FourFourTwo's 50 Best Football Teams Ever: 20-11
20. Dynamo Kiev 1985-87
On the face of it, Dynamo Kiev have no business being on this list. The Ukrainians never went beyond the last four of the European Cup. Before the fall of the Iron Curtain they never managed to better back-to-back Soviet titles. Igor Belanov and Oleg Blokhin may have won the Ballon d’Or, but lacked box-office stardust. Yet Dynamo’s gift to the modern game goes beyond mere statistics.
In an age where Prozone and Opta data is now scrutinised to the minutest detail, Valeriy Lobanovskiy – a taciturn, aloof tactician who approached football like a game of chess – pioneered logical, scientific analysis to what had been an intrinsically subjective sport. In 20 years as Dynamo coach, across three separate spells beginning in 1973, Lobanovskiy created a hat-trick of great teams.
“My players know that the morning after a game, the sheet of paper will be pinned up showing all the figures,” he once recalled. “If a midfielder has fulfilled 60 technical and tactical actions in the course of the match, then he has not pulled his weight. He is obliged to do 100 or more.”
“We form players following scientific recommendations,” said right-hand man Anatoliy Zelentsov. “We don’t just give a coach advice, we justify it with numbers.”
It was Lobanovskiy’s second great Kiev side that proved his crowning glory, one that won the 1986 Cup Winners’ Cup 3-0 against Atletico Madrid. Blokhin’s goal – created by buccaneering full-back play and no-look passes, so well-planned had attacking forays been planned – was the perfect representation of the coach’s beloved ‘universality’. Few teams have such an enduring legacy.
19. Netherlands 1974-78
The Oranje were the width of a post from winning the 1978 World Cup. But Rob Rensenbrink struck wood in the final minute, Argentina scored twice in extra time, and the Dutch lost a second successive final to the host country.
This was a thinking man’s side, and despite a succession of managers (notably Rinus Michels at West Germany 74) it was tempting to believe that the thinking man was Johan Cruyff. He persuaded Michels to drop shot-stopper Jan van Beveren for the eccentric sub-six-footer Jan Jongbloed, correctly reasoning that his superior footwork could create the sweeper-keeper.
The Ajax Totaalvoetbal side that won three successive European Cups from 1971 to 1973 supplied Cruyff, versatile defender Ruud Krol, nippy back Wim Suurbier, explosive midfielder Arie Haan, classy playmaker Johan Neeskens, brainbox winger Piet Keizer and lethal forward Johnny Rep. But Michels added elements from Feyenoord, including combustible midfielder Willem van Hanegem, stalwart stopper Wim Rijsbergen and future Celtic manager Wim Jansen, plus Anderlecht legend Rensenbrink.
En route to the 1974 final the Dutch scored 14 and conceded just one in powering past Uruguay, Bulgaria, Argentina, East Germany and Brazil; only Sweden stopped them scoring, despite the unveiling of the Cruyff turn. In the final they scored before the hosts got a kick, but fatally failed to score a second and lost to Gerd Muller’s seven-yard swiveller.
Euro 76 was a letdown and Cruyff retired from internationals just before Argentina 78, much later revealing that he didn’t fancy abandoning his family after they’d been held at gunpoint in Barcelona. Van Hanegem also withdrew when told he wasn’t guaranteed a starting place.
After hiccuping through the first group, the Dutch replaced Ernst Happel with his assistant Jan Zwartkruis in a quiet coup (Happel remained as figurehead); they promptly blitzed a strong Austria side 5-1 before drawing with the Germans and outmuscling Italy to top the second group and reach another final doomed to defeat against the hosts. The Dutch would have to wait another decade to lift a trophy.
18. Juventus 1980-86
Few Serie A managers are given time to build a team – at Juventus, Giovanni Trapattoni built three. But while few can argue with Il Trap’s record during his first stint with the Old Lady – six league titles and a clean sweep of European trophies in a decade – it took five years and an evolution in his management style to transform the Bianconeri from dominant domestic force into continental colossus. And it all began with an Irishman.
A brilliant man-manager and disciple of catenaccio, Trapattoni relied heavily on the Italian players who would form the backbone of Italy’s 1982 World Cup-winning side for his early successes in Turin. But despite also claiming Juve’s first European trophy (the UEFA Cup) in his first season, the European Cup continued to prove elusive.
It was Europe’s other competition, the Cup Winners’ Cup, that kick-started Trapattoni’s change of approach, though. So impressed was he with Liam Brady’s display in Arsenal’s 2-1 aggregate win in the 1979/80 semi-final that he signed the mercurial midfielder. Two title-winning seasons later, Brady departed to make way for Michel Platini, having shown what could be possible when you added defensive doggedness to foreign flair.
After a slow start, the Frenchman was sensational, winning three straight Ballon d’Ors and inspiring Juve to three more league titles, an Italian Cup and a Cup Winners’ Cup. After losing 1983 European Cup Final they finally completed the set in 1985. That their victory over Liverpool at the Heysel Stadium was completely overshadowed by tragic off-field events should do little to detract from a decade of dominance that finally yielded the ultimate prize.