This article profiles the 10 greatest football dynasties of all time. The history of the game is littered with wonderful teams that have enjoyed glorious periods of extended success and established themselves as truly dominant forces.
In sporting terms, dynasties are typically teams that have enjoyed success over a broad period of time. The broader use of the word, however, refers to a sequence of rulers, often following a common lineage, overseeing a period of triumph.
It is no coincidence, therefore, that succession and pedigree are often prevalent themes among those teams considered within this piece.
As an aficionado of the African game, you must forgive me for this moment of indulgence. However, while Egypt may seem slightly out of place among the other exalted names on this list, their achievements in the second half of the last decade were truly remarkable.
In three Africa Cup of Nations tournaments (2006, 2008 and 2010), the Pharaohs emerged as champions. It is an achievement unparalleled in the history of the African game and one that is unlikely to be repeated any time soon.
Wisely and intelligently using a crop of gifted, but not exceptional players, Hassan Shehata built the greatest footballing dynasty African soccer has ever known.
The experienced coach made the most of the excellent and domestically dominant Al Ahly team and used some key individuals—namely Ahmed Hassan, Hossam Hassan, Wael Gomaa, Essam El-Hadary and, of course, Mohamed Aboutrika—as his core around which to build serial African champions.
That their era overlapped with the recent superstars of the Cote d’Ivoire, Africa’s fabled Golden Generation, only makes their achievements all the more remarkable. Drogba, the Toures, Kalou, Zokora, Eboue…some of Africa’s biggest names remain unfulfilled in the continental arena due, in no small part, to the Pharaohs’ dynasty.
Their failure to qualify for either the 2006 or the 2010 World Cup, however, has hugely affected their global reputation.
Now, in the eyes of some purists, I may be cheating by pulling together the Milans of Sacchi and Capello to create one dynasty. However, the proximity of these two cycles, the similarities of the two teams and the way that both eras together created the legacy for the modern Milan that I believe they merit their joint entry.
Arrigo Sacchi’s philosophy was that victory alone was insufficient to truly leave a mark. To leave a legacy and a touchstone in history, one must entertain and enthral in the process. His incarnation of Milan certainly managed that, demolishing Real Madrid 5-0 in the 1989 European Cup semi-final before routing Steaua 4-0 to claim the ultimate prize.
What Fabio Capello added to Sacchi’s flair was the relentless victories that link almost all of the teams on this list. In 1992, 1993 and 1994, Capello won consecutive Serie A titles, appearing in three Champions League finals, winning the centrepiece occasion in 1994.
Both managers had their unique methods and approaches, transforming similar crops of players into two very different machines. However, together they oversaw one of Europe’s most impressive footballing dynasties.
Between 1958 and 1973, inspired by Pele and a cast of sublime players, Brazil set the template in place for all future Selecao teams to aspire to.
That first unforgettable World Cup success came in 1958, when Brazil—employing a pioneering 4-2-4 formation—finally banished the trauma of 1930 to claim the title in Sweden. A 17-year-old Pele was the exceptional spark in a side containing players such as Didi, Gilmar, Djalma Santos and Nilton Santos, as the nation’s immense sporting potential was finally realised.
Later on the Santos superstar was joined by luminaries such as Tostao, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto and Jairzinho.
The 60s brought success as well as failure. The outstanding outings by Vava and Garrincha at the 1962 finals were eclipsed by the sorry sight of Pele trudging away after being kicked out of the 1966 edition.
The dynasty drew to a close in the early 70s, with a World Cup win in 1970 before the team gradually faded away after three final glorious unbeaten years.
While Uruguay may firmly disagree, Spain’s triad of international titles between 2008 and 2012 represents a remarkable and (almost) unprecedented achievement. The great France team of the turn of the century and the Germany side of the 70s may have come close, but neither managed what Spain did.
Built upon the philosophy, style and personnel from Barcelona’s youth system, supplemented by the finest Spaniards from Real Madrid and the rest of La Liga, La Roja ended their decades of international woe with a European Championship triumph in 2008.
That victory, overseen by Luis Aragones, was a watershed moment and it set the stage for Vicente Del Bosque to step in and carry the team to the World Cup title two years later.
The likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and David Villa aren’t getting any younger, and while some of their failings were evident during Euro 2012, the side will still be among the favourites to win a second consecutive World Cup next summer.
Over the last six months the feats of Alex Ferguson have been eulogised and analysed from every possible angle of his terrific reign.
The beginning may have been ignominious and the challengers (Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City) may have caused the heart to flutter on the odd occasion, but ultimately it is United and not Liverpool that rule English football two decades on.
