Jul 8, 2008

The World's Top 50 Soccer Clubs

Summertime, and the living is easy--unless of course you have to play UEFA Cup qualifiers, follow MLS or (in this instance) make restitution for not putting together a Top 25 list in many months. But now is the perfect time to take a long, last look at last season's top clubs. Except, we didn't feel a Top 25 was sufficient. Instead, behold the first ever Soccer Source Top 50:

1. Manchester United
This one is obviously a no-brainer. The back-to-back Premiership champs put the cherry on top of the whipped cream that was a stellar 2007-08 campaign by beating Chelsea in the Champions League final. As deserving a number one as might be imagined, though one title short of the elusive treble. There's always next year...

2. Real Madrid
The Spanish champions had another superb season, but an early exit from the Copa del Rey coupled with Champs League elimination at the hands of AS Roma were disappointments. Still, Roma was in peak form when they faced Bernd Schuster's side, who were short-handed by injuries (van Nistelrooy, Robben) and yellow card bans (Sergio Ramos) to key players. And Roma's 2-1 victory in the first leg was about as lucky as they come.

3. Chelsea

What's this? A top five team that didn't win any silverware? Believe it. Blues were one John Terry fowl-up away from taking home the biggest trophy of them all and lost the League Cup match to Spurs in overtime. Avram Grant's former side also came back to contend with Man. Utd in the Premiership--a campaign where they lost only three games all season (two fewer than the team that won the league). Besides the obvious blemish of not winning any trophies, Chelsea's critics on the ranking committee can also point to the fact that the team's European campaign did not feature clubs that were widely-considered among the continent's elite this season: Valencia, Schalke and Rosenborg Trondheim in the group stage, Olympiakos, Fenerbahce and Liverpool in the elimination stages. Would Chelsea have advanced to the final had they faced, say, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan or Roma? Impossible to say, of course, but they almost definitely would have had a harder time of it.

4. Inter Milan
Another selection sure to arouse criticism (then again, which one won't besides the first one?). The Italian champions had a miserable second half of their campaign; when they played Liverpool in the Champs League elimination round, Reds were on the brink of the abyss with Rafa Benitez' neck firmly on the chopping block. That Inter were unable to even score one goal in their two games with Scousers was a disappointment of immense proportions. So too was their skid in Serie A, a campaign they appeared to dominate at will in the first half of the season. Yet the nerrazurri did salvage the Scudetto title and for that they are deserving of a top five spot.

5. AS Roma
The Serie A campaign fell short on the last match day but the rossoneri were able to win the Coppa Italia. Their campaign in Europe was solid as well (though as previously noted, they were more lucky than good at times).

6. Olympique Lyon
The serial champions of France's Ligue Un had one of the toughest domestic campaigns in recent memory. The seven losses in league play are the most since the 2003/04 season. But l'OL added the French cup trophy this weekend, defeating embattled rivals Paris SG in overtime to complete the domestic double (the first time in 35 years that they won the cup). Alain Perrin's side also survived a tough Champs League group with Barca, Rangers and VfB Stuttgart and even matched wits with Man U. for periods of their elimination match-up, losing the series on one goal. With Karim Benzema, Lyon has a bonafide superstar and one of the very best forwards in the game. Benzema recently signed an extension with the team through 2013. If he stays even half that, l'OL will make their mark in Europe, perhaps even with a run for the Champions League title.

7. Arsenal London
For a long time it looked as though Arsene Wenger's young squad was poised for Premiership (and perhaps even continental) glory. Then they started to show their age, were eliminated from the CL by Liverpool and dropped out of the Premiership race.

8. FC Porto
The Dragons ran away with the bwinLIGA and for a little while looked like they might be poised to repeat their historic run from 2004. Alas, the Champions League campaign ended in disappointment, with a loss on penalties to Schalke 04 in the first elimination round. The domestic double campaign fell short as well, with a loss to Sporting Lisbon in the finals of the Taca de Portugal.

9. Olympiakos Piraus
The Greek club took a domestic double, winning the Super League and Kypello Elladas and made a deep run in the Champions League, advancing out of a tough group (Lazio, Werder Bremen, Real Madrid) before bowing out to Chelsea. A solid choice to round out the top 10--but again, hardly one everybody will agree with. Fair enough. You've got better choices? Bring 'em on!

