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Introduction

Football has existed for centuries, but even as the years go by, there are players, coaches or teams that continue to be remembered no matter how much time has passed. Legacies last forever, which is why the youngest generations still hear about feats that happened long before they were even born.

Even though we’re talking about a sport that has more than 100 years of existence and is played everywhere in the world, some teams have found a way to live long in everyone’s memory. The teams that are known as giants nowadays owe their reputation to things they achieved in the past. However, that doesn’t mean that those who succeeded later haven’t made history. Here, take a look at the 10 best football teams of all time.

Top 10 Best Soccer Teams of All Time

Through the years, world football has seen fantastic teams. But only a few went down in the history books. Judging by the titles won, the players that were part of them and the impact they had in the sport’s history, these are the top 10 best teams soccer has ever seen:

10. Hungary (1953 - 1958)

  • Notable titles: 1952 Olympic Games, 1953 Central European International Cup
  • Notable players: Sándor Kocsis, Nándor Hidegkuti, Ferenc Puskás
  • Historic significance: Tactics of Guztáv Sebes influenced by Jimmy Hogan

Back in the day, Hungary was an European powerhouse that dominated world football. During the 50s, they not only won an Olympic gold medal but they were also atop the world rankings. Headlined by legendary forward Ferenc Puskas on the pitch and led by Guztáv Sebes on the dugout, the so-called Hungarian ‘Golden Team’ is widely regarded as one of the greatest teams that, surprisingly, never became world champion—though it came pretty close.

Having become the first side to beat England at Wembley in the famous “Match of the Century” in November 1953, and holding an unbeaten record since May 1950, Hungary headed into the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland as strong favorites. 

They had an impressive run throughout the tournament but in the end they fell just short, losing 3-2 to West Germany in the final. Still, the ‘Magical Magyars’ cemented a long-lasting legacy in the sport.

9. West Germany (1970 - 1974)

  • Notable titles: 1972 European Championships, 1974 FIFA World Cup
  • Notable players: Gerd Muller, Franz Beckenbauer, Lothar Matthaüs
  • Historic significance: Integrated some of the best players of all time and denied the Netherlands “total football.”

The 1970s West German side featured some of the greatest football players of all time. That team combined a solid defense with Franz Beckenbauer at the back with a lethal attack led by prolific forward Gerd Muller, the all-time top scorer in the Bundesliga and the only player to have scored in an Euro final, a World Cup final, and an European Cup final. They also had one of the all-time greats in the middle of the park in Lothar Matthaüs.

After winning the 1972 European Championship in incredible fashion, West Germany went on to achieve an even greater feat in the 1974 FIFA World Cup played at home. The Netherlands’ “total football” style was expected to emerge victorious that year, but the hosts upset Johan Cruyff and company with a 2-1 triumph in the grand final.

8. Ajax (1970 - 1973)

  • Notable titles: 1971, 1972 and 1973 European Cup
  • Notable players: Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Ruud Krol
  • Historic significance: Invented “total football” under manager Rinus Michels.

To talk about that Dutch national side that came close to a World Cup success, we have to explain what influenced their style of play. 

At the club level, we have to date back to the 1970s to talk about the team that revolutionized the game. Rinus Michels’ Ajax would be the first product of the “total football” style of play that would later inspire the rest of the world, especially the Dutch national team during that decade.

Revolutionary Soccer

The success that was so elusive for Johan Cruyff at the international stage contrasted with his Ajax side that won three consecutive European Cups from 1971 to 1973, beating Panathinaikos, Inter Milan, and Juventus in the respective finals. 

The most important achievement of that team, however, was the influence it had in the rest of world soccer, especially in the Netherlands and Barcelona. That Ajax team created a football philosophy that continues to have an impact in the beautiful game even more than fifty years later.

7. Spain (2008 - 2012)

  • Notable titles: 2008 UEFA Euro, 2010 FIFA World Cup, 2012 UEFA Euro
  • Notable players: Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, David Villa, Carles Puyol
  • Historic significance: Adapted Barcelona's successful play style and dominated Europe

Despite having two of the most emblematic clubs in world soccer in Real Madrid and Barcelona, Spain struggled to stand out in international football for a long time. In 2008, however, everything would change for the better. Under Luis Aragones, the Spanish side kicked off its most successful era by winning Euro 2008, its first major title in over 40 years.

The Ultimate Glory

Capitalizing on the best generation of players they have ever produced, Spain went on to taste the ultimate glory in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa under Vicente Del Bosque, becoming the first European team to win the tournament outside of their own continent. The Spanish team combined the best of Barcelona and Real Madrid, who showcased many of world football’s best players by then.

Far from being satisfied with that, Spain secured another European Championship trophy in 2012. With that third success in a row under their belts, they became the first national team to win three consecutive titles. From 2008 to 2012, Spain dominated the world. Their great run of form came to an end in 2014, when they were unable to defend their World Cup title in Brazil. Spain suffered a disappointing group stage elimination, ending their golden era.

