Deciding the best teams ever is never easy, but FourFourTwo thrives on making the tough decisions.
So, each staff member armed with their personal favourites, FFT gathered in a darkened room one evening to narrow things down. Deliberations continued long into the night. In between the bickering, name-calling and hair-pulling, one thing became apparent – this list had to be about more than just cold, bare trophy hauls.
Football is also about intangibles: how cool a team is; what effect they have on future generations; their aura. You won't find too many one-season wonders in this list, but there's room for a special few…
The 50 best football teams of all time : 50. Leicester (2015/16)
You won’t find many one-season wonders in this list, but such was the magnitude of Leicester’s title triumph that it’s hard to exclude them.
Claudio Ranieri produced a near-perfect team 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?
Leicester had their outstanding stars – Jamie Vardy had a direct hand in 36 goals, Riyad Mahrez 29, while N’Golo Kanté proved a revelation in midfield. But their real strength was the collective bond which helped them eke out big results when the pressure was at its most intense.
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.
48. Chelsea 2004-06
Jose Mourinho mixed the best of Claudio Ranieri's team (John Terry, Frank Lampard, Damien Duff and Claude Makelele) with those already incoming for his debut campaign (Petr Cech and Arjen Robben), bringing in Didier Drogba and Ricardo Carvalho with Roman Abramovich's petrodollars to add a more physical, quicksilver and devastating edge to an already talented team.
The Blues won successive 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.
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.
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.
46. Hamburg 1977-83
Hamburg had always been on the periphery of the German football elite until two tireless workers came together just after the club won its first European trophy in the 1977 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, the squad’s unflinching desire to run further and faster than the opposition brought three Bundesliga titles in four seasons, plus the 1983 European Cup against Juventus.
45. Marseille 1988-93
OM’s owner Bernard Tapie set out to mastermind France’s first European Cup triumph – and if that meant bribery, match-fixing and doping, so be it.
In truth, Marseille were good enough to conquer Europe without skulduggery. They lost the 1991 final to Red Star Belgrade on penalties but, two years later, out-thought and outplayed defending champions Milan to claim the trophy.
At the back, sweeper Basile Boli and centre-back Marcel Desailly protected Fabien Barthez. The midfield featured Didier Deschamps, Abedi Pele and Chris Waddle, while the attack – which contained German World Cup winner Rudi Voller, fearsome France striker Jean-Pierre Papin and powerfully skilful Croatia international Alen Boksic – wasn’t too shabby either.
44. Arsenal 2003/04
Manager Arsene Wenger was roundly mocked when, in 2002, he'd suggested it was possible for his team to go through the league campaign unbeaten. But in 2003/04, after surviving two early scares against Portsmouth and Manchester United, Arsenal emulated Preston's 'Invincibles' and won the league without defeat.
At the heart of the team were Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Patrick Vieira – 'the three musketeers' who provided the skill, guile and physical strength to steer Arsenal to a third title in seven seasons. The fast and incisive pyrotechnic football they played was breathtaking, and in Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, Arsenal possessed two of the greatest forwards in their history.
43. Tottenham 1960-62
With strikers Bobby Smith and Les Allen notching goals for fun, the prodigiously gifted inside-forward John White dismantling opposition defences with his blind-side runs and midfield anchored by the rock-like Dave Mackay, Tottenham romped to the title by eight points (in the days of two for a win) in 1960/61, then defeated Leicester in the FA Cup final.
Some said Spurs would be one-season wonders, and manager Bill Nicholson feared they had a point. So he added goal machine Jimmy Greaves, retained the FA Cup and reached the European Cup semi-final – where they were denied in part by suspect refereeing.
42. Steaua Bucharest 1984-89
Truth is a rare commodity when it comes to former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania. Yet for all the accusations of dictatorial favouritism that dogged Steaua Bucharest in the late ‘80s, the Militarii did go 104 domestic games unbeaten from June 1986 until September 1989.
Steaua were like a Romanian Harlem Globetrotters, led by Victor Piturca and Miodrag Belodedici’s graceful artistry. When they signed Gheorghe Hagi just for the 1986 European Super Cup, Ceausescu refused to allow the Maradona of the Carpathians back to Sportul Studentesc.
They also got to two European Cup finals, beating Barcelona on penalties in 1986 before losing 4-0 to Milan two years later.
41. Leeds 1968-75
In the Elland Road dressing room, manager Don Revie nailed a sign to the wall which read: 'Keep fighting.' His Leeds team, combining ruthless pragmatism with a shimmering of skill, did precisely that as football entered the technicolour age.
After capturing their all-important first trophy in 1968 (the League Cup), Leeds went on to win two League titles, two Fairs Cups and the FA Cup in 1972. Johnny Giles, Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter and Jack Charlton earned the team its 'mean machine' tag, while Peter Lorimer's spectacular shooting, Eddie Gray's skilful wing play and Allan 'Sniffer' Clarke's goalscoring exploits gave the Whites their cutting edge up front.
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