10. Zenit St. Petersburg
The UEFA Cup Champs, and home to the most sought-after player in the world right now, came out of nowhere last season. The Soccer Source ranking committee barely took notice of the team that hails from the city formerly known as Leningrad. Shame on us. Along the road to UEFA Cup glory, Dick Advocaat's side eliminated storied clubs Bayern Munich, Olympique Marseille and Villareal, to name but a few. That, and they also happened to win the Russian championships last December (Russia is one of those weird countries, like the U.S., where they play the soccer season from spring through fall. Freaks). This season, the club had a tough start to its domestic campaign but then sprung to life after the month-long Euro break. Just last weekend, they beat up on poor Tom Tomsk 5-1. Zenit is still in the lower reaches of the Russian league table, but has five (count 'em) games in hand over the rest of the league (and they've only lost once in six matches).

11. Bayern Munich
At times this season Bayern looked like world beaters, even though they were not able to test themselves against the very best competition in the Champions League. In the end it was enough for the domestic double (Bundesliga and DFB Pokal). More will be revealed next year, when they will be in the Champions League, albeit with a new coach (Jurgen Klinsmann) and the weight of the world (or at least German) on their shoulders.

12. Liverpool

Few teams had as topsy-turvy a season as Liverpool. On the brink of disaster one moment (dropping points at home to Birmingham City and Wigan) and on top of the world the next (after ousting Inter Milan, considered at the time to be the best team in Europe, from the Champions League), the 2007/08 campaign had it all for Reds fans. When it was all said and done, Rafa Benitez' squad finished fourth in the Premiership--good enough for automatic Champions League qualification next year.

13. Juventus
The blanconeri's first season back in Serie A was a solid effort. Without European competition to distract it, Juve was free to focus on the domestic campaign. A third place finish, and Champions League qualification is the result of these efforts.

14. FC Barcelona
Mighty Barca this far down? Yes, ma'am. It was a season to forget in the Catalan capital city, with a semifinal appearance in the UEFA Champions League the sole bright spot. Frank Rijkaard's (now former) side finished a distant third in the Primera Division and will have to qualify for the Champions League later this summer. That shouldn't be a problem. Ronaldinho's weight, on the other hand...

15. AC Milan
Talk about disappointing seasons. Milan's lone bright spot in Paolo Maldini's swan song season was December's triumph in the Club World Cup. After finishing fifth in Serie A, the rossoneri will not even play in this year's edition of the UEFA Champions League.

16. Villareal.
The yellow submarine had a successful UEFA Cup campaign, falling to eventual winners Zenit St. Petersburg on the away goals rule. Their domestic campaign was even more successful; Manuel Luis Pellegrini's men finished second and qualify automatically for the Champs League.

17. Fenerbahce
Luis Aragones' new club finished a disappointing second in the Turkish league to archrivals Galatasaray. So why are they this high up? Quality wins, baby: Inter Milan, PSV Eindhoven, Sevilla and Chelsea were all vanquished by the Istanbul side at one point last season. Did I mention they made it to the Champions League semifinals? They have to go through qualifiers to make it into the elite tourney this time around. I'm not a gambling man, but if I was, I wouldn't bet against them making it.

18. Fiorentina
I'll admit it was a very close call between Fiorentina and Sporting and the ultimate decision may have been influenced by the committee's dislike of all things boring, a list where Italian soccer ranks very highly. Fiorentina finished fourth in Serie A, sneaking in to the last Champs League spot after an up and down campaign. La Viola's UEFA Cup campaign was ultimately disappointing, ending as it did with a penalty shoot out in the semifinals to #14 Rangers. The team actually had very few "quality wins" last season (only Juventus and PSV Eindhoven if my research is correct) and their UEFA Cup play-in tie with Groningen went to penalties as well.

19. PSV Eindhoven
Besides winning the Dutch Eredivisie, PSV had a solid Champions League run, finishing third in a tough group that included Inter Milan and #18 Fener (whom they tied at home and lost to on the road). Had trouble with Spurs before bowing out to #19 Fiorentina.

