The summer of 2014 was understandably all about the World Cup, an event responsible for international headlines and record television ratings. With that said, club football was just as exciting as was the sport’s biggest party. Germany went on to win the World Cup as most expected the nation to do, but the country’s clubs took some steps in the opposite direction throughout the year. Neither Italy nor England are represented in the top-five of the list of the world’s best club put together by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics. Some not impressed with the Premier League would say that the state of English football will only worsen between now and the start of 2016.
Spain was, as any knowledgeable person would expect considering all that occurred, the big winner per the IFFHS rankings that are put together “based on chronological, statistical and scientific data about world football.” One of the Giants of Spanish football found itself in an unfamiliar position in the spring of 2014, failing to win any meaningful hardware and having to sit back and watch as the club’s hated rivals went on to stand tall as the best team on the planet. Those two sides are not too surprisingly once again in a battle for La Liga supremacy, a battle that will likely continue up through the final days of the current campaign.
Real Madrid and Barcelona. Barcelona and Real Madrid. Spanish football has been about those two massive clubs seemingly since the day before forever, but now another team is doing whatever it can to change the lay of the land. Atletico Madrid pulled off what some would have said was an impossible task in 2013-14, unexpectedly winning a title and also coming a few bounces here or there away from hoisting the most important trophy in all of club football. Imagine how different this list would look if Atletico and not Real had won multiple pieces of hardware in May of 2014.
20. Sevilla FC: 202 points by IFFHS
Sevilla finished fifth and just out of the Champions League spots of the La Liga table for the 2013-14 season. The top moment for the club came in the UEFA Europa League Final, when Sevilla defeated Benfica via penalties to win what is the National Invitational Tournament of club football. Those who would, in the past, hit out at the competition can no longer do so, as the winners of the Europa League are now (rightfully so) awarded with a spot in the Champions League. Too bad for Sevilla that the rule change will not officially be put into place until the 2015 Europa League Final, one year too late for the club.
19. Sparta Praha: 202.5 points by IFFHS
Sparta not only won the 36th league title in the history of the club in 2013-14, they were atop the league table by 13 points when all was said and done. They held an advantage of plus-16 in goal difference over second-place Viktoria Plzen. Sparta lost only a single time out of 30 league contests, and 25 of those affairs ended in Sparta victories. Sparta also hoisted the Czechoslovak Cup and the Czech Super Cup in 2014. They are a minnow when compared with the clubs that routinely play in Champions League contests during the winter months, but Sparta had a year to remember in 2014.
18. San Lorenzo de Almagro: 202.5 points by IFFHS
San Lorenzo’s run to being at the No. 18 spot of this list began in August of 2013 at the start of the Torneo Inicial, the first competition of the Argentina Primera División campaign. Finishing as the leaders of that tournament earned San Lorenzo a spot in the second stage of the 2014 Copa Libertadores. While San Lorenzo went on to lose the 2013-14 Superfinal 1-0 to River Plate, they did manage to win the Copa Libertadores for the first time in club history. That achievement earned San Lorenzo a berth in the 2014 FIFA Club World Cup, where the club made an impressive run before losing the Final to Real Madrid.
17. Steaua București: 205 points by IFFHS
The most storied club in the history of Liga I was at it again in 2013-14. Steaua won the league for the second straight campaign, finishing five points ahead of second-place Astra Giurgiu and only losing one Liga I match during the season. That feat earned Steaua the only Champions League spot awarded to Liga I clubs. It was not all good times for Steaua in 2014, however, as they were runners-up in the Cupa României and Supercupa României competitions. 2015 could turn out to be another banner year for the club, as Steaua were sitting atop the Liga I table halfway through January.
16. Clube Atletico Mineiro: 208 points by IFFHS
2014 was a historic year for the Atletico out of Brazil. The club won the Recopa Sudamericana for the first time in its history, defeating Club Atletico Lanus out of Argentina 4-3 in extra time of the Final for that competition. That victory came a year after Atletico won its first ever Copa Libertadores. Atletico reeled in other hardware by defeating Cruzeiro 3-0 on aggregate goals to win the Copa do Brasil. Along with those impressive accomplishments, Atletico also finished as the runners-up in the Campeonato Mineiro. Only one other club out of Brazil made it into the top-20 of this list.
