The Best Football Clubs of All Time: Real Madrid Comes out on Top
Every football fan is, of course, convinced that their particular club is for some reason the “best” club in the world. Determining the biggest clubs in the world, however, can be done in a much more objective manner. Taking into account total revenue, domestic trophy count and European achievement, we attempt to rank what we feel most football fans can agree upon as the biggest clubs in the game.
1. Real Madrid
Real is probably the biggest name in club football and is the prime draw for superstars from around the world (witness the famed Galacticos strategy). The latest rankings from the Deloitte Football Money League show that Madrid are the most profitable enterprise in Europe, generating nearly €519 million of revenue during the 2012/13 season.
Real have won 32 La Liga titles, 10 more than bitter rivals Barcelona, and have nine European Cups/Champions League trophies, a record. The club dominated the competition particularly in its early years, winning five straight from 1956 through 1960.
Although the drought for the mystical 10th European title is now in its 12th year, with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, it is almost certainly only a matter of time before the Champions League trophy once again returns to the Bernabeu. Very few followers of the beautiful game would dispute that Madrid stand alone as the biggest, most prominent club in the game.
Although the Barca’s trophy count is not quite at the level of their Clasico adversaries Madrid, Barcelona have similarly enjoyed a place amidst the European royalty for decades. It did take a while for Barca to get on the board in terms of European Cups; the club’s first came in 1992, and it’s added three since then.
The team that won the 2008/09 and 2010/11 UCL titles in particular will likely be remembered as one of the strongest club sides of all times, fueled by arguably the greatest player of all time in Lionel Messi.
In addition, the Camp Nou outfit has accumulated 22 league titles and a large number of other domestic and European trophies. With a 2012/13 revenue of almost €483 million, Barca come second on the 2014 Deloitte Money League rankings, affirming the club’s status as a massive global brand.
Although the current Blaugrana side is seemingly in need of a shakeup to return to their previous all-conquering ways, Barca’s status as European titans is assured.
3. Manchester United
United’s current struggles under David Moyes are a source of much hilarity for EPL fans tired of witnessing the Red Devils’ dominance of the league. While there are certainly many problems currently at Old Trafford, there is similarly no denying that United are a giant of the modern game.
Although the club’s claim that they have some 10 percent of the world’s population as fans seems more than a little inflated, the team’s successes under Sir Alex Ferguson have made the club’s brand one of the most recognizable in the world. United did drop one place in the Deloitte rankings to fourth, and the debt accumulated under the Glazers’ ownership is proving slightly tricky to work around.
Still, United are likely to remain a cash cow for the foreseeable future, as its massive matchday revenues will be supplemented with the funds from the new Premier League TV deal. As much as United’s rivals will hate to admit it, the club, provided they can reverse their on-field fortunes, have the base to remain a force in the English and European arenas.
4. Bayern Munich
Munich are currently the golden boys of the European game, with Pep Guardiola’s charges favorites to secure back-to-back Champions League titles, an amazing achievement. The success generated by last year’s treble has seen the Bavarian outfit rise to third in the Deloitte rankings, ahead of United, with a revenue of €431 million.
Although club President Uli Hoeness’ conviction for tax evasion has thrown a shadow over Bayern, current on-field success will likely be enough to keep the institution moving forward. Guardiola will be looking to add a sixth Champions League to the Allianz Arena trophy cabinet, which would move the Germans ahead of Liverpool and into outright third place on the UCL title count.
Bayern’s domestic dominance is, of course, almost all but assured; with 23 Bundesliga wins, Bayern have 14 more than the next nearest side and have dominated the league for the last two seasons. The near future, at least, looks to be overwhelmingly positive for the German giants.
5. AC Milan
Milan are also currently in a major slump, as they, along with many other Italian sides, look to adapt to the new football environment. Milan’s relatively meager 2012/13 revenue of €264 million points to the fact that the club may not be equipped as of yet to compete with the petrodollars in the modern game.
Milan, however, have a European pedigree that only Real can better, with seven Champions League titles. Five of those have come since the late '80s, when the club was revolutionized by legendary coach Arrigo Sacchi, who implemented an iconic style that was to adopted by a host of world-class coaches.
Although the near future may be bleak for the Rossoneri, their famed tradition means they are unlikely to be displaced entirely from the pantheon of European titans, and neutrals can only hope that the club return to competitive relevancy sooner rather than later.
Honorable Mention 1. Juventus
The Old Lady are the best-supported team in Italy, and as mentioned previously, have a record 29 Serie A titles. However, their European record is not quite as good as rivals AC.
Juve have won “only” two Champions Leagues, and like many other Italian sides, collect much less revenue than many other traditional European big teams. A tight call, but Juve, despite in many ways being the biggest club in their own country, are not quite big enough continentally to be among the top five.
Honorable Mention 2. Ajax
The Amsterdam-based side have won four European Cups, as many as Barcelona and more than Manchester United. The club also have a fine track record of producing top talents, having internalized in the 1970s the principles of “Total Football,” a playing style that revolutionized the game.
However, in recent decades Ajax have been hamstrung by playing in the small Dutch league, which is no longer a final destination for top talents. Although Ajax continue to produce top-quality players and adheres to an admirable philosophy, they don't have the competitive clout to be considered true giants of the game anymore.
Honorable Mention 3. Liverpool
Five European Cups and 18 English league titles is an impressive haul, and Liverpool remain, by sheer trophy count, historically one of the most successful teams in both England and Europe. However, ‘Pool have seen a precipitous drop in fortunes since the '90s, having not won the league since the start of the Premier League era.
The win in the 2005 Champions League final was one of the most iconic in the competition’s history, but sustained European success has also been lacking in the Reds’ recent history. Although the club may currently be seeing an uptick in fortune, a lack of sustained recent success means the club miss out.