What Makes a Great Football Team?

The history of football is replete with teams that have demonstrated the verve and artistry of the beautiful game. Since the turn of the twentieth century, many European and South American football teams have emerged from obscurity to dominate their respective eras. At the same time, the sport has evolved to encompass a greater array of skills and a higher degree of fitness.

The best football teams need to have won at least one trophy. They need to have played attractive but effective football in a climate of high technical standards. Most importantly, they need to have endured an era of stiff competition and intense rivalry.

Presented here are the ten best men’s football teams that meet those criteria. They are chosen from the entire history of international and club football. To justify the selection, I have endeavored to find the best YouTube videos showcasing their abilities.

10. Arsenal (2004)

The ‘Arsenal Invincibles’ went through the entire 2003–04 Premier League season unbeaten. Despite Juventus equaling this feat in 2012, Arsenal won far more of their games, finishing on 90 points. The team included Theirry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, and Robert Pires. Arsenal’s swift, attacking style of football destroyed the opposition, taking them to the league title in emphatic fashion. Their 49-game unbeaten record led to them being declared the Premier League’s best ever team.

The Story of the Arsenal Invincibles

9. Milan (1988–1994)

During the 6-year period from 1988 to 1994, AC Milan won the European Cup (Champions League) three times and the Italian League four times. They dominated European football thanks to a team of world-class players, including Paolo Maldini, Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, and Franco Baresi.

Milan in the 1988 Champions League Semifinals

8. Liverpool (1984)

The treble-winning Liverpool team of 1984 won the league, a domestic cup, and the European Cup (Champions League) in the same year. They beat Roma in the final of the latter on penalties. Star man Ian Rush netted 47 goals in the season. Other notable players were Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, and Alan Hansen.

1984 European Cup: Liverpool Wins on Penalties

7. West Germany (1972–1974)

The German team that won the 1972 European Championships and the 1974 World Cup featured some of the best football players of all time. Led notably by Franz Beckenbauer, the team also included Berti Vogts and their prolific striker, Gerd Müller. They denied Johan Cruyff’s famous ‘total football’ Netherlands team with a 2-1 victory in the final of the 1974 World Cup. The video below shows the highlights from this epic final.

Germany in the 1974 World Cup Final

6. France (1998–2000)

France won the 1998 World Cup, beating hot favorites Brazil 3-0 in the final. They then won the 2000 European Championships, defeating Italy 2-1 with a golden goal from David Trezeguet. Other notable players in the team were Theirry Henry, Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps, Lauren Blanc, and Lilian Thuram. They had world-class players in every position, although Zidane was instrumental in their success.

France in the 1998 World Cup Final

5. Real Madrid (1955–1960)

Led by Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskas, the Real Madrid team of the late ’50s dominated world football. They won the European Cup (Champions League) five times in a row from 1956 to 1960. This culminated in the 1960 final when they beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in one of the greatest footballing displays of all time (see the video below).

Real Madrid in the 1960 European Cup Final

4. Manchester United (1999)

The treble-winning Manchester United team of 1998–99 won the Premier League, FA Cup, and Champions League in a single season. It included greats such as Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, and Peter Schmeichal. Like many of Alex Ferguson’s teams, they fought until the last whistle, and this was demonstrated in no greater way than the 1999 Champions League final. Against Bayern Munich, they came from behind to win with two late goals from Sheringham and Solskjær.

Manchester United’s Dramatic Win in the 1999 Champions League Final

3. Barcelona (2009)

Ten years after Manchester United’s achievement, Barcelona won the first ever treble by a Spanish club. They beat United in the final of the Champions League 2-0, destroyed Real Madrid 6-2 to win La Liga, and also won the Copa Del Rey. This season saw the emergence of Lionel Messi as the best player in the world. Under the guidance of one of the world’s best football managers, Pep Guardiola, Messi more than doubled his tally from the previous campaign. Barcelona’s tiki-taka style of play ensured they also won the domestic and UEFA Super Cups and the FIFA Club World Cup in 2009, turning their treble into a ‘sextuple’.

The Story of Barcelona’s Sextuple

2. Brazil (1970)

The 1970 FIFA World Cup saw the greatest World Cup performance of all time. Brazil scored 19 goals in six games, culminating in a 4-1 thrashing of Italy in a final where Carlos Alberto scored one of the best goals of all time. Also contributing to their beautiful brand of attacking football were greats such as Pele, Gerson, Jairzinho, Rivelino, and Tostão.

Brazil in the 1970 World Cup

1. Spain (2007–2012)

For winning three successive international football tournaments, the best football team of all time has to be Spain. They won the 2008 and 2012 European Championships and the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Between 2007 and 2009 they went 35 games unbeaten. This included winning all ten of their 2010 World Cup qualification games. Formed almost exclusively from the Barcelona and Real Madrid teams, the team’s notable players include David Villa, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Xabi Alonso, and Iker Casillas.

Spain’s Goals at the 2010 World Cup

Honorable Mentions

The history of the beautiful game is resplendent with iconic teams. However, this list must make some omissions. Honorable mentions go to the following teams:

  • ‘Juventus Invincibles’ for their unbeaten 2011–2012 season
  • Argentina’s 1986 World Cup–winning team
  • The 1972 and 1995 Ajax teams
  • Juventus (1996)
  • Dortmund (1997)
  • Benfica (1960–1965)
  • Brazil (1994–2002)
  • England (1966)
  • Italy (1934–1938)
  • Hungary (1954)

Great Teams Need More Than Star Players

The best football teams do not necessarily have the most talented players. Team spirit, leadership, and a willingness to work together to achieve victory are just as important as raw skill. A recent example of this phenomenon is Argentina. They are unable to dominate world football despite the influence of Lionel Messi.