15. Porto: 217.50 points by IFFHS
The first of two Portuguese clubs to make it into the top-20 of the list, Porto were well out of the Primeira Liga race by the time May 2014 came around. Porto finished 13 points behind league champions Benfica (more on them later), and they were also bounced out of the Taça de Portugal and Taça da Liga in the semifinal rounds of both of those competitions. While their journey in the Champions League did not last long, Porto did play through the quarterfinal round of the Europa League before being eliminated by Sevilla. Sevilla went on to win that competition.
14. Cruzeiro Esporte Clube: 219 points by IFFHS
It was Round 6 of the 2014 Campeonato Brasileiro Série A when Cruzeiro jumped up to the top of the table. They never relinquished that spot, clinching the title 30 rounds after taking the lead and staying put as the reigning Brazilian champions for the second consecutive year. Sao Paulo finished second in the competition, ten points off of Cruzeiro on the final day of the season. Cruzeiro were also the winners of the Campeonato Mineiro for a 37th time in 2014. Their bid for a triple fell just short, however, as they were runners-up in the Copa do Brasil.
13. Paris Saint-Germain: 223 points by IFFHS
Big-spending Paris Saint-Germain lifted multiple pieces of silverware in 2014. PSG won the Ligue 1 title for the second straight season, finishing nine points ahead of Monaco. They’ll have to work for it if they are to again repeat, as PSG are, as of the posting of this piece, fourth in the league table. The French champions had an opportunity to make a splash in the Champions League in 2014, but they squandered a 3-1 advantage over Chelsea in the quarterfinals of that competition. PSG started out the 2014-15 calendar with a 2-0 victory over En Avant Guingamp to win the Trophee de Champions.
12. Benfica: 223.50 points by IFFHS
Benfica are one of the so-called “Big Three” clubs of Portugal, and no team was bigger in league play for the 2013-14 season. They won the Primeira Liga by seven points, and Benfica lost only two games in that competition. Just as impressive, if not more so, was the club’s run during the Europa League tournament. Benfica knocked off, in order, Tottenham Hotspur, AZ Alkmaar and Juventus in the knockout stages of the competition, and Benfica held Sevilla scoreless in the Final for over 120 minutes of play until the Portuguese outfit was downed on penalties in heartbreaking fashion.
11. Chelsea: 227 points by IFFHS
The return of beloved manager Jose Mourinho to Stamford Bridge was not immediately a smash hit. Chelsea ended the 2013-14 campaign without winning any trophies, and the club was unable to keep up with Manchester City in the race for the Premier League title. Mourinho has since built up a championship-caliber squad, and Chelsea entered 2015 as the favorites to emerge as winners of the league come this May. The Blues will have to hold off City among other sides, however, if Chelsea are to achieve what the club could not at any point in 2014. That will be no easy task.
9. (tied). FC Red Bull Salzburg: 228 points by IFFHS
Salzburg had a much more successful 2014 than did Major League Soccer side New York Red Bulls. They ran away from every other club in the 2013-14 Austrian Football Bundesliga title race, posting downright silly numbers along the way. Salzburg finished 18 points ahead of Rapid Wien, and they had a goal difference of plus-75 at the end of the campaign. Rapid Wien, to compare, finished with a plus-23 goal difference. Salzburg also added the 2013-14 Austrian Cup to the club’s trophy case. Don’t look now, but Salzburg are again the big favorites to win the league and keep hold of their crown.
9. (tied). River Plate: 228 points by IFFHS
River Plate’s run to finishing here in this list began with the start of the Torneo Final in February 2014. Winning that competition earned the club a berth in the Superfinal along with San Lorenzo. A single goal scored 17 minutes from time separated the two sides at the sound of the final whistle, and it was River Plate that emerged victorious. River Plate then ran through opponents in the Copa Sudamericana, never losing once during the final stage of the tournament. They defeated Atletico Nacional 3-1 on aggregate on December 10, finishing off a banner year that is worthy of a top-ten spot here.
