MSN, the best attacking trio ever?

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Image Courtesy: © Facebook - FC Barcelona

MSN, the best attacking trio ever?

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Suprotim Gupta


“Just 14 months after their first match together, the Barcelona front three are already making the football world carefully consider if any other attack throughout the ages could trump them. What remains crystal clear is that they are head and shoulders above all other attacking combinations in the game at present. The deadly trio do as they please, whenever they feel like it.” – Marca

Yes, this December 26 quote from the Marca’s online edition perfectly sums up the impact Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have had on Barcelona, on its fans, the pundits and the rest of the football world. With each passing day, the awe and the excitement surrounding them hasn't diminished one bit, and in fact has risen to such stupendous levels that things inconceivable before the trio’s genius are now considered as routine chore. For the first six months since the arrival of Suarez, MSN took their time to gel, but once they got into their groove, it seemed like everyday would be a goal-feast from them. After a staggering 231 goals in just 18 odd months, there is no denying that the front-three of Messi, Suarez and Neymar stand tall and firm as the solution to any stumble Barcelona face in their conquest to attain all available glory. They have proved to be a nightmare for defenders who go into a game against Barcelona with the fear of not getting skinned to their bare bones. Ask Gary Neville's Valencia. However, this isn’t the first time in the history of the game that a front 3 has mesmerized the world. From the days of Ferenc Puskas to George Best to Cristiano Ronaldo, the game has seen trios and their team-mates wreak havoc inside the opposition’s half, leaving the defenders dazed and confused. So, the question arises – Is MSN the greatest of all time?

Gre-No-Li (1949-53)

Years after the Second World War ended, the game saw the arrival of Sweden’s Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl, and Nils Liedholm or simply put ‘Gre-No-Li’. Combining the playmaking intelligence, excellent passing, and vision of Gren and Liedholm with Nordahl’s sublime finishing, the famed trio helped the Swedish national team win the gold medal at the 1948 London Olympics. At club level, the trio got together in AC Milan from 1949-53, helping Milan win the Scudetto in the 50/51 season after 44 years. While the association between the three at Milan lasted for four years, their contribution to this day is still revered by the old Milanese supporters. ‘Gre-No-Li’ will be always remembered as the greatest football players to ever come out of Sweden.

Trio of aces (1957-61)

The Trio of aces or, more generally known as Trio of Boniperti-Charles-Sívori, played for four seasons at Juventus between 1957-61. It consisted of Juventus’ three best players from the 50s: Omar Sívori from Argentina, John ‘The Gentle giant ‘Charles (the nickname came from his height and the record for never being cautioned) from Wales and Giampiero Boniperti from Italy. Considered as the ‘Maradona of 60s', Sivori combined his vision and skills with the lethal finishing of Boniperti and Charles, and the trio changed the face of Italian football by bringing Juventus amongst the ranks of an ever dominating AC Milan side, helping the club win three Serie A and 2 Coppa Italia titles. Apart from bringing laurels to the club, they were also responsible for changing the style of play at Milan to a more fluid system, thanks to the versatility of the three.

Alfredo Di Stéfano - Ferenc Puskás - Francisco Gento (1958-64)

Real Madrid of the 50s was a team that set unprecedented standards of dominance for years to come, winning an incredible five consecutive European titles from 1955 to 60. With an attacking formation of 3-5-2 at the place, Real Madrid made optimum use of the attacking talents of Stefano, Puskas, and Gento and scored goals galore. The trio, which was led by the team’s leader Stefano in the middle, who scored 216 goals in 282 La Liga games, had won them four consecutive league titles from 1960 to 1964. Stefano’s incredible finishing capabilities were supported by Ferenc Puskas, who left Hungary and joined Real Madrid at the age of 31 and mesmerized everyone with his incredible left-foot prowess. He famously scored four goals in what some argue is the greatest attacking performance by any football team in the 7-3 victory against Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup Final. The other three were scored by Di Stefano. These two goal machines were complimented by Francisco Gento, who was a left winger and brought these two strikers into play. Gento would enjoy a long highly-accomplished career at the club for 20 years, winning 6 European titles and 12 La Liga titles in the process - the only player to do so at the club. This Real Madrid squad revolutionized football and is undoubtedly termed as the greatest side ever to grace the Bernabeu.

