Barcelona’s success over the old lady Juventus gave them the honour of the first team to do the treble, twice. To do the treble, the league, domestic cup and european cup is an unprecedented achievement in itself and only 7 sides have ever managed this. Celtic were the first team to do this in the 1960’s followed by Ajax in the 1970’s and PSV eindhoven in the 1980’s. Then of course in the 1990’s Manchester United, followed by Barcelona in 2008 and now 2015 sandwiched between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich. So who is the greatest side of all time?
Football has evolved since the 1960’s and despite Celtic actually winning 4 trophies that season, with both domestic cups in the bag, the quality and standard of Scottish football has to be brought into question when talking about all time greats. Ajax have a strong case, led by the legendary Johan Cruyff they actually won back to back European Cups, a treble followed by a double the next season. Next, PSV had become the dominant force in Holland and won consecutive Dutch titles in their path to european glory but again the standard of opposition in the dutch league has to be measured when comparing to the likes of present day Barcelona.
We look at Inter Milan and under Jose Mourinho and can not discredit what he achieved, but a disgraced Italian league, with match fixing rife and not the strength it was in the mid 90’s we can probably say they were over achievers on the european front and a shock to all when they lifted the final leg of the treble, the UEFA champions league trophy and as we have seen are a team on the decline. Bayern Munich’s treble winning team oozed class all over the park and were worthy winners of the treble, untouchable in their treble winning season of 2013, beating fierce German rivals Borussia Dortmund in the final. The Bundesliga is also a league on the rise once again.
This leaves us Manchester United’s historic 1999 campaign to challenge the dominant Barca teams of 2008 and 2015. Why is Manchester United’s feat greater than the others? You could argue the Premier League is that of a far higher standard of any of the previous league winners we have discussed, it is well known the Premier League is the most competitive league in the world, yes, La Liga may have the 2 superpowers of the game in Barcelona and Real Madrid but the quality and standard of the rest lacks that of the competitive edge of the Premier League. Would you really see the likes of Elche notching a victory over Real Madrid or Eibar over turning Barcelona? We see the unpredictable nature of the Premier League with examples such as Leicester beating United and Sunderland beating Chelsea. Another example staring us in the face is Cristiano Ronaldo. At Manchester United he made his name, we was a class above and regularly bagged 20-30 goals a season but since his move to Madrid now bags 50-60 goals a season. He and Messi having a hat-trick shootout.. maybe another point proving the strength of the Premier League over La Liga. We would all love to see this duel in England!
Back to the 1999 campaign, the most competitive league won, a challenging cup run with Ryan Giggs famous goal over Arsenal in the semi-final but the greatest feat was the champions league run itself. The group stage had United pitted against Barcelona and Bayern Munich and they came through the group stage unbeaten, a mammoth achievement in itself. Manchester United did not face an easy knockout stage, facing Inter Milan in the quarter final, disposing of them with little trouble, and who can forget the monumental second leg in Turin against Juventus, with backs against the wall proved their metal and won an epic battle, losing Roy Keane and Paul Scholes in the process. We all know what happened in the final, the greatest night in the club’s history.
Let us compare this achievement to that of Barcelona and the 2015 success, Barcelona, with Neymar, Messi and Suarez an unstoppable force, beating the champions of England in the last 16, the champions of France in the quarter final, the champions of germany in the semi final and the Champions of Italy in the final. This may well be the greatest team of all time, bidding farewell to Xavi in a fitting tribute. The league title never really looked in doubt and the Copa Del Rey triumph pitted them against Bilbao in the final. When you have Messi in your side you have a game winner almost guaranteed.
Barcelona’s team of 2015 is without doubt the most talented and one sided treble winning team we have seen but had they had the stiff competition over the course of the season Manchester United faced domestically and in Europe we can begin to evaluate how good the Red Devils treble winners actually were. In a one off match Barcelona of 2015 are probably the greatest team to achieve this feat, but if we measure the greatest treble winners over the course of a season, and the standard of opposition in all competition we could just be looking at the team of 1999 being the greatest treble winners we have ever seen.