Patrick Andersson “Knock it in, and then we’ll go home”. The Swede did just that. Four days later, a penalty shoot-out win over Valencia brought the Champions League back to Bayern for the first time in 25 years.

As well as that European Cup, Bayern also won four out of five titles and a domestic double. Like many of the best German teams of this era, their success was based on a disciplined squad of few stars but a fantastic manager in Ottmar Hitfzeld.

In the end, it was arguably the domestic game which finished them. With the German league unable to compete financially at this point, it took Bayern another nine years to be able to compete on the pitch.

Trophies won: Champions League 2001; German league 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003; German Cup 2000, 2003; Champions League runners-up 1999
Managers: Ottmar Hitzfeld
Best XI: Kahn; Sagnol, Lizerazu, Linke, Andersson, Kuffour; Jeremies, Effenberg; Scholl, Basler, Elber

 

14. Ajax 1993-96

Points: 1065

A lot of the praise being showered on the current Barcelona team is really only recycled from that which Ajax enjoyed in the mid-90s. Because there are a lot more parallels between the two teams than their shared heritage.

For a start – quite literally – a youth system that was the envy of Europe produced prototype world-class players. Their manager, Louis van Gaal, also maximised that with an almost science-based system. By perfecting his ‘circulation football’ in which position was preferred over perspiration, Ajax reached unseen levels of possession.

The results were three league titles in a row as well as a 1994-95 season which saw them win the Champions League while going undefeated in the league and scoring over 100 goals. Some old Ajax purists such as Jan Mulder claimed that Van Gaal’s system was too mechanical. But that didn’t stop the football being spectacularly sleek. Indeed, just like Barcelona, their zenith probably came against Real Madrid. In the 1995-96 Champions League group stage, they claimed a brilliant 2-0 with Patrick Kluivert in particular on fire.

Ajax would go on to lose that season’s final before the Bosman ruling started to break them up. But there were already signs that Van Gaal’s system wasn’t yet as complete as Total Football. Weaknesses were being discovered. “In the European Cup final,” Alex Ferguson later said, “Juventus had three up front and they kept playing the ball into space, exploiting the fact that the two Ajax full-backs were always looking to advance. Juventus should have killed the game by half-time.”

It would be up to others to take Van Gaal’s approach to higher levels. Ultimately though, the good died too young.

Trophies won: Champions League 1995; Dutch league 1994, 1995, 1996; Champions League runners-up 1996
Managers: Louis van Gaal
Best XI: Van der Sar; Reiziger, F de Boer, Blind; Rijkaard, Seedorf, Davids, Litmanen, Finidi, Overmars, Kluivert

 

13. Juventus 1976-86

Points: 1070

Italian football’s most enduring dynasty. Certainly, Juve’s haul of six titles, two Italian cups and all three continental trophies over 10 years was the most sustained spell of success in Serie A history.

Its cornerstone was Giovanni Trapattoni’s famed discipline, which helped mould what was statistically the greatest defence Italy has ever seen. Dino Zoff, Claudio Gentile, Antonio Cabrini and Gaetano Scirea would go on to provide the base for the 1982 World Cup victory.

But, despite current perceptions of the manager, it wasn’t all about caution. Juve’s hard-tacklers like Massimo Bonini helped protect a series of genuine flair players such as Liam Brady, Zgibi Boniek and Michel Platini to produce occasionally exquisite football.

Much like an even longer dynasty in Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, however, the only mitigating factor was a very mixed continental record. Although they achieved the unique feat of winning all three European prizes, Trapattoni’s rigidity often cost them. Most infamously, Happel completely turned the 1983 final with the simple switch of a midfielder. But even before that, Juve had gone out to Rangers in the 1978-79 first round and Anderlecht in the 1981-82 second round.

Tragically, even the Holy Grail was tainted as the 1985 European Cup was won amid the horror of Heysel.

Trophies won: European Cup 1985; Serie A 1977, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1986; Italian Cup 1979, 1983; Cup Winners Cup 1984; Uefa Cup 1977; European Cup runners-up 1983
Managers: Giovanni Trapattoni
Best XI: Tacconi; Gentile, Cabrini, Brio, Scirea; Bonini, Tardelli, Platini, Boniek; Rossi, Bettega

 

12. Barcelona 1988-94

Points: 1085

The ‘Dream Team’ gave Real Madrid nightmares as they became the first Spanish side from beyond the Bernabeu to both win the Champions League and rack up a rally of Liga titles with four in succession. And the fantastic football only added to the fear.