20. Sporting Lisbon
Another team that didn't get much love from the ranking committee, Sporting finished second in the tough Portuguese league, which is good enough for a Champions League spot. They've already pulled a quality transfer, acquiring Porto's Helder Postiga. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. These are last season's rankings after all. Sporting was a UEFA Cup quarterfinalist (losing to Rangers) and also happened to win the Portuguese cup (beating mighty Porto in overtime).

21. Atletico Madrid
An exciting squad that thrilled the ranking committee at times, only to disappoint at others. The good: beating Valencia, Barcelona and Sevilla. The bad: losing their UEFA Cup tie with Bolton. Yes, Bolton. But as the fourth-placed finishers in La Liga, Atletico get to try their hand at Champs League qualifiers. For the first time since 1996, which was so long ago the Champions League consisted only of actual champions! (True story, look it up or ask your grandparents or something). The rojiblancos are obviously taking the campaign seriously, having already signed French national goalkeeper Gregory Coupet, Florent Sinama Pongolle and the Czech Republic's Tomas Ujfalusi. They're also said to be in pursuit of David Silva. Keep an eye on these guys. They might just be very good.

22. FC Sao Paulo
The top South American team is one that did not even win any international trophies. It was ousted in the quarterfinals from both the Copa Sudamericana last fall the Copa Libertadores this spring (to Fluminense, who lost the finale to Quito). Still, Sao Paolo won the 2007 Brazilian league by 15 points has only lost once this season (on the first match day). Having deliberated the issue at length, the committee is confident this was the best team in South America the past 12 months.

23. Celtic Glasgow
Celtic had a solid run at Rangers in the SPL, ultimately falling short. Their Champions League campaign was superb, with wins over AC Milan and Benfica. They even matched wits with Barcelona for about half of the first leg of the quarterfinals. Well-deserved #23.


24. Glasgow Rangers

Alan Smith's men came within two wins of a treble. Though they failed to make it out of a tough Champions League group, their ensuing UEFA Cup campaign was all the more impressive: Fiorentina, Sporting Lisbon and Werder Bremen were just three of the teams Rangers left beaten and bloodied by the side of the road.

25. LDU de Quito
The Ecuador side get the final spot in the first half of the table solely by virtue of their Copa Libertadores triumph. They did not go far in the Copa Sudamericana but currently sit second in their domestic league (which they won in 2007).

26. Werder Bremen
International: Champions League group stage.
Domestic: Second in Bundesliga
Quality Wins: Real Madrid, Hamburg SV, Schalke 04

27. Sevilla
International: Champions League, first elimination round (lost to Fenerbahce)
Domestic: Fifth
Quality Wins: Arsenal, Real Madrid, Villareal

28. Schalke 04
International: Champions League Quarterfinals (lost to Barca)
Domestic: Third
Quality Wins: Porto, Hamburg SV

29. Olympique Marseille

International: Champions League group stage, finished third. UEFA Cup, lost to eventual winners Zenit in second elimination stage.
Domestic: Third
Quality Wins: Liverpool, Lyon (2x)

30. River Plate

International: Copa Sudamericana semifinals, Libertadores first elimination round
Domestic: 14th in Apertura, Clausura champions.
Quality Wins: Club America, Universidad Catolica, Boca Juniors

31. Galatasaray
International: UEFA Cup, first elimination round (lost to Leverkusen)
Domestic: Champions
Quality Wins: Besiktas, Fenerbahce

32. Fluminense
International: Copa Libertadores runners-up
Domestic: Fourth in league in '07, Cup winners in '07, last in '08
Quality Wins: Boca Juniors, Sao Paolo

33. Boca Juniors
International: Libertadores semifinals
Domestic: Fourth in Apertura, Clausura runners-up
Quality Wins: Atlas, River

34. RSC Anderlecht
International: UEFA Cup, second elimination round (lost to Bayern Munich)
Domestic: Second in league, won cup.
Quality Wins: Girondins Bordeaux, Hapoel Tel Aviv

35. Arsenal de Sarandi

International: Copa Sudamericana champions, Copa Libertadores group stage
Domestic: 12th in Apertura, 10th in Clausura
Quality Wins: Fluminense, Lanus

36. Benfica Lisbon
International: Champions League Group stage, UEFA Cup second elimination round (lost to Getafe)
Domestic: Fourth
Quality Wins: Celtic

