The Greatest European Club Football Seasons of All Time

From dominant treble performances to legendary rosters that clicked at the same time, we take a look at some of the greatest club football seasons in European history. 

Over the weekend, Bayer Leverkusen completed their domestic double, going an entire Bundesliga campaign unbeaten.

When achievements of this magnitude are accomplished, the first thing many sports fans will do is look to compare. How does this stack up to the other greatest teams that we’ve seen in the past?

Despite not completing an undefeated treble, Leverkusen played 53 matches with just one loss, and set a record of 51 straight matches without a defeat. With last Saturday’s DFB Pokal victory, the club claimed its first ever double as well.

The fact that Leverkusen were so dominant yet still could not complete the trifecta also gives us perspective on how immensely difficult a true treble is to win. A club competing at the elite level on three fronts for over nine months and coming away with every trophy possible is a feat that deserves all the credit and plaudits.

So instead of lamenting what might have been, let’s celebrate Bayer Leverkusen’s historic season, and look at some of the greatest club football campaigns of all time.

Ajax 1971-72

ajax 1972

The true pinnacle of the Dutch ideology, total football. Johan Cruyff, the best player on the planet, led the best team on the planet with the most effective, beautiful, and deadly brand of football. What’s not to love?

Cruyff bagged 33 goals, and Ajax scored a ridiculous 104 times in just 34 league games on their way to a 1971-72 Eredivisie title win that saw just one loss.

This league campaign featured not just statement wins, but a thrashing of Ajax’s rivals Feyenoord and PSV, and they went on to capture the KNVB Cup in a 3-2 win over FC Den Haag to put the exclamation mark on their stranglehold of Dutch football.

The cherry on top was their defense of the European Cup with a 2-0 win over Inter, meaning Ajax won every available competition they entered, and became only the second European team to win a continental treble.

Barcelona 2008-09

The double winners of 2010-11 have a massive case to be on this list. In fairness, Pep Guardiola’s 2010 team was probably a slightly better-performing side, featuring the fluidity and dominance with Lionel Messi operating at the peak of his powers.

This showed in the UEFA Champions League final where Barcelona trounced Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in a game that looked like it was between two teams in different stratospheres.

That being said, I still believe Pep’s OG Barça team had one of the best seasons ever. In his first season of senior management, he brought tiki-taka to the world, making us rethink the way the game should be played, and took home quite literally all the silverware.

Barcelona brushed aside Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final and secured their league title shortly after. It was Manchester United standing between Barcelona and Champions League glory, and in the first iconic Messi-versus-Cristiano Ronaldo clash, the Spaniards convincingly won 2-0 to complete the treble. The club would go on to win three more trophies in the 2010 calendar year, as the UEFA Super Cup, Supercopa de España, and Club World Cup followed.

Celtic 1966-67

celtic 1967

I don’t often reach this far back, simply because few of us were football fanatics at the time the 1966-67 Celtic team conquered Scotland and the world. However, when you read out the accomplishments out loud, it’s impossible to argue with this team’s greatness.

Five trophies, 196 goals scored, and a victory over the reigning European kings Benfica to take the crown. You literally cannot ask for more.

The Almost: Bayer Leverkusen 2023-24

bayer leverkusen

Fifty-one games and 361 days unbeaten. A run that started with a 3-0 win against VfL Bochum in May 2023, was ended by a brilliant Atalanta team and performance in the Europa League final.

What made this Leverkusen season so special was how they won so many of these matches. Xabi Alonso’s men were never out of a game and it showed through their Bundesliga record eight stoppage-time goals. It got to a point where you could almost get a sense of impending doom when the clock hit 90 and Leverkusen were tied or behind in the game.

There has never been a better domestic European campaign.

Nonetheless, given the context of how immense some of the all-time seasons were, it’s difficult to put this Leverkusen one on quite the same level, despite their unprecedented domestic demolition of everything in their path. The simple reason is how significant European performances become when you weigh the 2024 Leverkusen side against the likes of 2008 Barça and ’72 Ajax.

These sides, along with many others, were able to translate their form to the pinnacle of the European game, and truly call themselves the best side in the continent for that season. Still, take nothing away from Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen; there’s a reason we still speak about the Arsenal Invincibles to this day, and for that same reason, 2023-24 Bayer Leverkusen have immortalized themselves as a hallmark of German, European and world football.

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