It probably won’t go down too well across the region but after inputting the results of more than 200,000 football matches into his highly sophisticated computer model, Dr Ian McHale believes that the Chelsea side of 2006 is the best ever.
The Director of the Centre for Sports Business at Salford Business School, and Chair of the Royal Statistical Society’s sports section, has developed a mathematical method for comparing the performance of every English Football League team, taking into account their varying prowess from season to season and the standard of opposition faced.
Analysing every English Football League, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup match played since the foundation of the Football League in 1888 until the end of the 2011-12 season, Dr McHale has identified the year of maximum ‘strength’ or quality for each team, which can be objectively compared with sides from any era.
By looking at 206,843 games in which 601,039 goals were scored, and including any team which has played at least 250 matches, Dr McHale’s method suggests that José Mourinho’s 2006 title-winning Chelsea is the greatest English domestic team of all time. Second in the list is 2008’s Manchester United side, with the Arsenal ‘Invincibles’ of 2003-4 in third.
However when Dr McHale used his research method to assess 10-year dominance rather than single-season strength, there was better news for the city.
On this measure Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United of 1992-2002 heads the rankings, just ahead of 1979-89-vintage Liverpool, with Wolverhampton Wanderers under Stan Cullis from 1951-61 in third place.
Dr McHale added: “If you consider domestic championships and cups, many people would argue that you can’t look beyond one of the great Liverpool sides of 1970s and 1980s, or Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United teams of the nineties or the early part of this century, as the greatest English club team ever.
“Our study uses a new statistical model to provide an objective answer to whether or not that’s the case and can give an extremely good measure of how good a football team was at its peak.
“And by using the overlapping records of teams all the way from 1888 to 2012 we can directly compare great sides from different eras and variables such as improvements in training, tactics and diet cancel each other out.
“For example, the study suggests that Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish in 1987, fourth in the single-season ranking, would on balance defeat the Manchester United Treble winners of 1998-99.
“But when it comes down to the strongest team over one year, the research indicates that Chelsea in 2006 are peerless. Perhaps this is evidence that José Mourinho really is the ‘Special One’.”
Manchester United legend and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville said: “I played against Chelsea when they won the League in 2006 and they were a fantastic team. We came back to beat them to the title the following year, so the rivalry was extremely intense and I think the fact that Chelsea were up against a really strong United at the time drove them to even greater heights.
“I’m not that surprised that the research has shown them to be the greatest all-time team when it comes to a single year.
“But I think the 10-year dominance is an even better measure of the true strength of a football club, so I’m really pleased to see United coming top of the pile for the 1992-2002 period.
“It’s a real testament to the consistent excellence of United under Sir Alex Ferguson throughout the nineties and the early 21st Century, dealing with Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United in the early years and an impressive Arsenal under Arsene Wenger later on.”