In the latter part of 2010, after Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona had confidently and emphatically deposed off their bitter rivals Real Madrid 5-0 with a brilliant performance at the Nou Camp, many were hailing this Barca side as undoubtedly the “best club side ever.” Is this true though?
Was that Barca performance against Real Madrid the best performance ever in a football match by any club in the history of the game? I have to acknowledge a few things first. I am a Real Madrid fan but even I was mesmerised by the passing, the movement, the guile the skill and finesse of messrs Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Villa, Pedro etc. But was that the best individual club performance ever? Is this Barca side the best club side ever? I will endeavour to answer these two questions whilst acknowledging that one of the weaknesses in my argument will be that it is quite Eurocentric, ignoring the claims of great club sides from South America for example such as the great River Plate, Boca Juniors,Santos sides of yesteryear etc.
The problem with the people that are proclaiming this Barca side to be the best club side ever, is that they have taken an a-historic perspective based on emotional judgement rather than reason and facts. It is similar to the people who claim Diego Maradona was the best footballer ever, on the basis that they actually got to watch him play whilst they didn’t get to watch Pele play who is for all intents and purposes the greatest player the game has ever known. Forget the fact that Pele won three World Cups whilst playing brilliantly whilst Maradona only had one brilliant World Cup. On the basis of the one brilliant World Cup performance, they adjudge Maradona to be the greatest ever. Highly irrational and non-factual, just like the Barca argument.
How does this Barca team compare to the great Real Madrid team that won the European Cup (now known as the Champions League) five times from 1955-1960? This team initially coached by Jose Villalonga and consisting of great players such as: Miguel Munoz, Alfredo Di Stefano, Francisco Gento, Raymond Kopa, Hector Rial, Jose Santamaria and the legendary Hungarian Ferenc Puskas, was to be a powerhouse in Spanish and European football for over a decade, playing the most exhilarating attacking football. Their 1960 European Cup Final victory over Eintracht Frankfurt of Germany is still regarded by many football historians as the” greatest game of all time.” In front of a packed Hampden Park crowd of just under 128 000 people in Glasgow, Scotland, Puskas and Co delivered a brilliant attacking performance, dubbed “the finest display of football ever produced” winning the match 7-3 and securing their place in football folklore as undoubtedly the greatest club side ever.
Are this Barca side better than the brilliant Benfica side that won the European Cup in 1961 and 1962? Coached by the Hungarian coach Bela Guttmann, with their unique “WM formation” and consisting of great players like: Jose Augusto, Coluna, Aguas, Santana, Germano, Costa Pereira and the “Black Pearl”, Mozambican-born Portuguese great Eusebio. This incredible attacking team was to be a powerhouse in European football right throughout the sixties.
What about Matt Busby’s 1968 European Cup winning Manchester United team with the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law and George Best? How would Guardiola’s Barca compare to them? Or the Johan Cruyff led, “total football” playing Ajax side of the seventies who won the European Cup from 1971 to 1973? With great attacking players like Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Gerrit Muhren and Ruud Krol this team had it all and enthralled audiences with their unique brand of football.
Another great team to throw into the mix would be the Bayern Munich side which won the European Cup from 1974 to 1976, with the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier, Gerd Muller and Uli Hoeness or Bob Paisley’s Liverpool sides which won the European Cup in 1977, 1978 and 1981 with players of quality such as: Kevin Keegan, John Toshack, Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness.
What about Arrigo Sacchi’s great AC Milan team which won the European Cup in 1989 and 1990 playing a brilliant attacking, pressing game? With extraordinary players like: Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Donadoni, Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi this was a great team indeed and they are right up there with the best sides ever. Other sides to consider would be Johan Cruyff’s 1992 European Cup winning Barcelona “dream team” made up of the likes of: Hristo Stoichkov, Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup, Josep Guardiola, Julio Salinas and the brilliant goalkeeper, Spain and Barcelona legend Andoni Zubizarreta or Vicente Del Bosque Real Madrid teams which won the European Cup (Champions League) in 2000 and 2002. These teams had players of quality such as: Raul, Hierro, Gutti, Helguera, Zidane, Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos.
In terms of individual performances the 1994 Champions League final where a Fabio Capello coached AC Milan turned in a brilliant performance to beat an incredible Barcelona side 4-0 ranks amongst the best performances ever. Football experts rate it as arguably the best performance since Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in the 1960 European Cup final. So the question remains: is this Barca side the best club side ever? It’s too early to tell. They would have to keep playing at their current level and win a few more trophies in the coming years. For my money the three greatest club sides ever are: The Real Madrid team that won the European Cup from 1955-1960, the “total football playing Ajax side of the sentries who won the European Cup from 1971 to 1973 and Arrigo Sacchi’s brilliant AC Milan team of the late eighties who won the European Cup in 1989 and 1990.
The greatest club performances ever? Real Madrid’s epic 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in 1960, AC Milan’s brilliant European Cup final victory in 1988 and also AC Milan’s 4-0 victory over a great Barca team in the European Cup final of 1994.