Mo Bros everywhere are counting down the days until they can get reacquainted with their razor blades.
This year, Movember has been all about Generation Moustache. And while members of ‘Gen Mo’ are setting out to change the face of men’s health, we’re saluting the football teams that changed the face of the beautiful game.
So this week, we asked Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox to pick five great teams from the noughties…
Although Barcelona’s 2009 treble winners are recalled more fondly, and boasted more individual skill thanks to the likes of Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry and Yaya Touré, the European Cup winners of 2011 were a cohesive, perfectly balanced unit, and a better representation of the La Masia ideal. There were two key differences – first, Lionel Messi played permanently as a central striker, with his goalscoring tally reaching astonishing levels and transforming him into an all-time great. Second, Barcelona’s pressing was at its best: in 2009 they were, in hindsight, surprisingly passive without possession. Two years later, Pep Guardiola’s players worked harder and won the ball astonishingly quickly, sucking the life out of opposition moves.
Bayern Munich, 2012/13
Jupp Heynckes’ side weren’t as pure as Barcelona, but they were remarkably versatile in a tactical sense. Having spent most of the campaign outpassing sides and recording absurd possession statistics, they were also able to outfight opponents, and played some devastating counter-attacking football against Barca in the semi-final. Whereas Barcelona’s strengths were greater but their weaknesses plain to see, it’s difficult to identify an area in which Bayern were lacking. Previously, the defensive sloppiness of Franck Ribéry and, in particular, Arjen Robben was considered an issue, but by the end of the campaign both played their tactical roles perfectly, and Bayern were an amazingly powerful side.
Manchester United 2007/08
They only won the European Cup on penalties against Chelsea – and perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson’s sole failing was that he never created a side that won the competition convincingly – but this was a tremendously exciting, technically proficient and tactically unpredictable side. It was led by Cristiano Ronaldo, at that point unquestionably the world’s greatest footballer, who transformed into a ruthlessly efficient goalscorer capable of playing on the left, right or through the middle. This was also a stage when Ferguson had great midfield options – the guile of Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick, the calm discipline of Owen Hargreaves and the snappy, energetic Darren Fletcher, who was a fantastic tactical option in Europe. With the Vidic-Ferdinand partnership protecting Edwin van der Sar, United’s spine was awesome.
The mid-2000s Milan side were curious – they were the most dominant side in the European Cup, yet only won the Scudetto once in the Carlo Ancelotti era, in 2003/04. Put simply, Milan had a stunning array of brilliant individuals. Ancelotti loved dominating the centre ground with playmakers, sometimes using a quartet of Rui Costa, Kaka, Clarence Seedorf and Andrea Pirlo, with Rino Gatusso managing to sweep up behind. Up front, Andrei Shevchenko won the Ballon D’Or that year, while the defence had the likes of Cafu, Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini, with Jaap Stam joining that summer. Arguably, no other squad this century has had such star quality – even down to the likes of Rivaldo, Filippo Inzaghi and Fernando Redondo, who barely played two dozen league games between them.
Real Madrid 2001/02
Real Madrid’s last European Cup was secured through a perfect balance of Galacticos and functional, reliable squad members. Each superstar had something of a ‘counterweight’ to preserve the tactical discipline in the side: Luís Figo could attack powerfully knowing Míchel Salgado would defend responsibly, Zinedine Zidane was given a free role because he had Claude Makélélé playing the watercarrier behind him, and Roberto Carlos’ forward bursts were covered by the underrated Santiago Solari. At either end, meanwhile, they had long-standing partnerships – Raúl peeled off Fernando Morientes, while Iván Helguera and Fernando Hierro were intelligent, cultured centre-backs. This was Real’s peak – then came Ronaldo, David Beckham and an obsession with superstars over structure.
Do you agree with Michael Cox's five great teams from the noughties? Who's he missed out? Let us know by Tweeting @ProstateUK with the hashtag #MenUnited.