Sports fans know the emotional experience of supporting a club over months, years and decades. It can be a rollercoaster experience of high and lows, the good times and the bad. Some teams, however, experience periods of extended success or dominance. This often results from the combination of excellent team chemistry and spirit with effective coaching and management. One season of success leads into a second which is then followed by a third and so-on. Sports analysts call this development a dynasty. Every league has had their memorable teams which dominated at one time or another. Examples of dynasties include; the 1950s New York Yankees, the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers and NBA’s LA Lakers of the 1980s and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls of the 1990s.
Soccer is no different. Every once in a while a special team comes along which stands out from the rest. Currently, in the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) one could argue it’s Bayern Munich of the Bundesliga. In the past, others have included; The 1991-1992 AC Milan side that went 58 matches unbeaten in Serie A, The ‘Invincibles’ of Arsenal who went 49 games unbeaten and won the 2003-2004 Premier League, the treble winning Manchester United team of 1999 and the treble winning Barcelona team from 2009. These were all great teams and great seasons, but by themselves do not constitute a sports dynasty.
The following are a list of the 10 greatest dynasties to have existed in UEFA from 1955 until today. Judging the ‘greatness’ of a club can be a very subjective issue. In the case of the ten clubs listed here, European success is the primary measurement of a team’s dominance. That said, domestic success, consecutive titles and the duration of the ‘dynasty’ also factor into how a club is ranked and can help break any ties between teams. Unfortunately, there is only room for 10 teams on this list and a few notable clubs had to be left out. So, who are the top 10 club dynasties in UEFA history?
10. Juventus, 1980-1986
Long before the allegations of cheating and the 2006 match-fixing scandal, Juventus enjoyed a ‘clean’ dynasty. The first half of the 1980s belonged to the bianconeri of Turin, Italy. With Giovanni Trapattoni as manager and European Footballer of the Year winners Paolo Rossi and Michel Platini on the pitch, it is no surprise Juventus enjoyed a long period of success. The team utilized a very strong defensive system, a hallmark of Italian domestic and national teams during that period. Club honours during this time include four league titles, one domestic cup, three European titles – including one European Champions’ Cup – and one Intercontinental Cup. Juventus’ 1985 European Cup win made them the first club to have won all three of UEFA’s major competitions.
9. Inter Milan, 1962-1966
Like many Italian sides of the era, this Inter Milan team was focused on defending. The sting was in the counter-attack which came after the defence had forced the opposition to turn the ball over. This system of play was fine tuned by manager Helenio Herrera who added a sweeper, Armando Picchi, in behind the fullbacks, Tarcisio Burgnich and Giacinto Facchetti. Once the defence turned the ball over it was given to playmaker Luis Suárez (no, not the biting one) who looked to set up forward Sandro Mazzola. More often than not, the system worked and helped Inter dominate the early and mid-1960s. Herrera’s tactics and players at his disposal helped Inter win three League titles, two European Cups and two Intercontinental Cups. It would be another 40 years until the Nerazzurri came close to replicating this level of success with manager José Mourinho.
8. Manchester United, 1999-2008
Bookended by two Champions League titles, this Manchester United team was actually a side in transition, as the winners of 1999 barely resembled the champions of 2008. That said, this period of United’s history still witnessed considerable domestic and European success under the management of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. Over this period, United claimed six League titles, six domestic cups and trophies, two Champions League titles, one Intercontinental Cup and one FIFA World Club Cup. Helping the Red Devils achieve this success were players like Peter Schmeichel, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. While United have fallen on tough times of late, fans can take comfort that they remain the only English side to win the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in the same season.
7. SL Benfica, 1961-1965
This Lisbon-based Portuguese club was the first to successfully challenge Real Madrid on the European stage. With Austrian-born Béla Guttmann managing the club, Benfica won the 1961 and 1962 European Cup against Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively. They never won another European Cup, but were runners-up in 1963 and 1965. Domestically, Benfica did well over this period, winning four League titles and two domestic cups. The club also secured two Intercontinental Cups. In addition to Guttmann, Benfica’s success also came from its excellent players. Notable names include midfield playmaker Mário Coluna, winger José Augusto and the Ballon d’Or and World Footballer of the Year winner Eusébio. Today, Benfica remains a domestic force but is only a shadow of what it used to be in Europe.
