World Football: The 6 Most Dominant Clubs of the Early 21st Century
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The first few years of the 21st century have brought about exciting things in association football, the world’s most popular sport.
With national teams, we've seen examples of continued dominance by the greatest footballing nation in the history of the game with Brazil’s triumph in 2002, a return to glory by a former champion with Italy in 2006 and, last but not least, the establishment of a new power with Spain’s victory in 2010.
At the club level, however, we have also witnessed exciting moments. The latest is the revolution caused by F.C. Barcelona’s style of play, which led them to win most of the competitions they participated in over the last few years.
This article will look at arguably the six greatest teams of the current century (listed in no particular order).
Real Madrid C.F., 2000-2008
Zinedine Zidane's match-winning goal in the 2002 UEFA Champions League Final
While the 21st century so far has not been as kind to Real Madrid as the 20th century was, Real has still enjoyed its moments of brilliance.
In the first 8 years of the century, Real Madrid C.F. won a total of 11 titles: seven local and four international.
Real Madrid started off the 2000s by taking its eighth UEFA Champions League title in 2000, representing the 1999-2000 season. They followed that by capturing the La Liga title for the 2000-01 season and then repeating as European champions for a record ninth time in the 2001-02 season. That same year they went on to capture their third Intercontinental Cup, which is now known as the FIFA Club World Cup.
In 2002-03, Real Madrid made it four straight years with at least one trophy by capturing the La Liga championship again as well as the UEFA Super Cup.
In both years that they won the La Liga trophy, they also obtained the "Supercopa de España", a championship disputed between the previous year’s La Liga and Copa del Rey champions.
Throughout the next few years, Real went without a title, until it finally broke through again to win its 30th overall La Liga title in 2006-07, a win they repeated the following year in 2007-08. Right before the start of the 2008-09 season, Real Madrid won its eighth Supercopa de España to cap off a strong period.
F.C. Bayern Munich, 2000-2006
2001 UEFA Champions League Final Highlights
Early in the 21st century, Bayern Munich dominated German football and also had its fair share of success at the European and international levels.
During this time period, Bayern captured a total of 11 titles: nine domestic and two international.
Bayern won its league for the seasons of 1999-2000, 2000-01, 2002-03, 2004-05 and 2005-06. That's five league titles in a seven-year span, an impressive amount.
Add in four DFB-Pokal titles in 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2006, and that is an impressive sequence of successful years. In those years, Bayern was unmatched in German football.
F.C. Bayern Munich’s greatest year of the 21st century thus far, however, has was the 2000-01 season.
Not only did it win the Bundesliga that year, in a cardiac finish with a last-minute goal in the final match, but it also won UEFA Champions League title for the third time in Bayern's history and first time in 25 years.
Later that year, Bayern defeated Boca Juniors in the Intercontinental Cup final to capture that trophy for the second time in its history.
Inter Milan, 2005-2010
2010 UEFA Champions League Final Highlights
It is often said that one of the staples of a great rivalry is when one team finds itself a direct benefactor of its rival’s misfortune.
This statement certainly holds true for Internazionale de Milano among the great teams of the current century.
One of Inter’s fiercest rivals is Juventus F.C. Back in the 2005-06 season of the Italian Serie A, one of the greatest scandals in league history was revealed. Several clubs were discovered to have been involved in match fixing and other illegal activities. Juventus had originally won the league title that year, but after being the most penalized team in the scandal, it was stripped of its championship and relegated to Serie B.
The title was then awarded to Inter, who had not raised the league trophy in 17 years.
The following year Inter proved any critics who thought they may have been undeserving champions wrong by winning the title outright. This continued a string of five consecutive national titles for the "nerazzurri", as they would win the Scudetto from 2005-06 through 2009-10.
Overall, Inter won a total of 12 titles in that five-year span, of which the most important were the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League, in which they took out mighty F.C. Barcelona in the semifinals, and the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup, their first top-tier international titles in more than 40 years.
Manchester United F.C., 2000-2011
2008 UEFA Champions League Final Highlights
Manchester United F.C. has been, without a doubt, the dominant team in English football throughout the 21st century.
Throughout that period, Manchester United obtained a total of 18 titles: 16 local and two international ones.
The local championships included seven Premier League titles, one FA Cup, three League Cups and five Community Shields.
The team’s best year was without a doubt 2007-08, capturing a total of four titles: the Premier League, the Community Shield, the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup.
The most impressive part about Manchester United’s start to the century has been its consistency and longevity. Manchester's first trophy of the decade came in 2000 and its last in 2011. Out of the 12 seasons from 1999-00 to 2010-11, there were only two seasons, 2001-02 and 2004-05, in which the Red Devils did not hoist a cup.
It was during this time period that Manchester United arguably established itself as the greatest team in the history of British football, a notch above even the legendary Liverpool F.C.
C.A. Boca Juniors, 2000-2008
2000 Intercontinental Cup Final Highlights
It would be unfair not to include at least one South American side in this list, and there is no more deserving team than Boca Juniors.
In the eight-year period from 2000 to 2008, Club Atlético Boca Juniors captured a total of 16 titles, of which five were local and 11 were international. Boca was selected as the greatest South American team of the first decade of the century.
In the second half of 2000, Boca won the local tournament for the first time in two years. Exactly three years later they repeated by taking the "Apertura" 2003 championship. In the 2005-06 season, they took both titles. They went on to repeat as Argentine champions in the second half of 2008.
Boca, however, was much more impressive at the international level during that time period.
Its 11 international titles represent four Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent of the Champions League; two Copa Sudamericana; three Recopa Sudamericana, which is South America’s Super Cup; and two Intercontinental Cups.
Boca won the four Libertadores in a seven-year period, raising the trophy in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2007.
The Argentine squad’s most memorable matches of the current century, however, came in the Intercontinental Cups it captured in 2000 and 2003.
In the 2000 Intercontinental Cup, Boca took on Real Madrid, arriving as huge underdogs but pulling off a gritty 2-1 win. Three years later, and two years after suffering a heart-breaking overtime defeat to F.C. Bayern Munich, Boca hoisted the trophy for the third time, defeating A.C. Milan in the penalty kicks.
Since 2008, Boca has added another national tournament and a Copa Argentina to its trophy case, but the time period of 2000-2008 remains its most dominant in the current century, when the "Xeneizes" ruled South America.
F.C. Barcelona, 2004-2012
2011 UEFA Champions League Final Highlights
Without a doubt the most dominant club team of the 21st century has been the F.C. Barcelona of the past few years.
Often lauded as the best team in the history of the sport, F.C. Barcelona has amassed a total of 17 titles, of which 12 are local and five are international.
Even though Barcelona’s first title of the century did not come until the 2004-2005 season, the foundations for the current era of success were laid the previous year when the "blaugranas" mounted an incredible comeback that put them just short off the league title.
The following year F.C. Barcelona went on to win their first of two consecutive league championships (2004-05 and 2005-06). With the arrival of manager Pep Guardiola at the beginning of the 2008-09 season, the team began its rise to legendary levels. This was cemented by the threepeat of La Liga titles from 2008 to 2011.
The most impressive part of F.C. Barcelona’s recent dominance has been at the international level.
In this eight-year span, Barcelona has captured three UEFA Champions League titles and two FIFA Club World Cup, led by Ronaldinho in the early years of dominance and Lionel Messi more recently.
F.C. Barcelona’s best season in quite possibly the history of the team was 2008-09. The squad went six-for-six in tournaments played, taking home the La Liga title, the Copa del Rey, the Supercopa de España, the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
That feat will most likely remain unmatched for a long time to come.