One season wonders

by Pete Sharland

Manchester City ChampionsAcross Europe there are always teams that dominate the list of title winners over recent years. In England we have Arsenal, Chelsea and now two sides from Manchester. In Spain it has always been Barcelona and Real Madrid. In Germany it has traditionally been Bayern Munich but they have recently been joined by Borussia Dortmund. For Italy the two Milan teams and Juventus have dominated the recent scene whilst in France Lyon and Marseille were in charge before PSG started to spend their money. For Portugal the big three has always been Porto, Benfica and Sporting Lisbon.

There are though, always those who break the strangle hold that the top teams have. Sometimes they float around the top of the table for a few more seasons and sometimes they drop back down almost immediately. Here are some of the most memorable.

Since the Premier League’s inception in the 1992/3 season there have only been five different winners. Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have all won multiple titles but it is the other two who have only won one each. In the last season of there being 22 teams in the Premier League it was little Blackburn Rovers who won their first English title in 81 years. Not too dissimilar to the titles gained at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad, Rovers were financially backed by their owner, Sir Jack Walker. When he took over in 1991 Blackburn were languishing in the old Second Division but just a few years later he had assembled one of the finest squads in Europe, rebuilt the stadium and had won the English title. Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton were the main men during their season and they were expertly managed by Kenny Dalglish. Then of course last season we had one of the most memorable finishes to a Premier League season ever. Few will forget the drama at the Etihad as Sergio Aguero’s late winner against QPR secured Manchester City their first Premier League title under Roberto Mancini and their first title for 44 years. A dramatic title win but one that was expected given the money that had been pumped into the club. Money is no guarantee however as Blackburn can prove all too well. Now under the confused ownership of Venky’s Blackburn are currently 15th in the Npower Championship and will have to try again to return to the Premier League.

In Spain the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona is rarely broken but at the turn of the millennium plucky little Deportivo managed it. La Coruña had finished runners up in successive seasons from 1993-95 but even still few expected the side from the small town to actually claim the title. Thanks largely to the 22 goals of Roy Makaay Deportivo took the title by five points finishing ahead of Barcelona. Then at the start of the new millennium Valencia managed to claim the title twice in the 01/02 season and then in the 03/04 season. Led both times by Rafa Benitez both were fairly unexpected titles but thoroughly deserved following a string of impressive performances. Today Deportivo sit bottom of La Liga in their first season back following a disappointing relegation. For Valencia times are tight as they are currently 5th but locked in an extremely close race for the fourth Champions League spot. Financial insecurity has hit the side and they have suffered an amazing number of key departures over recent seasons but Ernesto Valverde managed to keep the side challenging and they are still one of Spain’s elite.

As far as German football is concerned there is only one club. Bayern Munich have won 22 titles (13 more than their nearest rival) and look set to claim title number 23 this season. They aren’t impervious however and a couple of times over recent years their defence has been broken. In 2001/02 Borussia Dortmund stole the title from right under Bayer Leverkusen’s noses. In one of the most famous meltdowns in sporting history Leverkusen managed to go from being on the brink of three trophies to losing all of them and finishing the season with nothing. In the 2003/04 season the Brazilian Ailton led Werder Bremen to the title with an impressive 28 goals. The journeyman striker was pivotal in Thomas Schaff’s side alongside Ivan Klasnic. The 2006/07 season saw perhaps one of the greatest title stories as an extremely young Stuttgart side came from nowhere to claim the title. They lost their opening game 3-0 and were in the relegation zone after a few games but managed to recover and then won their final eight league matches to secure their status as champions. This season was also notable as Mario Gomez’s first successful goal-scoring season that led to the forward being named as the German footballer of the year. In 2008/09 Wolfsburg came out of nowhere to claim their first ever title playing with an exceptionally talented side. Led by Felix Magath Wolfsburg won the title on the final day of the season thanks to a 5-1 over Werder Bremen and the squad contained notable players such as the league’s top scorer Grafite, Edin Dzeko,  Zvjezdan Misimovic and Andrea Barzagli. All four teams are still in the top division of German football but are certainly in different places. Whilst Borussia Dortmund are very much one of the top teams in Germany sadly the other three are currently all next to each other in 12th-14th place.