7. (tied). Napoli: 233 points by IFFHS
Napoli’s top moment of the 2013-14 season came in February when the club erased a deficit in the Copa Italia semifinal. Roma defeated Napoli 3-2 in the first leg of that showdown, but Napoli struck for three unanswered goals in the rematch to qualify for the final of the competition. With only Fiorentina standing between them and a trophy, Napoli hit their opponents for a trio of goals at the Stadio Olimpico to win 3-1. Their forgettable moments included being eliminated from the Europa League by Porto and finishing 24 points behind league champions Juventus in the Serie A table.
7. (tied). Arsenal: 233 points by IFFHS
The Gunners won two trophies in 2014: Sadly for them, however, only one of them actually exist. Arsenal once again figuratively hoisted the “Fourth Place” trophy that routinely lands the club in the Champions League for another season. Such jokes were silenced during the spring, however, when manager Arsène Wenger guided the club to FA Cup glory, a victory that changed the fate and face of a certain notorious website. Wenger will once again have to work his magic to hold off Southampton, Manchester United and north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur if Arsenal are to play in the Champions League next season.
6. Juventus: 245 points by IFFHS
2014 was an up-and-down roller coaster ride for those who call Juve their own. Juventus were eliminated from the Copa Italia by Roma in January, and, after failing to survive the group stage of the Champions League, Juve could not produce a single home goal against Benfica to qualify for the Europa League Final. Those disappointments aside, the kings of Serie A retained their throne as expected, holding Roma off and eventually pulling away to win the league title by 17 points. Juventus were downed in only two of 38 league matches during the 2013-14 season, and they are heavy favorites to again finish atop the table.
5. Atletico Nacional: 249 points by IFFHS
Colombia’s strongest club for 2014, Atletico Nacional are surpassed in the IFFHS 2014 list by only four teams that are seen worldwide each and every European season. Three of those sides come from Spain, two of which played for club football’s biggest prize, while the other is the top club playing in Germany. Nacional entered the 2014 Categoría Primera A season as the defending champions, and they won the first tournament of 2014. While widely regarded as the country’s best team, Nacional failed to win the Copa Colombia for a third straight year, and they were also unable to advance to the 2014 Finalización.
4. Barcelona: 251 points by IFFHS
Barca and the club’s devoted supporters are likely pleased that 2015 has arrived. While they lost only five times in La Liga play, they were unable to climb above Atletico Madrid in the league table. Barcelona were then burned in front of a worldwide audience in the Copa del Rey Final when Gareth Bale completed what has become a legendary sprint down the left wing before depositing a goal that won Real Madrid that title. While Real went on to have an extremely successful spring, Barcelona ended the season without winning anything of merit, something that is unacceptable for such a proud club.
3. Atletico Madrid: 267 points by IFFHS
Atletico are in an opposite position from Barcelona in that the little brothers of Spanish football won’t soon forget 2014. They shocked the world by climbing to the top of the La Liga table and then remaining in that spot up through the last day of the campaign, winning a title when few gave them much of a chance. That was hardly a one-off for the club, however, as Atletico advanced to the Final of the Champions League. Atletico gave Real Madrid a true scare for over 90 minutes, and the underdogs were close to completing the upset when it all went terrible wrong. A pinpoint header buried by Sergio Ramos in stoppage time was the beginning of the end for Atletico in the Final, however, as Real closed them out in extra time.
2. Bayern Munich: 276 points by IFFHS
Bayern essentially need to win the Champions League every season to be regarded as the best team in the world, because they are not going to get much credit for what they achieve in domestic play. It is hardly a secret that Bayern are the best team in the Bundesliga by far, and odds are that they could have the league wrapped up by March; again. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that the Bundesliga can largely be ignored by outsiders who have zero ties to the league. Bayern are going to win the league this season…and next…and next…and next.
1. Real Madrid: 381 points by IFFHS
Cristiano Ronaldo. Gareth Bale. Luka Modric. Sergio Ramos. James Rodriguez. Toni Kroos. I could go on and on and on. Real Madrid are right now the best club in the world, filled with world-class talent and capable of repeating as winners of the Champions League. The first half of 2015 will not be easy for the club, as Real will face stiff competition from Atletico Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga. Add in the pursuit of other glory, and Real will be rather busy from January through May. It would be unwise to bet against them, however, as Los Blancos are a side above all others.