The first decade of the 2000’s ends soon, and we decided to make a top ten list of the best teams in European football in the past ten years. So, a bunch of us here at Sportige.com and each made his list, we calculated and accumulated, thought and fought, and this is it, the top 10 teams in European Football since 2000.
This isn’t like previous lists based on statistics (MLB, NBA, Top Ten Clubs since 2004), this is based on opinion.
* A club can feature twice on this list, because clubs tend to change and shift very drastically sometimes in a short number of years.
Number 10 – Lyon 2002-2007
Lyon is undoubtedly the best French club in this decade and probably the most dominant side ever in France, with 7 consecutive league titles (the first in 2002, and their first in history) and 1 French Cup (2008, their first in more than 30 years). Lyon’s greatest achievement is that they managed to establish themselves as a major powerhouse in Europe, performing regularly in the late knockout stages of the Champions League (although they never made it further then the quarter finals) and playing attractive football on the way. However, a better record at the latter stages of the Champions League would have placed Lyon much higher on this list. Paul Le Guen was the pioneer of Lyon’s policy today, of buying young players, developing them and selling them for high prices (this season things changed a bit). Being a perennial member of the Champions League meant the club had more money than other clubs in France which aided them in creating a monopoly of sorts in Ligue 1. After Le Guen’s resignation in May 2005, Gerard Houllier grabbed control of the club leading it to two more consecutive Ligue 1 titles.
Throughout this period great players served the club such as Brazilian free kick master Juninho, current Chelsea players Michael Essien and Florent Malouda, La Liga stars Karim Benzema, Mamadhou Diarra (both playing for Real Madrid) and Nilmar (playing for Villareal) and the club’s legendary goalkeeper Gregory Coupet.
Number 9 – Valencia 2000-2004
This team had the chance of being in the top 5 but their losses in the 2000 and 2001 Champions League finals to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively, were the decisive factor as they were inches away from becoming Europe’s top team. Nevertheless Valencia of those years were one of the most entertaining football sides in Europe as they played an attack minded and attractive style of football. During this period, Valencia won two La Liga titles, one UEFA Cup and one European Super Cup. They all came between 2002-2004, under Rafa Benitez (currently the unsettled Liverpool manager), with the 2002 league title being the club’s first since 1971, as the side became more efficient and clinical than during the Hector Cuper years.
Valencia’s team sheet featured many technically skilled players such as Argentine Claudio Lopez (who left before the title winning seasons)), Kily Gonzalez and Pablo Aimar. However the side also had a physical and defensive side as Gaizka Mendieta, Ruben Baraja, David Albelda, Roberto Ayala and Mauricio Pellegrino were the defensive pinnacle of La Liga, famously winning the La Liga title with 27 goals conceded in 2002 and 2004 seasons (the lowest for a title winning side since Real Madrid in the 87-88 season).
Number8 – FC Porto 2003-2004
This side won two Portuguese league titles, one UEFA Cup(2003), one Portuguese Cup and most notably, the Champions League title in 2004.
Porto are 8th as they were seemingly in the right place at the right time, catching Europe’s top teams during a period of weakness (in 2004, only 6 teams of the last 16 have won the European Cup previously). Nevertheless, the achievements of this side are incredible as they won two European titles consecutively, playing very tactical football along the way. The man responsible for the re-emergence of the club is Jose Mourinho who brought success and made Porto a strong Force in Europe and Portugal yet again. The side was criticized during their 2004 Cup-run for their defensive and stubborn style of football. Deco was the side’s biggest name and best player, but Porto of those years was a coach’s team, built mostly on solid tactics and disciplined players to carry them out.
Number 7 – AC Milan 2003-2007
Some of you could be a bit surprised to find Milan at 7th but they deserve this position as they weren’t a dominant force in the Serie A (only one league title this decade) and were accused of being part of the 2006 Calciopoli scandal (although for some reason they weren’t punished as severly as the other teams. Did someone say Berlusconi?). AC Milan won two Champions League titles (2003,2007) two Super Cups (2003,2007) one Coppa Italia (2003) and one Serie A title (2004). Carlo Ancelotti, ex Rossoneri midfielder, managed the club since 2001, gradually improving and turning the club into a great force in Europe once again. The 2003 Champions League win was probably the sweetest for the Rossoneri as they overcame Inter and Juventus in the Semi finals and the Final respectively. Ancelotti brought Milan’s first Serie A title since 1999 in 2004 with a team that is mostly present today. Milan participated in the famous 2005 final against Liverpool when Liverpool overcame a 3-0 halftime deficit, winning the game in a penalty shootout. Milan’s great side possessed the likes of Ukrainian legend, Andriy Shevchenko, midfield Maestros Andrea Pirlo and Kaka, with Gattuso and Seedorf proving to be the ball winners. The side graced an amazing defense with Maldini, Nesta and Kaladze. Ancelotti left the club after two trophy-less seasons for Chelsea, leaving the Milan role for ex Brazilian star, Leonardo, who still manages the club despite early season problems.
