Ranking the best football clubs in the world isn’t easy – especially when teams have endured a single-season blip that makes them look worse than they really are. Or, when a team suddenly reaches a major final to gloss over the issues hidden within the squad.
Because of this, we’ve made sure to take into account short-term rises and falls in form, and looked at a period of years, rather than months, to determine the best football teams on the planet.
That’s why the likes of Leipzig, Manchester United and the two Milans are not on our list. Leipzig may have reached the Champions League semi-final in 2020 but they are yet to win the Bundesliga or even the German Cup.
United may have enjoyed a rejuvenation under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but have plenty of catching up to do to consistently perform live Manchester City and Liverpool – while their Champions League exploits in recent seasons have been negligible.
And Italian football – bar Juventus – remains a standard below that of Spain, England and Germany.
Furthermore, all 10 teams on our list hail from Europe. While the South Americans boast plenty of iconic clubs, none of them – not Boca, Flamengo or even River Plate – are a match for the European giants.
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One might argue that Chelsea under Frank Lampard don’t deserve to be on this list ahead of Inter and Manchester United.
But dismissing Chelsea would be to overlook their Europa League victory in 2019 and Premier League title just four years ago – as well as their regular presence in the top four.
Chelsea have the financial muscle to compete with the very best and, while Lampard is overseeing a change in how the club operates, the Blues remain one of the most feared teams on the continent.
No, they aren’t a match for Liverpool and Manchester City in terms of the Premier League title challenge right now – but Chelsea are regulars in the Champions League knockout stages.
9. Atletico Madrid
A team that occasionally challenges Real Madrid and Barcelona for the La Liga title, Atletico Madrid have performed wonders over the past decade to keep apace with the two Spanish giants.
Atletico won the La Liga title in 2014 and have since strung together a run of second and third-place finishes. In Europe they won the Europa League in 2015 and in recent seasons have claimed domestic cup success.
Atletico are regulars on the international stage and a force to be reckoned with every year. Yet unless they reach a major final soon they could drop off this list.
Political turmoil within the club over the past few years has dampened the mood at Barcelona but the Nou Camp outfit that once ruled world football remains a fierce force to be reckoned with.
Barca won six of 10 La Liga titles in the last decade and two Champions League crowns.
Yet issues with managers and players means Barca are slowly sliding down this list – in large part as the club battles to realign the stars ahead of Lionel Messi’s expected exit.
Messi, 33, won’t be around forever and Barca need a plan to replace the Argentine, just like Real Madrid did when Cristiano Ronaldo left their camp. Barca are not the feared entity they once were.
Still the second-best team in Germany despite Leipzig’s rise, Borussia Dortmund sit in the awkward position of watching rivals Bayern Munich walk away with the league title every year.
Yet the club remains an influential figure on the world stage and is almost guaranteed a place in the Champions League knockout stages each year.
What’s more, Dortmund’s production line of young players is why they are moving up this list, rather than down. The likes of Jadon Sancho, Jude Bellingham and Giovanni Reyna highlight the depth of talent within the squad.
In Erling Haaland they have one of the best football players in the world.
Having dominated Italian football for a decade, Juventus’ sole frustration from the past 10 years is their inability to win the Champions League.
Ronaldo was signed on a huge contract from Real Madrid specifically to bring the European Cup back to Turin. But it hasn’t happened yet.
However, when it comes to the biggest clubs in world football Juve certainly up there. They rake in around €460m in revenue every year despite being in a league that boasts middling TV rights packages.
Their brand stretches from China to America and they have enjoyed plenty of success in the transfer window of late, snapping up out-of-contract talent from around the continent.
The one mark against Juve – and the thing that could one-day see them top this list – is the Champions League. The club lost the in the final of the competition in 2015 and 2017. And since Ronaldo’s arrival they haven’t even come close to that stage.
5. Real Madrid
No matter what turmoil is taking place in the corridors of power at Real Madrid, you can be sure they will deliver a major trophy almost every year.
This happened in the 2017/18 season where, despite a miserable performance in La Liga, the club earned a third successive Champions League crown.