The United Trinity (1963-1973)

"I took the models of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best off the model pitch and put them in my left-hand pocket. Then I told our players: 'Don't worry about them, they can't play at all.' It was psychology, of course. Charlton, Best and Law were three of the best players in the world". – Bill Shankly.

The misfortune of the Manchester United team, fondly known as the ‘Busby Babes’, who perished in a plane crash and the team's reinvention to win the European cup a decade later is arguably one of the greatest folklores ever told in football. The architect of that folklore was their great manager Sir Matt Busby, and its pioneers were the United trinity of George Best, Denis Law, and Bobby Charlton. A combined effort of 665 goals in 1633 games, each of them have the honor of winning the prestigious Ballon d'Or. Under the high tempo style of Busby, the ‘Holy trinity’ flourished with Charlton a goal-scoring machine from the midfield, Denis law a predator in front of the goal and George best, true to his surname, was the best talent the English shores had ever seen in the 60s, capable of single-handedly turning any game. The statue of the three stalwarts outside Old Trafford is a living proof of their legacy at the club.

BBC (2013-present)

If there’s anyone who can match the immense popularity MSN enjoys, it’s definitely Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo aka BBC. Scoring a century of goals together last year and 17 shy this year till date, they have certainly come the closest to match MSN. This trio is a testament to how dangerous counter-attacking football is in the modern game with blitzkrieg speed, swift passing, and sublime finishing, changing the game in a jiffy. The first season of the BBC helped Real Madrid win the much-coveted ‘La Decima’, Madrid’s 10th European title. With Ronaldo on the left scoring the majority of goals with ample of support from Benzema and Bale, this trio have won games for the club without breaking a sweat and have made various oppositions rethink their system in order to leave the stadium without receiving a thrashing. MSN vs the rest:

Goals are usually the primary criteria to judge any forward by, or in this case, a particular trio’s impact in the team. As the graph shows, MSN clearly leads the way, averaging a whopping 120 goals per season in spite of having spent the shortest time together with respect to the other trios. Real Madrid’s BBC follows them with 95 goals per season, and Juventus’s trio of aces comes third with 81 goals per season, being together for 3 and 4 seasons respectively. Stefano and co’s six memorable seasons at Real Madrid yielded 73 goals per season, while United’s decade-long trinity of the 60’s and Sweden’s ‘Gre-No-Li’ averaged 52 goals per season, both being together for 4 and 10 seasons respectively. We can conclusively interpret that MSN are in a league of their own when it comes to consistency in scoring goals throughout the season.

Trophies are the perfect parameter to judge the dominance of a particular trio’s exploits and how they helped their respective team earn laurels. The above graph shows how MSN have been dominant on this parameter as well, leading the chart by 1.5 trophies per season which could easily go to 2 if they win one more this season. Only the trio of aces and Stefano and Co are close enough to challenge with 1.25 and 1.16 trophies per season respectively. A few more seasons together and MSN might just run away with these numbers with slim to none being the chance of anyone overtaking it in the near future.

(Read about FC Barcelona and their search for back-to-back trebles)


The term ‘Greatest of all time’ has a notorious history of being used casually and prematurely in a lot of cases. So in the case of MSN, we can safely conclude that the jury is still out. Can they be the greatest of all time? You can bet on your hard-earned dollar they can. It would take another few years of European and domestic dominance to put an a conclusive end to the debate. Fortunately, their consistency hasn’t dropped down even a bit. After rigorously honing their skills over the years, MSN have blossomed into something so special, that the footballing world wishes there is no end to this extravaganza.

All Images Courtesy: © Wikipedia

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