Number 6 – Chelsea 2005-?
A Champions League win in 2008 would probably bring Chelsea higher than Sixth but their incompetence in Europe, proved crucial on our list. Chelsea’s successful period started when Mourinho (or Abramovich?) came in after his Champions League triumph with Porto, re-installing Porto’s style of being a tough side with a strong defense and a fast attack. During Mourinho’s period Chelsea set a new record of 64 consecutive unbeaten games at home. Abramovich opened his pocket and gave Mourinho the best players in the world as he brought in Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho, Hernan Crespo, Sean Wright Philipps and many more as the side won two back to back league titles (the 2005 league title was their first in 50 years), two League Cups and one FA Cup. Chelsea won their 2005 championship with a record 95 points and conceding only 15 league goals. Chelsea featured in every Champions League semi final since 2004, with the exception of 2006. After a gradual decline, Mourinho was replaced by Avraham Grant who led the club to it’s first Champions League final, losing to Man Utd on a penalty shootout in 2008. The club won another trophy in last season’s victory over Everton in the FA Cup. Today Chelsea are playing great football under Carlo Ancelotti, as they progress through the Group stages of the Champions League and top the Premiership’s table.
Number 5 – Arsenal 2002-2006
Arsenal had an excellent first half in this decade as they won two Premiership titles (2002,2004) and three FA Cups (2002,2003,2005). Arsenal were runners up to Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final. No Champions League title unlike other clubs ranked lower. So why is Arsenal in 5th place ahead of Champions League winners AC Milan? The answer is the 2003-2004 season, the season that they were nicknamed “the Invincibles”. That season saw Arsenal winning the Premier League in remarkable and inspiring fashion as they went unbeaten through the entire league campaign, producing some of the finest football ever seen in England and perhaps Europe.Throughout the season, the Gunners dominated the Premiership but failed to win the Champions League (Chelsea) or the FA Cup (United). The star of that glorious season and Arsenal in those years was Thierry Henry who scored 39 goals in all competitions and 30 in the league. Maybe even more impressive, Henry contributed 50 assists between 2003-2005, an amazing feat for a player positioned as a striker. Besides Henry, Arsenal had Viera who dominated the midfield, Pires and Ljungberg terrorizing the wings and Campbell, Toure, Cole, Lauren and Lehmann forming a successful defense.
THEY ALMOST MADE IT…
Several great teams have been secluded from the list but no harm done, as we decided to give them a brief mention.
Lippi’s second tenure at Juve was fruitful (although not like the first in the mid and late 90’s) with back to back Scuddetos(2002,2003) and a Champions League final which they lost to old rivals AC Milan on a penalty shootout. Juventus had players like Del Piero, Nedved, (who was absent from the 2003 final, allegedly the main reason for the loss) Thuram, Buffon and current manager Ciro Ferrara. After the 2003 final loss, Juventus, under Fabio Cappello, continued their local success with two Scudettos (in 2005,2006) but the 2006 scandal explosion had the Bianconeri being stripped of their two titles and relegated to Serie B for the first time in their history. Juventus managed to recover from the crisis and were promoted in the 2007 season as league winners. Today Juventus are contending for the title against Milan and Inter.
We had real misgivings if Liverpool of this decade should or should not be part of this list, as on one hand, Houllier and Benitez guided the side to their European renaissance winning a UEFA Cup (their first European trophy in 17 years), Champions League Cup (with an Heroic victory over AC Milan) and featured in another Champions League final. However the side didn’t perform as well domestically, finishing twice in 2nd place (2002,2008) and three times in 3rd place (2001,2006,2007), failing yet again to achieve the coveted Championship. Liverpool also won two FA Cups (in 2001 and 2006, with a supreme Steven Gerrard effort) and two League Cups (2001 and 2003). Liverpool were spearheaded by their gradually improving leader, Steven Gerrard, blooming into one of the best midfielders in the world and Fernando Torres, the prolific goalscorer from Atletico Madrid, arriving prior to the 2007-2008 season.
Sevilla FC 2006-?
Although they haven’t really made a serious threat on Real and Barca’s local dominance, the side emerged as a powerful side in the European stage as they won two successive UEFA Cups( including a famous 4-0 drubbing of Middlesbrough in the 2006 final), repeating Real Madrid’s same achievement in the mid 80’s. Under Juande Ramos, Sevilla arguably played their best football in history, with many technical gifted players such as Maresca, Dani Alves, Luis Fabiano, Kanoute and Jesus Navas who led the side to their finest period in history. Sevilla’s 2007 Copa Del Rey win against Getafe was their first Spanish trophy in almost 60 years. Juan Manolo replaced Ramos in October 2007 and continues the recent success as the club finished 3rd in La Liga last year and are participating in Champions League, qualifying for the next stage as group leaders.
