Despite football being a global sport, most of the fanfare and fuss is concentrated within Europe’s top five leagues.
If you want a career at the top, you’ve got to be in there. It’s a bit of a façade, though. The global game is home to successful teams across each continent and even within Europe, sides with illustrious trophy cabinets and rabid supports are overlooked.
Celebrating the best of the rest, here are 30 of club football’s biggest sides that sit outside of Europe’s top five leagues.
A club recognised for its appearance in the early stages of the Champions League, Olympiacos are Greek royalty.
78 national trophies and counting, they are the most successful Greek side in history and one of football’s most decorated clubs. You think of football in Greece, you think of these guys.
While they aren’t exactly a household name with fans around the globe like other teams in this list, Al Ahly’s trophy haul and history is a joke.
The Egyptian side are Africa’s most successful domestic side and the most decorated club in the world. 115 domestic honours and 22 African titles, including ten CAF Champions League wins. They deserve the eyes on them.
Formed all the way back in 1893, FC Basel are a historic club with the rich past to back up their hype.
A regular early stage Champions League name, Basel have qualified for the competition more than any other Swiss side and have been national champions of their country just the 20 times. Swiss royalty.
Becoming the first Soviet football club to participate in UEFA competition in 1965, Dynamo Kiev is one of Europe’s most passionately followed sides.
They’ve never been relegated from the Ukrainian top flight and have two European Cup Winners’ Cups to their name and the 1975 UEFA Super Cup to go alongside their domestic honours.
Having shot to popularity following David Beckham’s 2007 transfer to the club, LA Galaxy have since become the face of MLS.
In an ever improving American game, the Galaxy top the lot as the States’ most successful side. They’re also one of the most recognisable brands and have been able to attract plenty of fine players since Beckham. Having only existed since 1994, they’re doing a fine job and will only grow more.
Playing out of the iconic Maracana Stadium that hosted the 2014 World Cup final, Fluminense have never actually managed to become continental champions with a Copa Libertadores win, but still remain rabidly popular.
Fluminense are the club from the city of Rio de Janeiro and have swept up at state level, while always coming armed with an obscene amount of support regardless of competition and success level.
One half of football’s fiercest derbies, Partizan was formed in 1945 from officers of the Yugoslav People’s Army, and went on to become the first Eastern European club to reach the European Cup final in 1966.
Like their rivals, Partizan have a seriously dedicated following within Belgrade and have won 27 national championships. Intense.
It’s impossible to split the two, really. Red Star make up the other half of the Eternal derby and are also renowned for their outrageous cult support.
Red Star is seen as the people’s club in Serbia and have amassed 32 national championships, as well as a monumental 1991 European Cup win.
More commonly known as Chivas, the Mexican outfit are one of the country’s ten founding teams and have never been relegated from the top flight.
Operating with a Mexican players only policy, they produced Javier Hernandez and and have won the top flight 12 times, having also reached the final of the 2010 Copa Libertadores.
Another early stage Champions League regular, the Ukrainian side do exceptionally well to stick around the UEFA competitions so consistently.
Shakhtar won the 2009 UEFA Cup and became known for their policy of bringing Brazilians over into Ukraine and letting them thrive despite the vast climate distance, before selling them on to top sides.
One of Turkey’s big three, while Besiktas remain third in the pecking order for league titles won, they’re by no means a small club.
The rivalry among Turkey’s top three sides is seriously impressive. Besiktas are the oldest of the trio and have never been relegated. They also remain the only side to go an entire season unbeaten in 1991/92. Oh, and their stadium is incredible.
With so many big names in Brazilian football, Palmeiras are a side that go unnoticed somewhat by many.
It does them no justice, though. Based in Sao Paulo, they are one of Brazil’s best supported sides and have won the Brazilian league ten times. Two Copa Libertadores wins are also complimented by a fourth place finish in the 2020 FIFA Club World Cup.
Founded in 1911, CSKA went on a tear of five titles in six seasons following the Second World War and have since become one of Russia’s most recognisable sides, and the home to some fine players through the years.
They won the 2005 UEFA Cup and became the first Russian side to win a treble, and have built sides including Igor Akinfeev, Vagner Love, Yuri Zhirkov and Zoran Tosic.
Famous around the world for being the home of the ever superhuman Pele and more recently the starting point for Neymar, Santos are one of many iconic Brazilian sides.
Football is at its purest in Brazil, Santos have won three Copa Libertadores and been national champions eight times. When you think of Brazilian football, they pop into your head instantly.
Born fairly late in 1930, being of younger age hasn’t stopped Sao Paulo from becoming one of Brazil’s most well supported and popular sides.