Cohesive in every sense of the word, Barcelona 1988-94 were a mix of a Catalan core, world-class foreigners and – above all – Johan Cruyff’s modern interpretation of the Total Football philosophy he had practised as a player.

It all added up to a series of historic victories. Among their great performances, Barca won 6-0 away at Athletic Bilbao, decimated Ferguson’s United 4-0 and – in a scoreline that carries many layers of meaning – beat Real 5-0. Most of all, they ended the club’s long 37-year wait for the European Cup.

But the fantastic football also masked a great deal of fortune borne of an inherent fragility. In that sense, they were never anywhere near as emphatic as Pep Guardiola’s team. Three of their four titles were on the last day in astoundingly lucky circumstances, taking in unlikely defeats elsewhere and last-minute missed penalties.

Most infamously, their luck ran out as they were themselves destroyed 4-0 by Milan in the 1994 Champions League final. Many have since cited arrogance as an explanation for the scale of that defeat. Whatever the truth, egos certainly caused the early break-up of the team. Michael Laudrup stopped getting on with Cruyff and Romario stopped trying. As the manager would later say, “if you have a lot of stars in a team, there has to be a limit as to what each does an individual… otherwise everything ends in chaos.”

That is exactly what happened. For a time though, it provided an irresistible and occasionally unbeatable mix.

Trophies won: Champions League 1992; Spanish league 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994; Spanish Cup 1990; Cup Winners Cup 1989; Champions League runners-up 1994
Managers: Johan Cruyff
Best XI: Zubizarreta; Ferrer, Sergi, Koeman, Nadal; Guardiola, Bakero, Beguiristain, Laudrup; Stoichkov, Romario

 

11. Manchester United 2006-09

Points: 1095

The culmination of Alex Ferguson’s career at Manchester United. The manager drew on many of the disparate strands of his time at the club to arguably produce his greatest team.

First of all, Ferguson summoned his famed resolve to respond to Jose Mourinho’s raising of the bar. United unexpectedly dislodged Chelsea from the top of the Premier League with points hauls around the 90 mark.

To do that, his inherent sense of adventure had created the most prolific attacking trio Old Trafford had ever seen. The manner in which Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Louis Saha/Carlos Tevez interchanged and exchanged positions also placed Ferguson as a tactical pioneer for the first time in his career.

But, by then, the acumen he had tortuously acquired over so many seasons in Europe helped set one of England’s meanest defences.

It all added up to a finely balanced team and – with three consecutive league titles, a Champions League as well another final – the most concentrated period of success in United’s history.

Ultimately, their span was ended by Spain. Real Madrid lured Cristiano Ronaldo away while Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona lifted continental football to another level with the 2-0 win in Rome.

Trophies won: Champions League 2008; English league 2007, 2008, 2009; League Cup 2009; Champions League runners-up 2009
Managers: Alex Ferguson
Best XI: Van der Sar; Brown, Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand, Hargreaves, Carrick, Giggs; Rooney, Tevez, Ronaldo

 

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161 comments
nismoz
nismoz

Hi Thomas, I agree with you there. Football in the 50s n 60s were merely amateurs. First of all, alot of people are not aware of the rules in place in that era. 1) there was no substitutes allowed in a game of football until mid 60s. The first world cup which allowed substitutions in a football game was 1970 in mexico. The maximum number of substitutes allowed in a game of football in the mid 60s was 1, slowly it was changed to maximum of 2 substitutes in the late 60s. 2) Goal keepers up until 1970 still didnt use gloves to make saves. if anyone dont believe me, watch a few games of world cup in 1970 and you will start to notice the difference. 3) Football formations was suited to attacking plays, most of these legendary teams all had used 4 or 5 attackers and 2/3 defenders at the back. In most Champions League knock out games in the late 50s and 60s, it was very common to see score line like 8-10 goals over 2 legs. you can say defence were non-existent. The game intensity and man marking was very slouch, attackers are always afford 5-6 seconds on the ball, compare this to the Champions League of modern era eg) Man Utd v Juventus in 1999.. games are always played at neck breaking pace. So for alot of football fan out there still thinkin Pele was a god and he scored 1200+ goals, think again and ask urself the question how many of that 1200 was at professional competitions and what sorta defenders he faced? Yes he might of won 2 world cups (NOT 3 BECAUSE HE ONLY PLAYED 2 GROUP MATCHES IN 1962), but can we really judge a player as the best of all time because he played well in 2 world cups (16 teams tournaments and all teams self invited)??

cfc4ea
cfc4ea

you mentioned the current Barcelona Miguel, but Cruyff's Barcelona also derserves an honourable mention because of the pioneering concepts that has become the Barcelona trademark ,"tiki taka" as some would put it.  I understand that statistically Capello's Milan achieved more league success than under Arrigo Saachi but the Milan team of the late 80's  were much more successful than the one in the early- mid 90's, if you look comparitively at their most successful season(s).