Real have won the European Cup more than any other club (13) and are almost guaranteed to reach the knockout stage every season.
They managed just three La Liga titles in the past decade thanks to Barcelona’s dominance on the domestic front, yet in Europe no team can get close to Real’s prowess.
Crucially, the side has recovered from the loss of Ronaldo, with Karim Benzema picking up the slack over the past two seasons. Real are often considered the best team in the world but there are four sides arguably greater than them right now.
From a purely playing perspective, PSG boast the most exciting team on the planet. Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Mauro Icardi, Presnel Kimpembe and Julian Draxler represent the elite of modern-day football.
Financially the team is backed by a Gulf state that is desperate to win the Champions League and has made a mockery of the French top flight.
Yet PSG remain fourth on this list because of their lack of Champions League success. Recent seasons saw their European ambitions regress until they reached the final in 2020, only to be beaten by Bayern Munich.
Where do PSG go from here? Well, they sacked manager Thomas Tuchel after a miserable start to the 2020/21 campaign and now have Mauricio Pochettino on board.
Can the former Spurs boss deliver on the big stage? PSG’s owners are desperate to cement their status as one of the big boys but they need a Champions League gong to do this. And there is another team across the English Channel that is also keen to achieve this affirmation.
3. Manchester City
Indeed, another team keen on European success is also one bankrolled by billionaire owners that have so far failed to achieve its ultimate aim.
Manchester City are now regular title contenders on the domestic front and have one of the best managers in world football at the helm.
Yet Pep Guardiola has so far failed to inch City over the European line. In fact, the club hasn’t even made it to a final. Why, then, are they third on this list? Because City can take on almost anyone.
The potential is there for Guardiola’s men to dominate world football – and all it takes is a slice of luck, and maybe another £50m defensive signing, to achieve this.
City’s owners have left their mark on world football by buying clubs across the planet under the City Group. This gives the ‘mother club’ huge influence and their scouting network is staggering.
City will only get bigger as they are more immune to the financial impact coronavirus is having on European football.
With four Premier League titles under their belt and plenty of cup victories, Europe is now the ultimate prize.
The one team other than City that ignites greater entertainment value in English football is Liverpool – and under Jurgen Klopp the sleeping giants have now truly woken up.
Liverpool’s last two seasons have seen them win the Champions League for a sixth time and end a 30-year wait for a Premier League trophy.
On top of that, the Reds have one of the most explosive attacking units in the world, a treadmill of young talent coming through, and play in the cauldron that is Anfield.
Yes, fans may not have been able to watch games live in the stadium recently but the ground remains an iconic stage that lifts Liverpool performances above and beyond.
The remit for Klopp now is to ensure this flurry of Liverpool success enjoyed over the past three or four years turns into a legacy. The expectation is there that this can be done. Liverpool are many peoples’ pre-season favourites to win the league each year, and have a team capable of overturning anyone in Europe.
1. Bayern Munich
No football club on the planet dominates its domestic league quite like Bayern Munich. The German giants earn almost double each season what closest rivals Dortmund make in revenues.
They have history and tradition behind them, and are seasoned winners. That’s why it wasn’t a surprise when Bayern handled the hyperactive upstarts that are PSG so easily in the 2020 Champions League final. This was Bayern’s final to win and they duly did the job.
Bar a blip at the start of the last decade, Bayern have cruised to Bundesliga glory every season.
On top of that they boast one of the best records in Europe and are near-guaranteed to reach the Champions League semi-finals. What’s more, the team Hans-Dieter Flick has at his disposal is frightening.
From Manuel Neuer, Benjamin Pavard and David Alaba at the back, to Joshua Kimmich, Serge Gnabry and Thomas Muller going forward, this Bayern side is packed with world-class talent.
Of course, the ultimate star of the team is Robert Lewandowski, who was recognised as the best male footballer in 2020 after scoring over 30 goals once again in a season.
Bayern are a force that cannot be stopped right now. They have seen off the challenge of super-rich Leipzig on the domestic front and can hold their own against the best in Europe.
Going forward, the club are likely to come out of the coronavirus crisis in a healthy state. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they kick on with further European titles in the decade to come.
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