Their stadium regularly hosts the final of the Copa Libertadores – a competition they’ve won three times – and has also been used for some of the biggest concerts you could imagine. Sao Paulo break beyond football.
The only other Mexican side to have never been relegated, Club America share an elite and intense rivalry with Chivas; El Super Clasico.
Club America have won a whopping seven CONCACAF Champions League titles on top of their domestic dominance, making them one of the most dominant and impressive sides in the Americas.
A 1964 merger between two local clubs, Brondby reached Denmark’s top flight in 1981 and flew.
By the mid-to-late 1980s, they were becoming Denmark’s strongest outfit and reached the semi-final of the UEFA Cup in just 1991, having put the likes of Michael Laudrup, Peter Schmeichel and Kim Vilfort on the map.
Not only the powerhouse of Swedish and Nordic football, but the epitome of passion and fans and doing football cool.
Malmo are still the only Nordic club to have reached the final of the European Cup, when they lost 1-0 to Nottingham Forest in 1979. They’ve swept up the Swedish division for decades and were the starting point for a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Funnily enough, Corinthians was founded in 1910 by railway workers who were inspired by London-based Corinthian Football Club.
Corinthians were the winners of the first ever FIFA Club World Cup in 2000 and have racked up a whopping 30 state titles in their time. Away from the pitch, they’re one of the most valuable sides in the Americas, and one of the best supported clubs on the planet.
There are hardly any dislikeable Dutch sides, but Feyenoord are known to be the people’s club.
Enjoying their brightest hours in the mid-20th century, they remain one of the Netherlands’ most successful sides and continue to be a hub for bright players young and old, with an illustrious history, huge fanbase and impressive trophy haul.
Similar to Turkey, Portugal deal with an obvious and rather intense big three.
Their third most decorated side, Sporting have the combination of fans, silverware and a healthy list of alumni, notably that Cristiano Ronaldo bloke. They share bragging rights with city rivals Benfica, with both based in Lisbon.
Lighting up the pitch in their yellow and navy colour scheme, Fener have never seen anything less than the Turkish top flight and bring an army of fans with them around the globe, both from Turkey and outside of the nation in Turkish communities.
Based in Istanbul, Fenerbahce have won 28 Turkish championships and have seen the depths of European competition. They made the 2008 Champions League quarter finals and the last four of the 2013 Europa League.
24 Eredivisie wins and two golden eras that saw them become European champions twice, PSV have seen it all.
Star players in the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo, Ruud Gullit and more, PSV are underrated and overlooked within the Dutch football landscape. They’re immensely cool, and have the honour of having won the European Cup in 1988 to secure themselves a treble. Iconic.
Some three hours up the coast from their rivals, Porto quietly stack up as Portugal’s second most decorated side with a unique European feat.
Porto are one of the few sides to have won the Champions League, Europa League and Super Cup, a fine feat on top of their already bursting domestic cabinet. Streets won’t forget a young Jose Mourinho taking them to glory in 2003/04.
They’ve just knocked Celtic off their perch and don’t look like budging for a while under Steven Gerrard. But Rangers’ overall success in Scotland is legendary.
They’ve won their domestic league 55 times, the Scottish Cup 33 times and were the first British club to reach the final of a UEFA competition back in 1961. There have been some financial issues in the recent past but they’re back on their way up now.
The top of the Turkish pile, Galatasaray claim bragging rights in Istanbul.
Gala remain the only Turkish side to have won European honours, sweeping up the UEFA Cup and the Super Cup on their way to a quadruple in 2000. They’re the face of Turkish football from the outside, and have the 22 league titles to back it up.
An entry too easily forgotten about, Celtic are overlooked with them sitting in the Scottish Premier League.
Having dominated domestically for the most part – tussling with Rangers and switching between cycles – they became the first British side to win the European Cup in 1967 and have a mammoth fan base, while still showing up in European competitions.
Playing out of the iconic La Bombonera in Argentina, Boca Juniors are the ultimate fans club. Passion is more important than the results, but they get both right.
They hold the third most international titles in football and have some 70 domestic honours to go alongside that feat also. Combine that with their fierce rivalries and frenzied fanbase, they’re one of football’s most fascinating sides.
Sharing Lisbon with Sporting, Benfica are a storied and tremendous club all round.
As Águias dominated football through the 1960s and have reached a record ten European finals in their time. Home to Eusebio and, oh yeah, 37 top flight league titles. Thirty-seven.
One of fooball’s most iconic and loved clubs, Ajax tops the list.
Home of Total Football, Ajax is the Netherlands’ most successful side and introduced the game to some of the finest players to grace it; think Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten. You can always count on the side to build a talented, youthful squad and creep into the deep end of Europe, honouring their rich past. It’s very hard not to like them.