 

I didnt look at the full list but where would the great Santos side of Pele be?

 

 

cfc4ea
cfc4ea

you mentioned the current Barcelona Miguel, but Cruyff's Barcelona also derserves an honourable mention because of the pioneering concepts that has become the Barcelona trademark ,"tiki taka" as some would put it.  I understand that statistically Capello's Milan achieved more league success than under Arrigo Saachi but the Milan team of the late 80's  were much more successful than the one in the early- mid 90's, if you look comparitively at their most successful season(s).

 

I didnt look at the full list but where would the great Santos side of Pele be?   (I mean they are better than Preston, right)

 

 

 

LennartHijn
LennartHijn

what do you think about the borussia dortmund team of the mid-90s? they won 2 german bundesliga titles and the champions league 97. they weren't a great team but nonetheless very successful and it would have been nice for a fan to see them place on the lower ranks at least. i would love to hear your opinion about them and see why they didnt make it on your list?

dicks69
dicks69

Your method of scoring is horribly flawed. You've accumulated the total achievements of some clubs over 8 or 9 years whilst others only have a window of 4 years. It seems like there is some inherent bias in your lists.

 

For example, Sacchi and Capello's Milan were consecutive and could easily be considered one dynasty from 1987-1995 (which is a time period similar to the top two's) which would achieve a points total of 2185. This total would catapult this Milan as undoubtedly the best dynasty.

 

Even though Milan only had two coaches over 7 years you have split that dynasty apart. Interestingly Ajax (1965-1973) went through two coaches as well and Madrid (1953-1960) went through FIVE coaches. So why not count Milan (1987-1995) as one dynasty?

 

Also, why not divide the total score by the number of seasons? This allow a much better comparison...

 

 

Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich

I don't know which team is the best but I do know that these teams Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid are probely the favourites but I support Bayern Munich because they play so good and I like the players.Bayern Munich is the best club for me and also,it doesn't always have to be Barcelona AND Man boo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! l DON'T SUPPORT BARCELONA AND MAN BOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

antonio65
antonio65

Barcelona is the all time football club in the world as at now..

adamrhbrown
adamrhbrown

Far too young - and not nearly Dutch enough - to have seen enough of Ajax's TF hippies, but from what I've heard, across all sources, they deserve their no. 1 status. Probably the most intelligent forward-thinking team of all time. Kinda sad that the modern market leaves the current lot having to play against no-marks like no. 11 these days! (Well alright, no. 11 without their world class players.)

Seriously though it's interesting that the least heralded of Fergie's three definitive Man Utd teams is the one with the best results. Brings me onto my main point. Although I appreciate the sacrifices you've already made in your spare time to bring us this site, I do still stand by my comments in my email that the site would work better as a 'Hall of Fame' rather than ranked lists. Judging sides based on how well they dominated their era results-wise may avoid 'who would win a match between...?' arguments, but stats are only one ingredient in the melting pot of greatness.

Plus it does assume that the overall level of competitiveness remains the same across all eras, which - while probably true at domestic level - may not necessarily be the case at the top, especially not with the ever-growing scope of communications media.

Mainly it just seems unfair to leave the Busby Babes off. A side who were also revolutionaries in their more understated English way. Real would most likely not have had five in a row were it not for Munich.

Mortan Vang
Mortan Vang

@MDelaneyST What do you mean "effectively meaningless"? There's only 20 points a difference between Barca and Liverpool, and I see you give 15 bonus points to the winner of the Club World Cup (where you have to beat two continental champions, including, most likely, the Copa Libertadores winner). Then it would be fair to give, say, 10 points for winning a domestic supercup (where you have to beat the domestic champion / cup winner) and probably the same for winning the Uefa Super Cup (where you have to beat the UCL or UEL winner).

You're right when saying, the major weighting should be domestic league and UCL. But even with minor weighting, I suppose Barca already now could benefit from winning those three minor titles and "advance" to the all-time 3rd place.

Mortan Vang
Mortan Vang

With the current Barca side winning the Spanish Supercopa against a formidable Real Madrid side over two legs, beating Europa League winners FC Porto in the Uefa Super Cup and Al Sadd and Copa Libertadores winners Santos comprehensively in the Club World Cup, who many points does the catalans actually have now. Has Barca surpassed Liverpool in 3rd place?

