Soccer

Europe’s Fallen Giants

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Plenty of highly decorated clubs in Europe’s top divisions including Schalke, Torino, Newcastle and Nantes are currently staring down the barrel of relegation. Here we look at the clubs who once stood proudly at the top of the mountain and now find themselves stuck outside their nation’s top division, many facing a long road back to the top.

Nottingham Forest

The Peak

Forest spent their first 110 years moving between the top two divisions of English football, rarely contending for major honours until the arrival of Brian Clough in 1975. The outspoken manager took over with Forest marooned in the second division but he secured promotion in 1977. Once in the first division Clough signed Peter Shilton and Forest stunned the footballing world by winning the league at the first attempt. Clough took Forest to even greater heights twelve months later when Trevor Francis made good on being the first million pound footballer by scoring the goal won that won the European Cup. One year later a John Robertson strike against SV Hamburg saw Forest retain their crown as European Champions, just five years after Clough first set foot in the City Ground.

The Fall

Although things receded from that astounding peak Forest remained in the upper echelons of the First Division throughout the ’80s and into the early ’90s, twice winning the League Cup as Clough unearthed new stars in Stuart Pearce, Nigel Clough and Roy Keane. However Forest made a huge mistake selling Teddy Sheringham just three games into the inaugural Premier League season and an ageing Clough couldn’t halt a slide that ended in relegation and he was forced into retirement. Forest bounced back under Frank Clark, winning promotion in 1994 and finishing third in the Premier League in 1995, but two years later they were struggling and relegated again. There would be one more brief return to the Premier League in 1998 but relegation quickly followed and in 2005 Forest fell into the third tier for the first time. Forest spent three years in League One before retuning to the Championship where they’ve remained ever since.

The Outlook

Forest have been through different owners and a staggering 20 managers in the last 10 years. A late season slump saw Forest fall out of the playoff places last season and a dreadful start to this season saw Sabri Lamouchi replaced as manager with Chris Hughton. The experienced manager won promotion with both Brighton and Newcastle and although doubts remain over the commitment of owner Evanegelos Marinakis. With a credible squad on hand Hughton will fancy his chances of returning Forest to the Premier League, if he’s given time.

Kaiserslautern

The Peak

Twice German champions in the 1950s, Kaiserslautern seemed a permanent fixture in the Bundelsiga, enduring near misses both in the cup and Europe in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Their greatest spell began in 1990 when they finally won their first DFB Pokal and a year later claimed the final West German Bundesliga title. They continued to be competitive through the ’90s but 1996 saw the bizarre double of winning their second DFB Pokal and being relegated for the first time in Bundesliga history. That lead to the appointment of Otto Rehhagel who lead them to promotion and then remarkably a second Bundesliga title a year later with a side that included a 37-year-old Andreas Brehme and the up and coming Michael Ballack. Rehhagel left in 2000 but a year later Kaiserslautern came close in Europe losing a tight UEFA Cup semi final to Alaves.

The Fall

Kaiserslautern became a cautionary tale of overspending and gross mismanagement, shortly after the UEFA Cup run a financial scandal erupted and the club’s board were removed. New president Reni Jaggi promised to bring order to the club and uncovered tax evasion and debts that by 2003 had spiralled to over €50million. Star players and the Fritz-Walter Stadion were sold as results plummeted and by 2007 they were again relegated. There would be a brief return to the Bundesliga in 2010 before returning to the second tier in two years later. After a few near misses in the promotion race 2019 saw the two time German champions suffer the indignity of relegation to 3.Liga

The Outlook

The worst part of Kaiserslautern’s fall is they may not have bottomed out. They currently sit 18th in 3 Liga, and fighting to avoid another relegation. The club’s biggest asset remain its die hard fans who when cleared to return to the Fitz-Walter Stadion will number more than 20,000 a game. If they can move back up the divisions Kaiserslautern’s financial problems will ease but it looks a long hard road back to the top.

Deportivo de La Coruna

The Peak

Deportivo had spent most of their history in the Segunda division until the era of ‘Super Depor’ took hold in the early ’90s. They started with promotion to La Liga in 1991 and in the 1993-94 season a team lead by Bebeto and Mauro Silva seemed set for the league title, however a final day drama saw the title lost on an infamous penalty save. The following season saw Deportivo again finish runners up. They did however make the Copa del Rey final and in a bizarre inerrupted final Alfedo Santaelena’s header handed Deportivo their first major honour. The club regressed briefly but the big money signing of striker Roy Makaay in 1999 proved a masterstroke. Makaay scored 22 goals as Deportivo stormed to their only La Liga title in 2000 and finished runners up the next two seasons, whilst goals from Sergio and Diego Tristan saw Deportivo beat Real Madrid to claim a second Copa del Rey crown. In Europe Deportivo became Champions League regulars posting successive quarter final appearances in 2001 and 2002 and a semi final in 2004 where a late penalty for Porto left Deportivo frustratingly one step short of football’s biggest prize

The Fall

That penalty at the Riazor proved the last act of the ‘Super Depor’ era, like Lazio, Leeds and Dortmund the club had over reached financially and one by one the star players (Makaay, Duscher, Donato, Djalminha) were sold or regressed without big names to replace them. In 2011 Deportivo were relegated and began a period of yo-yoing between the top two divisions. Deportivo’s last season in La Liga was 2017-18 and after narrowly missing promotion a year later the ultimate humiliation arrived in 2020 as Deportivo were relegated to Segunda B.

