FourFourTwo’s 50 Best Football Teams Ever: 50-41
Words: Joe Brewin, Andrew Murray, Jon Spurling, Paul Simpson.
50. Leicester (2015/16)
You won’t find many one-season wonders in this list, but such was the magnitude of Leicester’s title win in 2015/16 that it’s hard not to give an acknowledging hat tip to the Foxes.
When we’re talking about the greatest teams, Claudio Ranieri produced a near-perfect one that achieved immortality in arguably the world's strongest league. How else could they have managed to topple England’s illustrious elite just 12 months after barely surviving the drop?
Sure, Leicester had their outstanding stars – Jamie Vardy had a direct hand in 36 league goals; Riyad Mahrez 29, while new boy N’Golo Kanté proved the seasonal revelation in central midfield. But their real strength was the collective bond that helped them eke out big results, week after week, when the pressure was at its most intense.
They separated themselves from good to great with 14 all-important victories by a single goal – five 1-0 wins coming in the six games from February 27 to April 3 – and beat Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham en route. Only two teams managed to return the same treatment all year.
In the end they won the title by 10 points. Ten points, for a team that needed six wins from its last eight games of 2014/15 to survive relegation. Surely their achievement – so unique it is – won't be repeated again. JB
49. Saint-Etienne 1973-77
You’d probably assume that Saint-Etienne’s greatest team would be the one Michel Platini led in the early ‘80s, before he ruled Europe with Juventus. You’d be wrong.
Underpinned by imposing Yugoslav keeper Ivan Curkovic, Argentine monster Osvaldo Piazza at centre-back and with attacking inspiration from Jean-Michel Larque, Herve Revelli and future Spurs boss Jacques Santini, Les Verts dominated French football for a decade from 1966, winning seven Ligue 1 titles, five Coupes de France and reaching the 1976 European Cup Final.
It was at Hampden Park, however, that things fell apart for Rhone club. Beaten 1-0 by two-time defending champions Bayern Munich, Saint-Etienne hit the post twice. Just unlucky? Perhaps, but Hampden’s famous square posts have haunted their fans ever since, many of whom remain convinced that either Dominique Bathenay or Santini’s strikes would’ve gone in with the more conventional round goal frame.
In 2013, the club paid £20,000 to take the posts from Hampden Park’s museum, while a restaurant in the shadow of Saint-Etienne’s world famous cathedral is called Les Pochetaux Carres, or Square Posts. Oh, what might’ve been. AM
48. Chelsea 2004-06
Jose Mourinho took a typically firm hold of an occasionally erratic Chelsea team after grabbing the reins in 2004, and turned them into a devastatingly effective unit.
He mixed the best of Claudio Ranieri's team (John Terry, Frank Lampard, Damien Duff and Claude Makelele were already at the club) with those already incoming for his debut campaign (Petr Cech and Arjen Robben), bringing in striker Didier Drogba and centre-back Ricardo Carvalho with Roman Abramovich's petrodollars to add a more physical and quicksilver edge to an already-talented team.
The Blues won successive, dominant titles in 2005 and 2006 (the former by 12 points, and only 15 goals conceded) with a brand of pressure football that earned them begrudged respect from non-Chelsea fans. Not that the self-proclaimed 'Special One' cared too much anyway, pointing out that he was in England to win silverware and not friends.
The Portuguese’s team was devastating from set-pieces and simply refused to allow setbacks to stall its progress. This was never better illustrated than in 2005, when despite losing the Champions League semi-final to Liverpool, Mourinho's men marched on relentlessly towards the league title anyway. JS
47. Wolverhampton Wanderers 1953-60
Clad in classic old gold, Stan Cullis's uncompromising and direct team powered their way to three league titles in nine years from 1953 onwards, missing a hat-trick of First Division titles and the FA Cup-League Double by just a point in 1959/60.
As well as being a dominant force on the domestic front, Wolves also enjoyed some memorable triumphs in unofficial floodlit international thrillers at Molineux against the likes of Hungarian giants Honved, which hastened the inauguration of organised international competition.
With a heavy emphasis on fitness and strength, Wolves's method of pumping long balls out of defence for their forwards to chase may have been dismissed as 'kick and rush' tactics, but in their nine peak success years they plundered 878 goals and topped the century mark in four consecutive First Division seasons.
"Take the shortest and quickest route to goal," insisted the demanding Cullis. With legendary skipper Billy Wright barking out his manager's orders on the pitch, the likes of tiny winger Johnny Hancocks and midfielder Bill Slater ensured their places in Molineux folklore. JS
46. Hamburg 1977-83
Hamburg had always been on the periphery of German football elite’s, until two tireless workers came together just after the club won its first European trophy in the 1977 European Cup Winners’ Cup.
Liverpool’s European Cup-winning star Kevin Keegan and coach Branko Zebec both trained ferociously, the latter so much so that his players were in open revolt after losing the 1980 European Cup Final to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest.
Though it would be the Croatian manager’s drinking that marked his downfall – once saying “we have to win the next match” at half-time, believing the game to be over – the squad’s unflinching desire to run further and faster than the opposition brought three Bundesligas in four seasons, plus the 1983 European Cup against Juventus.
The constant was Felix Magath, Brede Hangeland’s future cheese botherer at Fulham, who fittingly scored a long-range winner against the Old Lady. It was a triumph for hard work everywhere. AM
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