ThomasDingle
ThomasDingle

Comparing the quality of competition today vs 30-40+ years ago is just silly. Similar to how comparing players from 30-40 years ago to today's athletes is also silly. The simple fact is, if you put any of them on the field today they would fall on their faces.

A.
A.

Just one last quibble: don't you think there's a little too much weight given to back-to-back EC wins? They almost occurred more often than not in pre-CL times but has proven to be impossible to achieve so far in the CL era. Surely this means that it's much more difficult to do now, even with a great side, rather than the sides of yesteryear being spectacularly better.

A.
A.

Looking at the list, I find the determining of eras somewhat arbitrary. For example, what's the reasoning behind separating Barcelona of the last 8 seasons or so into two teams but not doing the same for Ajax 60s-70s, or Liverpool 70's-80's or Juve of that era?

A.
A.

What it really means when we say that such and such a team is the greatest ever, I'm still not sure about. Does it mean that that team would be beat any other historical team if the laws of time and space could be contravened to set up such a match? And if this is the case, is the Ajax of the Michels era really that team?

Espenjohnson
Espenjohnson

A fantastic read throughout. Just a bit scary that, with all the introduction of money into the whole Uefa system in the last 6 or so years, there won't be as broad group of actual teams that could be great in say 15 years or so. It will be the same teams that are dominating now, and have done for the last few years, Man UTD, Barca, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, that will dominate for a much longer period in the future than has done. Although there will undoubtadly be very good and quite exciting teams in the next few years, Napoli, Udinese, (Man City.....), Dortmund (although their potential seems to have stalled with the loss of Sahin, but Goetze looks fantastic). I don't think these teams, or teams with the European 'Aura' such as Liverpool, Ajax, or unfortunately the likes of AC Milan, Juventus will ever properly compete with the big 5 financial powerhouses of Europeans football, Man Utd, Barca, Real Madrid, Bayern, or Chelsea.

In short, I think that the huge amounts of money involved in European Football means that the chances of a team competing legitimately with them over a the next 15 or so years seems, in my own humble opinion, slim.

Just a thought.....

fix70
fix70

I would've put Scholes ahead of Hargreaves in United's 2006-09 side. Hargreaves hardly played, while Scholes who was mostly injured, was instrumental the few times he was fit and in the side. That's just my two cents

ecclefty21
ecclefty21

What about Pro Vercelli? If it weren't for Run of Play, I would not have discovered such an amazing history.

They won 7 Italian top flight titles in 15 years time, from 1908-1922. And they were ultimately unseated by Inter Milan, and have fallen into nothing.

This is the same team that Italy adopted an all white strip, in honor of how dominant Pro Vercelli were at the time. Then later, Italy fielded 9 players from Pro Vercelli.

Surely, this should receive mention.

MUFCLUHGFORUM
MUFCLUHGFORUM

2006 - 2011 4 Premier League titles 1 Champions League 2 times runner up of the Champions League 3 league cups 3 community shields 1 world club cup

Van Der Sar, Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Rooney, Fletcher, Park, O'Shea, Brown All first team players from 06-11 Surely that can be conisdered an "era" the only major departure was Ronaldo. A lot of players came and went and the exception of maybe Wes Brown all those players were involved heavily for 5 years

francis
francis

Although I agree wholeheartedly with your inclusion of the great Arsenal, Preston and Villa teams from the late 19th & early 20th centuries, I feel you have overlooked one of the other great teams from that era, Celtic 1904 - 1917.

Managed by the wonderful Willie Maley they won 10 league titles, 6 Scottish Cups (3 doubles) and, set a UK record unbeaten run of 62 games between November 1925 & April 1917, a record which I believe still stands.

All this before the greatest British striker of all time came along, Jimmy McGrory.