6. Manchester United (1992 - 2000)

  • Notable titles: 1999 treble
  • Notable players: Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs
  • Historic significance: Class of 92 dominated clubs soccer during the 90s guided by Sir Alex Ferguson

Manchester United have always been an English heavyweight, but it was during the 90s that they lived their best days. If you look at Sir Alex Ferguson’s fantastic, 26-year tenure at Old Trafford, you will find different successes through the years. But if you only focus on the 90s, you’ll see a dynasty that dominated England, eclipsing other fantastic teams like Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.

It has to be said, Ferguson struggled at first. However, he found a way to survive tumultuous first years at the club, eventually building a successful side by recruiting new talent and promoting young prospects. From the inaugural 1991-92 Premier League, United were clearly superior in the English top-flight during that decade.

The Treble

The pinnacle of that golden era undoubtedly was in the 1998-99 season, when the Red Devils completed their first treble under Ferguson. On May 26, 1999, United pulled off one of the biggest comeback victories in the history of soccer.

United had already won the league and FA Cup titles by then. However, they had yet to play in the UEFA Champions League final against Bayern Munich. Their treble dreams looked practically over as they were still trailing 1-0 in added time, but that’s when they gave everyone a lesson. 

From two corner kicks taken by David Beckham, United turned things around in stoppage time. Teddy Sheringham netted a loose ball to put things level at 90+1’, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored the winner only two minutes later in a miraculous win for the history books. 

Between 1992 and 2000, United won

  • Five Premier Leagues 
  • Three FA Cups 
  • One League Cup 
  • Three Community Shields 
  • One Intercontinental Cup
  • And of course, that epic Champions League title.

5. Real Madrid (2016 - 2018)

  • Notable titles: 2016, 2017 and 2018 UEFA Champions League
  • Notable players: Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos, Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Historic significance: The first team ever to win three consecutive Champions Leagues, all under Zinedine Zidane.

Who says that history cannot be written in the modern era? Real Madrid is proof that it can. The Merengues have already brought memorable teams to the world, but from 2016 to 2018 they proved they are never done with making history. When everything seemed to be falling apart in 2016, Real Madrid gave a strong message: you can never count them out.

Following a poor start to the season under Rafael Benitez, the board promoted Zinedine Zidane from Real Madrid B in an emergency move. Despite not having managerial experience at the senior level, Zizou had worked as Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant when the Blancos won their 10th Champions League title in 2014. Therefore, he learned a thing or two about the role. And it wouldn’t take long for Zizou to reverse the team’s fortunes.

Continental Supremacy

Only four months after taking over, Zidane led Real Madrid to a UEFA Champions League title. That was only the beginning, as they were crowned European champions in the next two seasons as well, becoming the first ever team to win three UCL trophies in a row. That successful side honored the club’s standards perfectly, proving the rest of the continent why they should always fear Real Madrid.

Led by the iconic BBC (Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, and Cristiano Ronaldo), that Real Madrid team was as tough as they come. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas was a wall between the sticks, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane were in their prime, while Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos bossed the midfield. In addition to their continental successes, that side also delivered a La Liga trophy.

4. AC Milan (1988 - 1994)

  • Notable titles: 1989, 1990 and 1994 European Cups
  • Notable players: Paolo Maldini, Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten
  • Historic significance: Strayed away from Italy's popular “catenaccio” and conquered Europe under Arrigo Sacchi.

One of the most important teams in Italy, AC Milan went through a rough patch in the 80s as they struggled to win a Scudetto title after 1979. Not many saw it coming, but things would change in the summer of 1987. The Rossoneri trusted their luck in Arrigo Sacchi, and they wouldn’t regret it. The Italian coach would change the mindset at the Rossoneri, opting for an offensive style of play that eventually paid off. 

After delivering a Serie A title in his first season, Sacchi led AC Milan to two consecutive European Cup titles. The 1989 success was especially memorable for Milan as they destroyed Real Madrid 5-0 in the return leg of the semi-finals before putting four past Steaua Bucharest in the grand final.

A New Era of Soccer In Italy

That Milan team changed the way of playing football not only at the club but also in Italy, inspiring other teams to move away from the defensive “Catenaccio” style that ruled in the country until then. It was led by Dutch trio Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, and Frank Rijkaard, but also featured superstars like Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini.

Sacchi left after the 1990-91 season, laying a foundation on which to build. Fabio Capello successfully took over for him, leading Milan to three Serie A titles, two Supercoppa Italiana trophies, and another Champions League title the following seasons. 

Capello still deserves credit for extending the glory days at San Siro, but it’s fair to say he owes part of his success to the work previously done by Sacchi. Either way, thanks to both of them AC Milan were dominant between 1988 and 1994.

