Great series in the Guardian Online — The Great European Cup Teams – with excerpts:
Madrid broadened the horizons of British clubs who now became convinced that the European Cup and the newly-born Cup Winners’ Cup demanded serious attention. ….. The roaring applause of that huge Hampden crowd that greeted Madrid at the final whistle in 1960 had far-reaching echoes.
It was only in 1959 with the appointment of Vic Buckingham, schooled in the best passing traditions by Peter McWilliam at Tottenham, that the seeds began to sprout. Six years later, he was succeeded by Michels, who led Ajax to the title in his first season. That this might have more than local significance was demonstrated the following season as they thrashed Liverpool 5-1 in the European Cup.
The team broke up, secure in the knowledge that they had achieved a historical feat but less sure about their exact place in the pantheon of greats. “We were never seen as on the same level as Ajax or Madrid because we didn’t win those Cups playing beautiful football,” Hoeness said last year, with a just a hint of regret.
It is worth remembering too that but for the tragic events surrounding the 1985 final in Brussels, and the subsequent ban on English clubs in Europe post-Heysel, the dominance Liverpool had achieved by the mid-eighties could easily have seen the trophy return to Merseyside on one or two more occasions. Uninterrupted by events away from the pitch, Liverpool might be up there with Madrid and Milan by now.
As the head of a considerable media empire, Berlusconi understood the importance of star power better than most, and it was he who funded the moves for Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard. His club was simultaneously fortunate to have such great home-grown players as Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi on its books. Sacchi recognised the value of his cast, but even then maintained that they would be nothing without their director. “De Niro is a fine actor,” he would say. “But you only see it when he appears in a great Coppola film.”
As Pep Guardiola put it: “It all starts with the Dream Team … we’re all trying to emulate them.” Johan Cruyff’s team were something to aspire to, an idealised image of perfection always just out of reach. Yet this Barcelona surpassed them. They too defeated Real Madrid 5-0, they too set new standards and insisted on the importance of style as well as substance, they too won the European Cup. And not just once, but twice. Or should that read “three times”?
This is football.