On the same vein as the question I asked in the greatest Managers thread as to how was the League Stein's Celtic team quantified, I would like to say if it was regarded as minor or average league (which it probably was) then I think your wrong. The Scottish League was more competitive in Europe then than most people realise and I think both Stein and Celtic should recieve more points and a bump up their respective lists

ulstergroundhopper
ulstergroundhopper

Everton 1985-87? Described by Terry Venables, then Barca manager as arguably the most complete English footballing side he had ever seen. The debate rages on but most who saw them in action find it hard to believe that they wouldn't have conquered Europe in 1986 in style. They missed out on the treble by virtue of having to play the FA cup final just two days after returning from a European final. The following year missed out on the double after being crippled by key injuries at the knuckle end of the season and were forced to field an inexperienced youngster in goal in place of Southall when he broke his ankle and then in 87 bounced back to win the title when many of the key players had been loured away to play in Europe. While the Liverpool of the same time were regarded as dour and ugly to watch. Everton played with a flair and free flowing style that reminded people of the Dutch a decade earlier. There were no stars, the players had come from relative obscurity and yet played with a smile on their faces. They formed the backbone of the England 1986 World cup team with a team that the manager unashamedly stated was built around Reid, Stevens, Steven and Lineker and after two disma performances it was the Evertonians who came alive in the third game to demolish Poland. Each of his Goodison teammates taking turns to create Lineker's three goals. Arguably the best English side never to be crowned European Champions [through no fault of their own] They were head and shoulders above the likes of Forest and Villa and perhaps bettered only by United's 99 vintage and Liverpool circa 77. True, Liverpool won the double in 86 at Evertons expense but the neutrals of the era all felt the better team lost.

Octavian
Octavian

What a great article mate! Congratulations! I can see that you put a lot of thought and sweat into it! So the only thing where i think that you really made an omission is the FC Bayern cycle 1971-1976, when it's more a cycle 1967-1976. Because as you said, the cycles were defined by 3 things :

1) a defining individual/manager/player

2) a core of players

3) a style/philosophy

1) the all defining personality of FC Bayern and German football of that time was Franz Beckenbauer, who was german footballer of the year 1966 and 1968 (way before the 1971 season), FIFA World Cup Young Player of the Tournament in England 1966 (way before the 1971 season as well) and who was voted in the FIFA World Cup Team of the Tournament in 1966 and 1970 (also before the 1971 season).

2) the 'core' of bayern players who won the Champions Cup three peat (1974,1975,1976), had already been there in 1967 with Sepp Meier (at the club since 1962), Georg Schwarzenbeck who scored against Atletico in the 1974 Final (1966), Franz 'Bulle' Roth, who scored in the finals against Leeds and St.etienne, and who also scored the winner against Glasgow Rangers in the Cup Winners Cup Final in 1967 (1966), the greatest german striker of all time Gerd Muller (1964) and the aforementioned Franz Beckenbauer (1964). This was the Axis of Bayern and German football for almost 10 years. Now the only point which could be made here is that Paul Breitner and Uli Hoeness didn't play in 1967. That's true, because both of them arrived at FC Bayern in 1970. But they arrived at a team which already had an axis, a core of players. It's true that these two great players made FC Bayern a stronger team, but they were integrated in an existing axis. Which goes to my point is that Meier, Schwarzenbeck, Roth, Beckenbauer and Muller were all first-eleven players throughout their stay at FC Bayern, forming a continous axis or core throughout 1967-1976. And even more, after Paul Breitner left FC Bayern in 1974 to join Real Madrid, these players went on to win another 2 Champions Cups. This proves again, that these players were the 'true' core of the great FC Bayern side 1967-1976.

3) The Style or philosophy at FC Bayern had remained the same since Zlatko 'Cik' Cajkovski took over in 1963 - hard work, lots of running, never giving up, lots of running, efficiency, lots of running and fighting for 'your luck' (which is called Bayerndusel). None of the coaches that followed (Branko Zebec, Udo Lattek and Dettmar Cramer- including Cajkovski they coached FC Bayern 1963-1977) changed that (except for Klinsmann and van Gaal a lot later).

So it's quite obvious that there is a connection between all these points - a defining individual, a core of players and a style or philosophy, ranging from at least 1966 until 1976. Why is that important? Well Bayern won the Bundesliga (german title) in 1969, the DFB Pokal (german cup) in 1966, 1967, 1969 and 1971, the European Cup Winners Cup in 1967, which means that they won a double in 1969 (Bundesliga and DFB Pokal) and a Cup double in 1967 (European Cup Winners Cup and DFB Pokal)! Also FC Bayern were the Runners-up in Bundesliga for 2 consecutive seasons in 1970 and 1971 before going on to win it three times in a row in 1972,1973 and 1974.

So this would place FC Bayern at least in front of FC Barcelona and FC Liverpool on this list, because this FC Bayern side of 1967-1976 truly was amongst the most dominant in a time where they played against a few of the best teams of all time, including your number one spot!