The Outlook

The Riazor was once a ground Europe’s elite feared to tread, this season it’s hosting third tier games. Deportivo aren’t tearing up the lower leagues either, sitting 6th in their group, nine points off the top and a chance of promotion. Poor recruitment and erratic managerial appointments have been the causes of Deportivo’s fall down the pyramid and the latest man trying to reverse the trend is Ruben de la Barrera. The coming seasons’s should see Deportivo punch their weight and at least return to the Segunda and the recent recovery those other overspending clubs of the early 2000s should provide some hope at the Riazor.

AJ Auxerre

The Peak

Guy Roax managed Auxerre for 40 years and established the club as one of France’s top talent academies with Eric Cantona, Djibril Cisse and Phillip Mexes amongst the graduates. In 1994 Roux lead Auxerre to their first major piece of silverware when Moussa Saib’s early goal set them on their way to a 3-0 victory over Montpellier in the Coupe de France final. The summer of 1995 saw Roux sign French international defender Laurent Blanc and with Lillian Laslandes and Corentin Martins proving star turns up front Auxerre won Ligue 1. Incredibly they made it a domestic double when Laslandes grabbed a late winner in the Coupe de France final. Blanc was soon on his way to Barcelona and Auxerre regressed in the league but further cup triumphs in 2003 and 2005 seemed to confirm their place amongst France’s top clubs.

The Fall

Roux’s third and final stint as manager ended after the 2005 Cup triumph, his extraordinary achievements making him an icon the club has struggled to replace. The 2009-10 season saw Auxerre buck the trend of steady decline with a third place finish in Ligue 1, but just two years on they finished bottom of the table, bringing an end to their 32 year say in Ligue 1. Since then Auxerre have struggled in mid table with their surprise run to the 2015 Coupe de France final their only brush with success with (pre-pandemic) crowds at times dropping as low as 5,000.

The Outlook

Things appear to be looking up for Auxerre under the management of Jean-Marc Furlan. The veteran manager has four promotions on his CV, most recently with Brest in 2019 and he currently has Auxerre sitting sixth just outside the playoff places. Owner James Zhou appears to have ambition for the club whilst Roux still takes a keen interest in the club he took to the top and they may finally have found in Furlan the man to take the Burgundy club back to Ligue 1

Hamburger SV

The Peak

Hamburger SV won the league and cup in the 1920s and again in the ’60s but the boom started in the mid ’70s. After winning the 1976 DFB Pokal and subsequent European Cup Winners Cup, Hamburg stunned the football world by signing superstar Kevin Keegan. Under the guidance of Branko Zebec HSV finished second in the Bundesliga in 1978 and won the title a year later whilst Keegan won back to back Ballon d’Or awards. The following season HSV made it to the European Cup final but fell narrowly to Nottingham Forest in Keegan’s last game for the club, by the end of the year Zebec had gone too. However HSV quickly reasserted themselves under Ernst Happel and with Horst Hrubesch leading the attackwon successive Bundesliga titles in 1982 and ’83. Then in May 1983 a Felix Magath goal in Athens proved enough to beat Juventus and finally claim the European Cup.

The Fall

Happel stayed with HSV until 1987, winning the DFB Pokal in his final season. Then came a rapid succession of managers and financial problems that notably saw the sale of star players such as Thomas Doll as HSV tumbled down the Bundesliga table. Frank Pagelsdorf oversaw a brief return to the business end of the table and Champions League football at the turn of the century, but the 21st century has proved unkind and steady decline took hold and in 2018 the unthinkable happened and SV were relegated.

The Outlook

HSV came agonisingly close to promotion in both their first two seasons in Bundesliga 2 but finished fourth on both occasions, last season seeing a late season collapse deny them a playoff berth. HSV are a club in desperate need of stability having gone through 13 managers since 2013. Daniel Thoune is the latest coach trying to restore SV’s fortunes and they are once again in the promotion hunt but again sit second. If they can make it back to the top tier the 57,000 seater Volkspark Stadion is a huge asset but SV area a club in need of a defined style and direction to compete again at the top.

Blackburn Rovers

The Peak

A famous old club who’d experienced success before World War I, Blackburn became the passion project of steel magnet and lifelong fan Jack Walker who bought the club in 1991. Backed by Walker’s millions and managed by Kenny Dalglish, Blackburn were promoted for the inaugural Premier League season. They immediately broke the British transfer record to sign Alan Shearer and repeated the trick to add Chris Sutton two years later as Blackburn became the Premier League’s first big spenders. In May 1995 Walkers’s dream became reality as Blackburn were crowned English champions, becoming only the second club to win the Premier League.

The Fall

After the title triumph Dalglish was moved upstairs whilst assistant Ray Harford oversaw a disastrous start to the new season and Walker was now less willing to spend big. Shearer left for a world record fee in 1996 to begin the break up of the title winning team, culminating in Blackburn’s relegation in 1999, whilst Walker sadly passed away the following year. Blackburn did rebound, securing promotion in 2001 and winning the League Cup a year later. However this was a more frugal era at Ewood Park. The club was sold to the controversial Venky Group in 2010 and the club slid into a tailspin and relegation to the Championship in 2012. Things reached a new low in 2017 when Blackburn suffered the indignity of relegation to League One.

The Outlook

Although the Venkys still own the club, Blackburn bounced straight back to the Championship in 2018 and have secured their place in the second tier. The playoffs have remained frustratingly out of reach but the club has at least found stability and a star in Shearer’s image in Adam Armstrong. However they won’t be challenging for the Premier League title again without another Jack Walker.

Jonathan Fearby

Jonathan Fearby is a United Kingdom native. Prior to joining The Athletes Hub as a staff writer, he founded and operated Football England.

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