6. Bayern Munich, 1974-1976
While the current Bayern Munich side look like they are on their way to building a new dynasty, it was the team of the mid-1970s that made the headlines. Coached by Udo Lattek and Dettmar Cramer, Bayern picked up where the great Ajax team of the early 1970s had left off. The squad contained many German International players, notably sweeper Franz Beckenbauer, strikers Gerd Müller and Uli Hoeness and goalkeeper Sepp Maier. Unlike the other teams on this list, domestically, Bayern Munich were not overly successful during their dynasty period, winning only a single League title. What more than makes up for this are the three consecutive European Cups the club won from 1974 to 1976. A fifth trophy was added when they won the Intercontinental Cup in 1976.
5. Barcelona, 2006-2011
The most current dynasty on this list, Barcelona have become synonymous with European success. Playing what analysts call ‘tiki-taka’ football, the Catalan side enjoyed a period of domestic and European dominance from 2006 to 2011. Coached by Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola, Barcelona claimed four league titles, five domestic cups, five European titles – including three Champions league titles – and two FIFA World Club Cups. Both Rijkaard and Guardiola encouraged a free-flowing, attack oriented strategy, somewhat similar to Ajax of the early 1970s. Players helping the club rise to prominence in this period included the likes of Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Samuel Eto’o and Carles Puyol. Given Barcelona’s ability to attract top-level talent, it is likely this club will remain both a domestic and European power for the foreseeable future.
4. AC Milan, 1988-1994
This Milan dynasty is well known for two reasons; excellent defense and the influence of a Dutch trio of players. Milan’s manager, Arrigo Sacchi, introduced the pressing game to soccer. This defensive method required a team to always attack the ball carrier, challenging the opposition and leaving little room for the opposition player to dribble or pass. This tactic could make it difficult to move the ball upfield and often led to turnovers which were exploited by Sacchi’s team. On the pitch, Milan had a very skilled set of players. Famous names included Paolo Maldini, Roberto Donadoni, Carlo Ancelotti and the Dutch trio of Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten. When Sacchi left Milan in 1991, Fabio Capello took control and continued his predecessor’s winning ways. With such weaponry at its disposal, this Milan dynasty claimed four league titles, four domestic cups, three European Cups / Champions League titles and two Intercontinental Cups.
3. Ajax, 1970-1973
Much of today’s football would not be what it is without the great Ajax side of the early seventies. Coached by the legendary Rinus Michels, the Dutch team introduced the world to the concept of ‘Total Football.’ This revolutionary method of football saw players interchange positions and move around the field in a fluid and seamless manner. Michels’ work was carried on in 1971 by new manager Ștefan Kovács. Helping implement ‘Total Football’ on the field were players like midfielder Johan Neeskens, defender Ruud Krol and legendary midfielder-forward Johan Cruyff. In the span of just a few years, this team and its philosophy dominated Holland and Europe by winning three league titles, three domestic cups, three consecutive European Cups and one Intercontinental Cup. Success proved Ajax’s downfall as Cruyff and Kovács were lured away by Barcelona and the French National team, respectively, ending the dynasty in 1973. Ajax’s approach to football notably influenced teams like Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Barcelona.
2. Liverpool, 1977-1985
It is difficult not to put Liverpool in top spot and they only missed out by a narrow margin. From the late seventies to the mid eighties, Liverpool were a domestic and European powerhouse. Bob Paisley managed the club until 1983 when his assistant Joe Fagan took over. Under their leadership, Liverpool secured four European Cups, six League titles and nine domestic cups and trophies. Of course, management alone can not take all the credit, as Liverpool also benefited from the skills of players like Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Ian Rush. Unfortunately, Liverpool’s dynasty came to a premature end with the Heysel Stadium disaster in May, 1985. Following the death of 39 Juventus fans before the cup final, Liverpool supporters were blamed and UEFA banned all English clubs from European football indefinitely.
1. Real Madrid, 1955-1960
The first true dynasty of the UEFA era, the Real Madrid team of the late 1950s was one of the best sides to ever take to the pitch. Although the club had a few managers during this period, the two most successful were José Villalonga and former Madrid player, Miguel Muñoz. The team was blessed with an array of talent which included the likes of forward Alfredo di Stéfano, midfielder Ferenc Puskás, defender Jose Santamaria and left-winger Francesco Gento. Such talent has led many to believe that this was the first true Galáctico era in club history. Domestically, Madrid ‘only’ claimed three league titles during this dynasty. On the European stage, however, Los Blancos stood head and shoulders above everyone, winning five consecutive European Cups. After 1960, Madrid’s European dominance faded. By the time another European Cup was won, in 1966, much of the side which had dominated in the late 1950s had been dismantled.