IvanDujmić
IvanDujmić

A great post. I have a few questions. Why didn't you include Latin Cup in your counting system. Yes, it was short lived and winning team had to win only two games but it was a strongest competition in Europe since WW2 till European Cup was created. You included Fairs Cup, did you score it in a same way as UEFA Cup (no complaints if you did, just to make sure)? Just of of curiosity how many points would PSG from mid nineties, Parma from nineties have? And finally, while it is complicated to do a list with both European and South American teams, have you considered making a separate list for South America?

anweshanghosh
anweshanghosh

Q - why would you consider ajax era from 1965-73 and arsenal era from 2001-2005. if you include 2006, that would bring more points + increase the multiplication factor. So, wanted to know how you defined a teams era?

stpioc
stpioc

Fat Eck, there is one thing you have to realize, yes it's all about winning the actual competition, but that competition is not a level playing field, not by a long shot. It's basically a cartel, where most of the money goes to the big clubs in the big countries, which enables them to buy the best players from the big clubs in the smaller countries (working with a fraction of their budget) or smaller clubs in big countries. These big clubs in smaller countries then have to start all over. It's therefore extremely unlikely that a club like Ajax will ever win the Champions League ever again and if they do it will be with a team full of teenagers (like in 1995) who will all be bought in the following years, weakening their team and strengthening the opposition. It's terribly difficult to build routines if your best players leave every year, basically, you have to start all over each year. So I wouldn't have put Ajax on top on the basis of achievement in competition alone, but if you see which players left in the last 30 years and at what age, I think one could make a point that they would have been able to win quite a bit more if competition was on a level playing field and they could held a team together in the way the Real Madrid's or ManU's of this world can.

Fat Eck
Fat Eck

Sorry to be mean but, of course, you're asking for people to be mean - "let's have a heated debate!" - so, well done, I'll bite ... and I'll do so guilt-free: This site is like watching one of those bogus dental -/skin-/hair-care commercials which throws a few vaguely sciency-sounding but ultimately empty statements into a volley of percentages and white-coated "recommendations" to make a waste of time seem like a secret tunnel into a government-sponsored, NASA-tested initiative to end ageing. You're just using random stats in a random manner to come up with more subjective views about, erm, subjectivity! The "formula" is quite simple, it's already been devised for us - it's called "COMPETITIONS": The Champions League/European Cup is the pinnacle of the European club competitions so ...

Real Madrid have won 9 European cups, more than anyone else - best club in Europe. Milan have won 7 - second best club in Europe. Liverpool 5 - they're the 3rd best club in Europe. Barca, Ajax and Bayern are all stuck on 4 each - right, let's go to how many times they've been European Cup/Champions league runners-up as a decider for 4th, 5th and 6th. If it were still tied we'd go to semi-finals appearances and so on. THAT'S ALL WE NEED TO KNOW! Winning is the only style and winning the ultimate competition is the only true arbiter of greatness. The teams which win that make their club the best club in Europe for however many seasons they've won it.Okay, so you want to measure "great sides" against each other but as no club has ever fielded the same side in two succesive European Cup/Champions League finals then the "cycles" argument is also bogus. It is the club or country which effects any era of domination - the personnell is EVER changing so we can only pick one competition and say that the continual winning of that trophy represents anything close to a cycle. So it's Real Madrid 1955-60 versus Ajax 70-73 and Bayern 73-76. The current Barca "cycle" can only be closely compared to, say, Real Madrid's Galacticos side which won 3 Champions Leagues in one year less than it's taken the current Catalans.If we enter into the sphere of "relativity" then there's an argument for the Aberdeen team of the 1980s being far greater than Barcelona AND Real Madrid - winning 3 leagues in 5 years and a couple of European trophies in Scotland with a team other than Rangers or Celtic, in an era when there was even less money in the Scottish game than there is now, is far more miraculous than any G14 club winning a couple of European Cups. Furthermore who's to say the "Five Violins" Sporting Lisbon side which came to an end just as modern European competition was coming to fruition was not far greater than the Benfica side of the sixties?Association Football started with domestic cup competitions to discover who was the best practitioner of the sport. Teams weren't satisfied that one-off games proved who was "really" the best. So domestic leagues were invented and championship-winning teams began to imagine they were the best in the continent so, eventually, pan-continental competition came along. And by the 60s we had the World Club championship just to end the last remaining doubt. It's all taken care of. The best are the best. Everything else is just bitching and sour grapes.

higuain
higuain

No matter the arguments, it is ridiculous to place Celtic and even Liverpool in the same league with Barcelona and Real and Inter and AC Milan not to mention putting Liverpool ahead of Barca. Pleeease. It is commendable to be patriotic, but let us keep our perspective. English teams have simply not been that good against Continental opposition.

annedreshfield
annedreshfield

Hi guys, welcome to Livefyre! I'm Anne, community manager intern. You've got a great discussion started here; can't wait to see more!