Just under half of all the Italian Championships have been shared between Juventus, Milan and Inter and this has been especially true of recent times. For two seasons however from 1999-2001 Rome was the city in charge as first Lazio and then Roma won the top division. The settlement of the 1999-2000 season was full of controversy as Lazio won the title on the final day. Juventus started the day two points clear but they lost 1-0 away at Perugia on a terrible pitch whilst Lazio won 3-0 at home in sunny Rome. Many considered the pitch at Perugia unplayable but it was of no concern to Lazio as they secured only their second title. The following season, determined not to be outdone by their arch rivals it was Roma who claimed the title with Juventus again being narrowly edged out. In a season famous for the passport scandal with two of Roma’s players involved Gabriel Batistuta led the line for Roma notching an impressive 20 goals. Roma and Lazio currently occupy the 5th and 7th spots in Serie A and whilst you always feel the former could mount a title challenge they are both still some way behind current Champions Juventus.

From 2001 to 2008 Lyon were the undisputed kings of France. That is all changing now and the past four seasons have seen four different champions. First to break the Lyon monopoly were Bordeaux who won the title in 2008/09 in a similar vein to Stuttgart. On the way to claiming their 6th title Bordeaux won their last eleven games in a row and took the title from Marseille on the final day of the season. Marseille had their revenge though as they captured the title the following season leaving Bordeaux to finish 14 points behind the eventual champions in 6th. In a season where Marseille also claimed the Coupe de Ligue Mamadou Niang was the standout performer with 18 goals in 29 appearances to leave the Senegalese forward as the division’s top scorer. Like Bordeaux though Marseille couldn’t reclaim their title and were left to watch and finish in second place behind eventual champions Lille. Two men stood out during their campaign and like last season the league’s top scorer ended up being Senegalese as Moussa Sow scored 25 league goals to aid Lille’s cause. He was ably assisted by the division’s player of the year Eden Hazard. The young Belgian terrorised defences with his incredible array of dribbling and acceleration. Then last season Montpellier, a team with one of the smallest budgets in the league won the title ahead of free-spending PSG in dramatic fashion. The title came largely thanks to impressive performances from Olivier Giroud and Younes Belhanda. Now though times are different as Giroud has left and Belhanda looks set to follow him. Montpellier are currently 7th in Ligue 1 whilst Bordeaux are two places below them. Marseille are still one of France’s big guns and they currently lie second in the table, five points behind PSG. Lille have lost a lot of their title winning side but they are still 6th in the league.

Portugal have had only eight different champions in 91 championships and astonishingly 83 of those have been won by Benfica (32), Porto (29) and Sporting (22). The last time the trilogy was broken was in the 2000/01 season and it was the first time since 1946. Led by Jaime Pacheco it was an incredible feat Boavista as they claimed the title playing some attractive football. With the best defence in the league Boavista only lost three times over the course of the whole season. Times are harder now with the club languishing in 9th place in the Portuguese third division.

Some remarkable stories of underdogs fighting against the odds and some stark realities about how brutal football can be. A lot of these champions may never recapture their former glories and their one time success could be all they have to look back on. For others a new trophy is just around the corner but it is important to remember that football can be an extremely unpredictable sport. Few will have predicted these successes and despite the increasing influence of money in the game there are still those, like Montpellier for example who can earn success without spending a fortune.

3 Responses

  1. Justin Cormick Justin Cormick says:

    What about Champions League one-hit-wonders, the likes of Porto in 2004, Dortmund in 1997, or even Ajax in 95. I would love to see a ‘smaller’ club win the tournament, or even make the finals, instead of just Barcelona, Manchester United, etc. Maybe Chelsea will prove to be a one-hit-wonder with the Champions League.

    1. Pete Sharland Pete Sharland says:

      It’s a good point. This season I genuinely think Juventus or Dortmund could end up winning it and whilst that’s not a huge shock it would make a change to the usual suspects

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