3. Brazil (1958 - 1970)

  • Notable titles: 1958, 1962 and 1970 FIFA World Cup
  • Notable players: Pelé, Jairzinho, Rivelino
  • Historic significance: Played soccer in a way that was ahead of its time and greatly contributed to the worldwide popularization of soccer.

The Brazilian national team has been atop the list of World Cup winners for a long time. If La Verde-amarela are one of the most feared sides in international football, they owe much of that reputation to their successful teams from 1958 to 1970, the period known as the golden age in Brazilian football.

Headlined by Pele, one of the most fascinating players in the history of soccer, Brazil won an impressive three World Cups in the span of twelve years. The Santos star led La Canarinha to the 1958 World Cup success at only 17, before helping them make it back-to-back in 1962. Amid political turmoil in the country, Brazil couldn’t field the same competitive team in 1966, but they came back stronger in 1970 in what has been dubbed the greatest World Cup ever.

The 1970 World Cup

In this competition Brazil recorded 19 goals in six games en route to the grand final against Italy, whom they beat 4-1 to become World Champions for the third time. Besides Pele, that offensive-minded Brazil that conquered the world in those years featured the likes of Garrincha, Jairzinho, Gerson, Tostão, and Rivelino.

2. Real Madrid (1955 - 1960)

  • Notable titles: 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959 and 1960 European Cup
  • Notable players: Alfredo Di Stefano, Paco Gento, Ferenc Puskás
  • Historic significance: Set records and won almost every tournament they played.

Just like Brazil won a reputation for being the most powerful national football team on the planet, it’s safe to say Real Madrid is their equivalent at the club level. Just like La Verde-amarela owe much of that recognition to their success between the late 50s and early 70s, the Merengues built their reputation as the most iconic football club in the world during the 50s.

Real Madrid was simply unstoppable in that era. Headlined by two of the all-time greats, Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas, the Blancos won the European Cup for five years in a row between 1956 and 1960. Their dominance in Europe came to an end at the hands of Benfica, who went on to win two consecutive cups.

One of The All-Time Greats

Though there are not many videos or other archives about those years, those who witnessed that team were in awe of what Madrid did on the pitch. Di Stefano has been widely regarded as one of the best to ever play the game, for some he’s at the same tier or even higher than Pele, Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi. 

Either way, few teams were able to be so extremely superior for so many years like Madrid did back then. Therefore, it’s fair to label them among the greatest football teams of all time.

1. Barcelona (2008 - 2012)

  • Notable titles: 2009 sextuple
  • Notable players: Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez
  • Historic significance: Accomplished some of the greatest feats of any soccer club and created a revolutionary play style under Pep Guardiola.

Those who thought that by the 21st-century history was already written were proved completely wrong by Pep Guardiola. Not only did he get Barcelona back on their feet after taking over for Frank Rijkaard, but he also assembled the best team of all time in the process. With Pep at the helm, there was not a single trophy the Catalans have failed to lift.

What Guardiola accomplished at Barcelona is simply outstanding. The Cules had championship material, they had all the pieces they needed to succeed, but the Spanish coach understood they could also change football with them. The Tiki-Taka style of play Barca adopted under Guardiola was something that world football hadn’t ever seen. The fact that he did it in the 2010s, when everything seemed already invented, is even more impressive.

Unparalleled success

In his first season at the helm, Guardiola led Barcelona to La Liga, Champions League, and Copa del Rey glory. That meant the first time a Spanish club completed the treble. The way Barca secured those titles made fans even prouder and, just like Ajax and the Dutch national team did in the 70s, inspired the rest of world soccer.

Opting for unconventional tactics such as deploying Lionel Messi as false No. 9, Guardiola proved to be a football genius and to be way ahead of his peers at the time. In 2009, his Barcelona turned the initial treble into a perfect sextuple by winning the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup later that year.

Barcelona’s golden era under Guardiola ended in 2012, when Pep decided not to continue at the club. Following his departure, the club had to wait until 2015 to win another continental trophy. On top of that, lifelong rivals Real Madrid extended their advantage in Champions League trophies won.

In short, Barcelona won it all with Guardiola in the dugout. He left Camp Nou having delivered:

  • Three La Liga titles 
  • Two UEFA Champions Leagues
  • Two Copa del Rey titles 
  • Three Spanish Super Cups, two UEFA Super Cups
  • Two FIFA Club World Cups.

Conclusions

In such a long period of time, there have been many other wonderful teams as well. Liverpool had more than one squad that left its mark in soccer, and in the modern era, Chelsea or Manchester City have also written history. 

National teams like Maradona’s Argentina or Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal will also be remembered through the ages. Nevertheless, these 10 teams revolutionized the game.

Discover more about the greatest teams in soccer and watch the latest sports moments with The Highlights App. Sign up to the waitlist to be the first to know when the app is available. Check out our blog to find more stories about the beautiful game.

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Written by
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Daniel Benchimol
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highlights app about
It is made for the sports fan simply looking to discover the most crucial moments of their favorite sport.
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