DaveHampson
DaveHampson

in terms of style, I preferred the United's lower ranked teams leading up to '99 (but with Kanchelskis) and '68 rather than 2009... but could you give an opinion, MDelaney, as a scientific kinda fella, just how good the Busby Babes might have been? My Da is convinced they were about to be the very best that had ever been seen...

pprozac
pprozac

I think the Liverpool team of 1985/90 should be higher. So close to winning three domestic doubles in three years and four in five years - and they played the most equisite football. Tom Finney reckoned they were the best ever to play at that passing game at such pace.

Also the other Liverpool team should be split up into 1971-77, 1977- 81 and 1981- 84. Bob Pailsey certainly built two great teams.

OtbaG
OtbaG

Herbert Chapmans teams? We won the league three in a row with both Huddersfield and Arsenal

nimreitz
nimreitz

Just want to say that it's a bit of revisionist history to say Johnny Rep was in the Ajax best XI from those teams. It's easy to say because of what we remember from those two World Cup squads, but he didn't break into the Ajax first team until that final European Cup season. Sjaak Swart was the right winger and a HUGE part of club history as well; if I'm not mistaken he has the most appearances for the club.

LiOlLa94
LiOlLa94

great site, great read. I really hope to see an updated version of this site in a few years with one change. Barcelona on top with 'Liverpool 2011-?' coming fast behind

just one thing, no south american teams? I know nowadays the Champions league is the pinnacle of club football but surely pele's santos of 1961-65 have a good shout. 5 league titles in a row, 2 Copa Libertadores, and 2 Intercontinental cups (suggesting they were better than no. 6 Benfica) is not to be ignored. Independiente have a good shout aswell with 4 in a row from 72-75 but tbh i dont know much about them after their wikipedia page, it seems they dissapeared from domestic competition during that time.

maxihadda
maxihadda

Hmm, if Valencia won two league titles, reached 2 CL finals in a row, won the UEFA Cup and won a Spanish Cup in a 5 season span, why are they not even listed at all? Not even in the "Teams missed out and why" part

?

Kesio
Kesio

Thanks!! Wonderful list! And in my opinion, you maked the correct choices. When I had the age of 11 till 20, I saw every week à formidabel Ajax Amsterdam. They played à football revolution. Till this moment, cause Ajax is still THE norm for
effective and super attractive football. Just look at Barcelona this moment. The Philosophy of Ajax, ,or better, Johan Cruyff, played now by Barca.

Tja is for THE great stories and figures. Super

jirobevis
jirobevis

Awesome list!

Some great quotes and stories I'd never heard before, well done!

JoãoMiguel
JoãoMiguel

You should also give diferent points to teams who won the international competitions in diferent periods. In the 60s a club needed to defeat 4 opponents in 7 games to win the champions league, nowadays you have to go thru 13 matches against 7 teams to win the trophy... You´re criterion isn't uniform.

HUSSAIN77LFC
HUSSAIN77LFC

Liverpool's 1985-1990 team needs to be re-classed, as does the Milan side of the 1991-1995. The difference of the late 80's Liverpool side was the addition of Barnes, Beardsley and Aldridge. Barnes and Beardsley added a lot more flair to the Liverpool team than the mid 80's side. Indeed, Dalglish saw the problems of the '85 side and added Barnes and Beardsley. Don't forget Ferguson tried to get these two players for Manchester United. Had he succeeded then United may well have started to dominate English football from '87 onwards. Therefore, I would re-class as follows. Liverpool 1985-1987 and Liverpool 1987 - 1991. However, the Liverpool 1987-91 would take the place of Liverpool 1985-1990.

The AC Milan side should be thus, 1987-1993 & 1994-1997. Also George Weah should have been included in the XI line up. The greatest African player still to date. Scorer of the best league goal and creator of the best assist I've ever seen in club football. George Weah was much more of player than Marco Simone. How can Simone be added to the side at the expense of Weah, who won a FIFA World Player title ?

EmmetGates
EmmetGates

Great read Miguel, totally appreciate the effort you went through in making such a list, and looking forward to reading your next lists'. I would like to comment on your piece about the Juve side of 94-98. I am a Juventus supporter myself, you say about Baggio being sold because of tactical issues, but my take on the episode was that he was sold because of the emergence of Alessandro Del Piero and that Baggio wouldn't take a pay cut, so he was sold to Milan.