BACK TO THE LIST…
Number 4 – Real Madrid 2000-2003
Although the Champions League final (against Valencia, the first time two sides from the same country played in a Champions League final) win in 2000 was just before the Galactico era, it saw Real Madrid playing it’s finest football, under the guidance of Vicente Del Bosque. During a period of 4 years the side won two Champions League cups and two La Liga titles, providing great performances against the likes of Man Utd (famous ties of 2000 and 2003) Barcelona (semi final of 2002) and Bayern Munich (in 2000 and 2002). Florentino Perez’ promises of bringing Europe’s top players were fulfilled as he brought former Barca man, Luis Figo, Brazilian star Ronaldo and one of football’s all time greats, Zinadine Zidane. The side played exciting football and the Perez project proved to be a success but only for a short while, as a gradual decline started since the 2004 season which saw Barcelona coming back to the main scene as Spain’s top side.
Number 3 – FC Barcelona 2004-2006
2003 was the transitional year for FC Barcelona, as the disappointing President of the club, Gaspart, vacated his seat for young Joan Laporta. Laporta brought ex Rossoneri legend Frank Rijkaard as manager, which brought the club back to the top of European football. The first season wasn’t exactly a huge success, as the club finished in 3rd place, but their strong finish and attractive style of play which took time for Rijkaar to install among the team’s players. Laporta’s revolution was complete in the 2004-2005 season, as the club won it’s first La Liga championship since 1999, providing brilliant performances on the way. But nothing compares to 2006 when the club won the La Liga once again, providing a memorable performance at the Santiago Bernabeu with a 3-0 win over Real Madrid (With the local fans cheering Ronaldinho) and the capturing the Champions League title for the second time in history after a 2-1 win over Arsenal. Ronaldinho was regarded the best player in the world back then (seems ages ago), combining with Eto’o, Xavi, Iniesta and Giuly to form a deadly attacking side. Oh, and there was young lad, starting his way in the footballing world called Lionel Messi. We’ll get back to him soon.
Number 2 – Manchester United 2007-2009
From 2002-2006, Manchester United won only one league title (2002-2003). Not something Alex Ferguson was/is used to. In 2006-2007 Ronaldo and Rooney became real superstars and Ferguson proved he’s back in business as the side competed in all levels successfully, winning the Premier League, reaching the Champions League semi final and reaching the FA Cup final. However that season is to be dwarfed by the 2007-2008 that proved to be the pinnacle, as Man Utd were unstoppable, winning the Premiership and the Champions League final against Chelsea on a penalty shootout. Cristiano Ronaldo gave the best season of his career, as he scored 42 goals in all competitions (which earned him the European golden shoe (the first time a winger won it) and 31 in the league (finishing as top scorer of course), providing uberhuman-like performances through all the season. United didn’t stop the next season, winning their third consecutive Premiership title in 2008-2009 with Ronaldo and Rooney terrorizing the league’s defenses and offenses with Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra and Van Der Sar holding the fort.
AND THE WINNER IS…
Number 1 – FC Barcelona 2008 – ?
No superlative can be worthy of the Barcelona team of 2008-2009, as they won the treble last season (and more importantly, topped our list) providing excellent performances along the way, leaving no doubt as to who is the best team in Europe. Last season was the first season of ex Barcelona legend and B team manger, Josep Guardiola, as the man in charge. Many had doubts as if he is competent enough to replace Rijkaard and guide the club back to local and European success, as the club failed to win any major trophy in the previous two seasons. Laporta made changes as he sold top players Zambrotta, Deco and Ronaldinho and bought Seydou Keita, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves and Aliaksander Hleb whilst retaining the services of local stars Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Puyol.
Barcelona were fantastic from the get go, with Henry, Messi and Eto’o netting 4,5 and 6 goals regularly. In January, Barca set the record for the most points obtained in the first half of a La Liga season with 50 points. Barcelona reached the final of the Copa Del Rey after defeating Mallorca in the semis for the first time since 1998, eventually winning it after a 4-1 thrashing of Athletic Bilbao. Barcelona recorded an historical win as they beat Real Madrid 6-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu, their biggest away win over Real since the 70’s when Cruyff led Barca to a 5-0 victory. This was also the highest scoring game in the history of the superclassico. A few days later Barca reached the Champions League final after knocking out Chelsea on away goals, with Iniesta scoring the away goal decider in injury time. Barcelona met Man Utd in the Champions League final at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, after confirming the domestic double as they clinched the La Liga title two weeks earlier. Barcelona dominated the final and won 2-0 and became the first Spanish side to win a treble. The unique thing about this Barca team, as against to the previous Barca team that won the Champions League in 2006, is that they are made of mostly home grown talent (7 home grown players played in the final against Manchester) and not foreign players, as opposed to other giants of Europe such as Real Madrid, Liverpool and Man Utd. Barcelona blew away opponents with their rapid pass and move football which was only rivaled by the Barcelona team of Frank Rijkaard. Now, Barcelona are top of the table and they are aiming on being the first club to win the Champions League two years in a row.