I might be a bigger fan of football (or soccer) than you are, but one thing I’m not is an expert. I’ve always been focused on the fun aspects of the game, the atmosphere at the grounds or upstairs where one of our residents has his own dish, and the agony and ecstasy of winning and losing the big games, from the local club affairs to the biggest prize of all, the soccer World Cup.
I thought I’d take a different approach to my musings on football and give you my take on what I think are the best clubs in world football and some of the greatest ever players that have graced the famous pitches. My focus is, unfortunately limited to Europe, given my limited knowledge of the history of the beautiful game. It’s also too early to start talking about the LA Galaxy or New York Red Bulls because Major League Soccer is still relatively young.
Let’s get cracking then. Let’s start with Great Britain. The English Premier League must be the most popular league show by far. And what a cracker its turning out to be. Others may disagree, but I’m not at all surprised to see Leicester City leading the way this time. It’s nice for a change. Seeing the same teams winning the league every year is quite boring. And let’s not forget that I became used to seeing my beloved Manchester United winning the league so many times every year. Now things are different.
Quite frankly, I’m still enjoying my soccer, because you never really know what’s going to happen. The uncertainty breeds more excitement. And what a nice surprise when your favorite team goes on to beat a team like, say, Barcelona who, as things stand now, are the best team in Europe, indeed, the world, right now. But lately, the chances of my team doing that only happen in my dreams. Having won the most league titles in English soccer history, the second highest number of FA Cups, three European Cups and one Cup Winners Cups then, are Manchester United the greatest English team ever?
This may upset Manchester United fans, but in my opinion, no. That distinction belongs to their greatest local rivals, Liverpool. Not only have they won the league nineteen times, a few Cups and a Cup Winners Cup, they’ve won the European Cup (the Champions League) no less than five times. Manchester United legend, Alex Ferguson regarded that, winning the European Cup, as the pinnacle. That much is true, so Liverpool take those honors.
If you thought Manchester United’s 1999 Champions League come from behind success against Bayern Munich was special, what do you make of Steven Gerrard’s magnificent leadership on the night several seasons later when they were already three goals down at half time to Italy’s greatest success story, AC Milan. It was utterly disappointing that I left for home at half time that night. I was tired and honestly didn’t think there was any way that Liverpool could stage a comeback. But they did.
AC Milan won the European Cup seven times, so they edge out local rivals, Inter Milan as Italy’s top team. Although in recent years, both teams have faded and Juventus are taking the limelight cake. Undoubtedly, Bayern Munich are Germany’s top team, although the argument goes that their Bundesliga is weak in comparison to the English Premier League, Italy’s Serie A and even Spain’s La Liga. That much may be true, but then you have to count the number of European Cups they’ve won. And that’s in a different category altogether. And let’s not also forget the number of times Germany’s top side have made the final, including that famous one where our boys humiliated them.
In terms of European success, European minnows, Porto have to be Portugal’s top side, not Benfica, historically a more famous side anyhow. But Porto has won the Champions League in recent years. Jose Mourinho was their coach. And next door to Portugal lies Spain. But we’ll come to that in a moment, because this next piece of information is important, particularly if you’re really interested in how the styles of play and all the great sides over the years have evolved.
I can’t recall the name of the great coach who started it all, it happened so far back during the middle of the last century, but have you heard of the expression known as Total Football? It’s a classic style of quick passing football which has deadly and obvious results at the end of it. It also generally takes the shape of a diamond when you view the team’s players from the heavens. This is something Louis van Gaal has been trying out at Old Trafford, and even though the results still leave a lot to be desired, it’s beautiful to watch.
It originated from the Netherlands. By winning three European Cups, Ajax Amsterdam is the top Dutch team. And where do you think maverick coach Pep Guardiola learned his tricks? Dutch legend, Johan Cruyff was once upon a time Barcelona’s coach (we beat him in the Cup Winners Cup final in the early nineties). And to this day those magnificent men from the Catalan, current European champions, Barcelona FC, are still playing Total Football.
It’s even better to watch when you’ve got one of the greatest students of the game, Lionel Messi, playing for them. But he’s not the greatest player of all time. Brazil’s Pele is. Apart from being brilliant, no player has featured in and won more World Cups than this Brazilian master has. Johan Cruyff is up there with Pele. So too, Real Madrid’s De Stefano. And you all thought I was going to call out Cristiano Ronaldo’s name? He doesn’t even come close.
As to which team is the greatest European club of all time, it’s not Barcelona. It’s their fiercest rivals, Real Madrid, because no other team has come close to matching their feat of no less than ten European Cups.