But anyway, none the less a fantastic read! Brilliant job!

mifernandezrojas
mifernandezrojas

Very interesting! Reading the Nº 1 place I am wondering how much time will take Ajax to regain their place in European football elite. In muy opinion, they are much closer than we can imagine.

stpioc
stpioc

Slightly surprised not to see Real Madrid on top, Barcelona soon will be, no doubt. But the latter will be a testament to the architect of both Barca and the club that's actually at no1. What Cruyff did at Barca was

1) Import the style of play

2) Start a youth academy

3) Let all the youth teams play in exactly the same style.

Et voilà, success can be reproduced 40 years on..

vellhuan
vellhuan

I think you're kinda right with Milan in the sense of the change of playing style. I wonder what Milan players would have said anyway! I tend to think that players are more important than coaches. There's plenty of teams in this list that have different coaches. I don't think Del Bosque was the defining force of that team. In this case I think the rupture between sides is very artificial. Specially Real Madrid is a club that has never been defined by its coaches, and although Barcelona is more patient with coaches since Cruyff, I don't think any other clubs put as much pressure into their coaches to play into an attacking style. Madrid have reached points like firing Radomir Antic in the middle of the 92 league (being the leaders) because the team wasn't attacking enough. Even Capello played in a offensive playing style in 96-97 and in 2006-2007, was sacked for being too defensive even when he had won the league.

Also I don't see why the Barcelona team is a blatant case, when it has had Iniesta, Xavi, Messi, Valdes and Puyol as core players all these years. Guardiola has just perfected Rijkaard previous work.

vellhuan
vellhuan

I wonder why Liverpool 75-84 is one side, when only Phil Neal from the starting XI 1977 EC remained in the starting XI 1984 EC and Madrid is wrongly classified as "99-2003", when it's really "97-2003" specially because the core of that team were Raul, Hierro, Roberto Carlos, Guti, Morientes, Redondo, Sanchis, Casillas... not Zidane and specially not Ronaldo, who were later additions to a team that already had won 2 EC and 2 Spanish Leagues, and that won an extra EC and an extra spanish league, amounting to 3 spanish leagues and 3 EC in 7 years (a title per year except in 98-99). That Liverpool side actually sets things off balance. I think Milan should be reclassified to "87-95" , Barcelona "2008-2011" to "2005-2011" and Real Madrid "56-60" reclassified to Madrid "56-64" as there are more players in common in those teams.

ParthKulkarni
ParthKulkarni

This is lovely. Kudos. Also, Italian Clubs have total rank of 213 for their 10 teams in it; which makes Serie A highly ranked amongst EPL & La Liga. Nice point to get back at EPL fans.

JiggaG
JiggaG

This is awesome. Spent all afternoon reading.

You say the Milan team won four consecutive scudetto's but I think it was three and four in five years.

erg79
erg79

What would the score be for going back to 2005/06 for the current Barcelona side? That's an extra league championship and Champions League double.

BenCDS
BenCDS

Hi Miguel,

A brilliant idea, superbly-executed. This is the stuff of a million fragmented thoughts on tube journeys, and to piece it all together deserves great credit.

I wouldn't dispute the inclusion of Mourinho's Porto side, but I would argue that Benni McCarthy is more deserving of a place than Carlos Alberto. Obviously Alberto got the winning goal in the final, but that was his only goal of the 2003/04 Champions League campaign. McCarthy got a brace against Partizan Belgrade & Manchester United, and also contributed another 20 goals to that treble-winning campaign...

Cheers

@cahiers_dusport

DavidGSligo
DavidGSligo

Duff in Mourinho's best 11? was he really that stuck for wingers in his time?

Trackbacks

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  7. […] Oorspronkelijk geplaatst door Weebl Die pagina is door nen Hollander gemaakt zeker? Neen, een Spaanse Ier of zoiets, Miguel Delaney. "Freelance football writer for Independent, Blizzard, ESPN, Champions, Irish Examiner. Author of 'Stuttgart to Saipan: the Players' Stories' (Mentor)." Die spelerslijst is inderdaad meer subjectief, maar zijn best teams of all time lijstje vond ik anders wel goed uitgevoerd! The 50 greatest European club sides | The Football Pantheon […]

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  10. […] Miguel Delaney (31 Mei 2011). “The 50 greatest European club sides”. footballpantheon.com. Diakses 29 Mei […]