Some may quibble that 13 Premier League titles supplemented by only two Champions League-winning medals represents a European imbalance, but the longevity and sheer volume of United’s success under Ferguson, not to mention the frequent evolutions in the face of a changing football landscape, mark his era out as one of the sport’s finest dynasties.
When Pep Guardiola took over in 2008 he was the perfect candidate for the job. Perfect both as the man to end the flabby underachievement of the Frank Rijkaard era and as the figure to usher in a new period of dominance.
Guardiola, a student of Cruyff, of van Gaal, and of Bielsa, brought these streams of footballing philosophy together, made the most of the fruit of La Masia and the youth team that he himself had managed for the previous year.
Building the new team around the three pillars of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi, Guardiola’s appointment heralded a glorious era in the club’s history.
The team won Spanish football’s first-ever treble in 2009, before adding to it another Champions League triumph in 2012 and further Spanish league and cup victories.
Even after Guardiola’s departure last summer, his replacement Tito Vilanova battled, against the odds, to bring another La Liga championship home.
The European Cup has never known an era of such sustained success as those first five stunning years. Real Madrid, transformed after the arrival of Alfredo Di Stefano in 1953 and crowned league champions in 1954 and 1955, were in the perfect position to prosper from the newly created, continent-wide club competition.
Their domestic dominance may have ended with the title in 1958, but by the end of the decade, in Europe at least, they were indefatigable champions.
The most glorious episode, of course, was that delirious 7-3 final triumph over Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 final. It was the closing chapter on one of football’s finest dynasties—the era that would confirm Real’s place as the eternal kings of Europe.
Like Ajax/Holland of the early 70s, there was so much overlap between the West Germany and Bayern Munich teams of the rest of that decade that I include them here together as one dynasty.
At Euro 1972, West Germany identified themselves as head and shoulders above all the other nations in the competition with some superlative displays that resulted in a continental triumph. That, however, wasn’t their outstanding achievement.
In the World Cup final of 1974 on home soil, they rallied round following Johan Neeskens’ early penalty and Holland’s delicious, mesmerising football to win an engrossing contest.
Gerd Muller may have been the star of that show, but that victory, as well as runs deep into the 1970 World Cup and Euro 1976 both came on the back of resiliency, determination and an excellent team ethic.
The Germans only lost two competitive games in six years.
Their successes were mirrored by the Bayern team that dominated German and European football during the same period. Inspired by Beckenbauer and spearheaded by Muller, the side replicated the three-in-a-row European Cup victories of Ajax, creating, in the process, Bayern’s reputation as unyielding, unremitting champions.
Rinus Michels can be considered the Godfather of Ajax, Holland and Total Football.
After saving the Amsterdam club from relegation, Michels set about creating a dynasty and building an identity for the Dutch giants, revolutionising the way football worked in the process.
Before long, the success arrived in droves.
The Dutch league triumph in 1966 began a sequence of six titles in eight years, while the side also won the European Cup three times in a row from 1971 after a loss in the 1969 final.
The four Dutch Cup victories were almost a footnote in a glorious era for club and subsequently for country.
While the Holland side of the mid-70s may be one of world football’s most iconic teams, they failed to achieve the success of Ajax. In fact, whenever the chips were down, whenever Holland arrived at a crucial contest with honours on the line, they invariably failed. The World Cup finals of 1974 and 1978 and the semi-final at Euro 1976 will all go down as legacy-altering missed opportunities.
However, the glory of this Dutch dynasty was not in its honours or its trophies, but in its style, its philosophy and its symbolism.
History will forever remember Rinus Michels’ XI as one of the most aesthetic and innovative sides the game has produced.
As Miguel Delaney pointed out on his peerless website Football Pantheon, some of Holland’s play in the ’74 final was so complete, so perfect in its “totality” that it was reminiscent of the Ajax hat-trick of European Cup victories.
While Bill Shankly ought to take enormous credit for laying the foundations in place for Liverpool’s amazing successes, it was his successor Bob Paisley and then Joe Fagan that truly established the Reds as Europe’s finest side.
Shankly picked the team up from the second division, oversaw an overhaul of the squad and introduced the famous Boot Room—the manager’s meeting place that would become the club’s emotional and intellectual hub for the next three decades.
However, it was only when his assistant, Paisley, took over in 1974 that Liverpool became relentless champions. In nine seasons as manager, the Durham-born physio won a remarkable 21 trophies, including three European Cups and six English titles.
After Paisley’s departure, in 1983, his assistant Joe Fagan took over, continuing the club’s traditions of organic evolution and, most importantly, winning titles. The Scouse boss added a fourth European Cup in 1984.