37. Girondins Bordeaux
International: UEFA Cup, first elimination round (lost to #29 Anderlecht)
Domestic: Second in French league.
Quality Wins: Galatasaray

38. Hamburg SV
International: UEFA Cup, second elimination round (lost to Leverkusen)
Domestic: Fourth
Quality Wins: Dynamo Zagreb

39. Rosenborg Trondheim
International: Champions League group stage (third place), UEFA Cup first elimination round (lost to Fiorentina)
Domestic: Fifth
Quality Wins: Valencia

40. Everton
International: UEFA Cup, second elimination round (lost to Fiorentina)
Domestic: Fifth in Premiership, League Cup semifinals (lost to Chelsea)
Quality Wins: Zenit St. Petersburg

41. Santos Laguna
International: None
Domestic: Mexican Clausura champions

42. Cruzeiro Belo Horizonte

International: Libertadores quarterfinals (lost to Boca Juniors)
Domestic: Fifth in Second in '08
Quality Wins: CA San Lorenzo

43. Panathinaikos
International: UEFA Cup, lost to Rangers in first elimination round.
Domestic: Won playoff after finishing third.
Quality Wins: AEK Athens

44. Flamengo Rio de Janeiro
International: Libertadores first elimination round (lost to Club America)
Domestic: Third in '07. First in '08.
Quality Wins: Fluminense

45. CA San Lorenzo
International: Libertadores quarterfinals (lost to Quito)
Domestic: Eighth in Apertura, fourth in Clausura
Quality Wins: River Plate, Boca Juniors

46. Lanus

International: Libertadores elimination first round (lost to Atlas)
Domestic: Apertura champions, 16th in Clausura
Quality Wins: Arsenal de Sarandi, CA San Lorenzo

47. Slavia Prague
International: Champions League group stage, UEFA Cup first elimination round (lost to Spurs)
Domestic: Champions
Quality Wins: Surely some.

48. Dynamo Zagreb
International: UEFA Cup, group stage
Domestic: League champs
Quality Wins: Ajax Amsterdam (UEFA Cup play-in)

49. Aalborg
International: UEFA Cup, group stage
Domestic: League champs
Quality Wins: Beat Sampdoria in UEFA Cup play-in

50. Standard Liege
International: UEFA Cup qualifier. Lost to Zenit St. Petersburg
Domestic: League champions (only one loss), cup semifinal.
Quality Wins: Anderlecht

Honorable mention:
Club America

Commentary to follow (maybe, though I doubt it. This was a major undertaking. Never again. You better appreciate it!)

Photo taken from cbsnews.com without permission.

6 comments:

  1. Dude, I can see alot of work went into that and its a great list so well done. Is also nice to see a Russian team in the top 10. Definately a league to keep your eye on in the coming years.

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  2. Got as far as your top ten, and personally think it's premier league heavy.

    I know Chelsea had a great season - they were so close to glory, but in football the old adage is true: 'first is first and second is nothing'. And that's exactly what Chelsea won...nothing!

    I just don't see how you can place them above Inter Milan. Whay are real Madrid second and Inter 4th? I don't understand!

    And what is there that separates Arsenal (7th) and Liverpool (12th). Arse finished one place ahead in the league, but then Liverpool knocked them out of the CL. So why the huge gap? Think Arse should be lower myself.

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  3. I was definitely expecting to be criticized for the Premiership teams--but not for these reasons! Many rankings I have seen elsewhere have Chelsea second, Arsenal in the top five and Liverpool in the top 10. Talk about Premiership heavy! Your points are not invalid though. I just felt the EPL was clearly the strongest league last season--as displayed in the Champs League finale. Maybe if Juventus and Bayern had been in the CL things would have been different. We'll never know...

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  4. Who the fuck made this list This list is almost all incorrect who the heck puts russian teams in the top 10, why's chealsea # 2 they were unknown untill Roman Abramobitch came and took control,

    THIS LIST IF MOSTLY FUCKING WRONG

    ReplyDelete
  5. total crap who puts russian team in top ten?, dont waste your time reading this....

    ReplyDelete
  6. hows santos laguna better than Rayados del Monterrey if they dont have any international championships and in the IFFHS they are way on top of any mexican team?.

    this is crap.

    ReplyDelete