The Dutch national team under the management of Rinus Michels arrived at the 1974 World Cup, playing a brand of total football that had Carlos Alberto, captain of the Brazil team that won the 1970 World Cup, saying:
“The only team I’ve seen that did things differently was Holland at the 1974 World Cup in Germany. Since then everything looks more or less the same to me…. Their ‘carousel’ style of play was amazing to watch and marvelous for the game.”
Led by the extraordinary talents that included the mercurial Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens and Johnny Rep, the Dutch won five of their six games, scoring 14 times and conceding only once and along they beat Uruguay 2-0, Argentina 4-0 and Brazil 2-0.
Although the Dutch took the lead in the final against West Germany, they went onto lose the match 2-1 and gained the title of the best team never to win the World Cup.
Real Madrid 1953 to 1960
The arrival of Alfredo Di Stéfano at Real Madrid heralded a period of unrivaled success for Los Merengues, which saw them win the Spanish league title in 1954, 1955, 1957 and 1958.
More remarkable were the five consecutive European Cup titles that were won, culminating in the unforgettable 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 final at Hampden Park, in front of 130,000 spectators, with Di Stefano scoring a hat trick and Ferenc Puskas netting four times.
After being beaten in the 1957 European Cup semi-final, Manchester United’s Bobby Charlton said of Real Madrid:
“These people are just not human. It’s not the game that I’ve been taught.”
Liverpool 1975 to 1984
The foundations of the great Liverpool team were built by Bill Shankly, but the real success was achieved by Bob Paisley. This great Liverpool team went on to win the league title on seven occasions, the League Cup four times, the UEFA Cup once, the UEFA Super Cup once and the European Cup four times.
The team reached its peak in 1984 under manager Joe Fagan, winning a remarkable treble which included the European Cup, the League Championship and the League Cup, with striker Ian Rush scoring 47 goals.
Having qualified for the 1970 World Cup finals with a perfect record of six wins, Brazil replaced manager João Saldanha with Mário Zagallo.
The team was captained by Carlos Alberto and included Pelé, Jairzinho, Tostão, Gérson, Rivelino, and Clodoaldo. Brazil won all six games including the final and is often regarded as the greatest World Cup team of all time.
They played fast, free flowing attacking football, with some remarkable individual performances, capped fittingly by an eight man team goal scored by Carlos Alberto, in the 4-1 win against Italy in the final.
Although West Germany’s Gerd Müller ended the tournament as top scorer with 10 goals; Jairzinho scored seven times and became the first player to score in every game, while coach Zagallo became the first person to win the World Cup as both player and manager.
Barcelona 2008 to 2011
The Barcelona team managed by Pep Guardiola is often rated as the best football club side of all time. Playing their own brand of possession football they regularly overwhelm opponents, reserving some of their best performances for games against their great rival Real Madrid.
The result has seen Barcelona win three La Liga titles, two Copa Del Reys, three Spanish Super Cups, two Champions League triumphs and two FIFA World Club championships.
With their tiki-taka passing style and constant pressing, games are played on their terms; with the trio of Xavi, Iniesta and the unplayable Leo Messi able to open up even the best defences.
Ajax 1965 to 1973
Before becoming manager of the Dutch national team, Rinus Michels brought his philosophy of total football to Ajax Amsterdam. With Johan Cruyff pulling the strings Ajax began dominating domestic and European football; this peaked between 1971 and 1973 after ?tefan Kovács replaced Michels as manager.
Ajax won the European Cup in 1971, the treble of European Cup, Dutch National Championship and the KNVB Cup in 1972 and the Dutch League Championship and third consecutive European Cup in 1973.
The departure of Cruyff to Barcelona and the breakup of the Ajax team at the end of the 1973 season, ended their period of domination.
Spain 2007 to 2012
After decades of promising so much and delivering so little, Spain won the European Championship in 2008, the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championship in 2012; thus becoming the first national team to ever win three consecutive major titles.
Playing a tiki-taka passing game similar to that of Barcelona, they regularly overwhelmed opponents, yet were defensively solid. During Euro 2012 they scored 12 goals and only conceded one on their way to winning the competition.
Spain also holds the record for the joint longest unbeaten run. Their run of 35 games started in 2007 and ended 2009 and equaled a record held by Brazil.
The 2014 World Cup will take place in Brazil, yet it is Spain who are the early favourites to win the competition.
After their failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, France went into the 1998 World Cup under the management of Aimé Jacquet with no great expectations. Yet with the meanest defence and the flair of Zinedine Zidane they won the competition, beating favourites and holders Brazil 3-0 in the final in Paris.
Roger Lemerre replaced Jacquet after the World Cup and added the midfield steel of Patrick Vieira, the attacking speed and skill of Theirry Henry and Nicholas Anelka, all supplemented by the dynamism of the world’s leading player Zinedine Zidane and in the final of Euro 2000 an injury time equalizer and a golden goal by David Trezeguet against Italy gave France victory in the final.
France went on to beat Japan in the final of the Confederations Cup the following year, before everything unraveled at the World Cup in 2002.
Bayern Munich 1974 to 1976
Bayern Munich, captained by the legendary Franz Beckenbauer, played their own version of total football, even if some of their victories were down to good fortune and fearsomeness.
While less entertaining than rivals Borussia Monchengladbach; Bayern had the goal scoring genius of striker Gerd Muller whose goal count often exceeded that of entire teams.
Bayern won their domestic league title in 1972, 1973 and 1974 and with the breakup of the great Ajax team they went on to win the European Cup in 1974, 1975 and 1976, even if some of these wins owed much to luck.
Under the management of disciplinarian and tactical genius Vittorio Pozzo, Italy won the 1934 World Cup on home soil and then repeated the feat four years later when the competition was held in France.
While the 1934 victory was somewhat devalued; because of undue interference from Mussolini as well as a number of dubious refereeing decisions; Pozzo’s 1938 team was far superior and deservedly won the tournament, beating Hungary 4-2 in the final in Paris.
Only four players appeared in both tournaments, with two of them being the dynamic inside forwards Giuseppe Meazza and Giovanni Ferrari.
In between the two World Cup wins, Pozzo’s Azurri team also won the gold medal in the 1936 Olympic Game in Berlin.
Where does Haaland rank in Paul Merson's 5 best Premier League transfers so far? Click here