x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Can United be the best of all time?

Given the effects of jet-lag, it was no surprise that Manchester United were some way short of their best against Stoke City on Boxing Day.

Given the effects of jet-lag, it was no surprise that Manchester United were some way short of their best against Stoke City on Boxing Day; but as champions of England, champions of Europe and now champions of the world courtesy of their victory over South American supremos Liga de Quito of Ecuador in Japan, the Red Devils enter 2009 as the greatest side on the planet.

Being the man he is, how-ever, it goes without saying that being the best at this moment in time will not satisfy Sir Alex Ferguson who would like nothing better than to be remembered as the man who created the greatest team in history. So where do United 2008 rate in the all-time list? Brazil 1970: The team of all talents won the World Cup in Mexico playing samba football with a team comprising Pele at the absolute peak of his powers, the sumptuously gifted Tostao, Rivelino, who could make his free-kicks bend, swerve, dip and do everything but whistle La Cucaracha in mid-flight, the free-scoring Jairzinho, the subtle promptings of Gerson...even right-back Carlos Alberto was happier surging into attack than doing anything as mundane as defending.

Real Madrid 1960: I suppose that one day those of us who witnessed Real's 7-3 rout of an excellent Eintracht Frankfurt in the European Cup final at Hampden will be forced to stop raving about it for the simple reason that future generations simply will not believe us. Ferenc Puskas ('All left foot,' sneered the German press before the game) proved he did not need a right foot by scoring four with his trusty trigger, Alfredo di Stefano claimed a hat-trick, while Francisco Gento and Luis Del Sol bewitched, bothered and bewildered their mesmerised opponents.

Hungary 1953: In his previous incarnation in the famous cherry red short of the country he would later flee to escape to the West, Puskas was already a superstar. But the Magyars who humiliated England 6-3 at Wembley and 6-1 in Budapest were no one-man team; like the Galloping Major, Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor would later take their wondrous skills to Spain where they helped transform Barcelona into a major European power.

Ajax 1972: The Dutch champions won the European Cup for the second successive time (they would win it again in '73) with a unique brand of 'Total Football' that left Inter Milan chasing shadows in Rotterdam. The final result may have been 2-0 but, inspired by the peerless Johan Cruyff, this was the stuff of dreams. Brazil 1958: Recite the forward-line that won the World Cup in Sweden aloud and allow yourself to dream: Garrincha...Didi...Vava...Pele...and Zagalo.

France 1984: The European Championship might have been scan consolation for being denied the World Cup two years earlier, but the carre magique (magic square) of Luis Fernandez, Michel Platini, Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana in midfield was a sight to behold. Celtic 1967: The Lisbon Lions overwhelmed Inter Milan in the European Cup final with a brand of attacking football unseen before or since. Under the managerial genius of Jock Stein, Celtic became the best club side in the world with a team drawn from a 20-mile radius around Glasgow.

Manchester United 2008: But ask me again two years hence... Bayern Munich 1974: With 'Kaiser' Franz Beckenbauer conducting from the back and Gerd Mueller scoring goals for fun, Bayern's European Cup victory was the start of a three-year dynasty. Italy 1970: In any other year they would have been worthy World Cup winners. @Email:rphilip@thenational.ae