Five of the most unlikely league title wins in the top 5 European Leagues
Everybody loves an underdog; especially when all the silverware competes amongst only the traditional powerhouses in European football. Off late, all the leagues across Europe are proving to be something which is far beyond reach, to the so-called mid-table clubs. These are often clubs which do not have the capability to compete with the top clubs in terms of wealth or squad depth. What they all have in common, however, is a loyal fan base and an eager set of players hungry for success. And hence, we have witnessed quite a few Davids slaying their Goliath competitors on their way to be etched in football folklore.
Here is a look at five such instances:
5. VfL Wolfsburg (2008-09, Germany)
Ever since the German Bundesliga was conceived in 1963, there have possibly not been a more dramatic campaign than VfL Wolfsburg’s title-winning one in the 2008-09 season. Having been promoted to the top flight only in the late nineties, Die Wölfe finished a couple of points ahead of Bayern Munich in that historic season. The Bavarian giants had incidentally won seven league titles in the previous ten years.
The ex-Bayern and Fulham gaffer Felix Magath was at the helm of the Volkswagen-owned club, who literally changed the fortunes of a side which was realistically not gunning for a title even in its dizziest dreams. A spate of new players was bought, including Christian Gentner, Josue, Zvjezdan Misimovic and the striker duo of Bosnian Edin Dzeko and Brazilian Grafite. The duo was bought for a combined fee of less than EUR 10m, as they powered Wolfsburg to a historic triumph, scoring a record 54 league goals and becoming the most successful strike partnership in the Bundesliga.
4. Montpellier (2011-12, France)
The current one-club domination in Ligue 1 in France is something entirely down to the money power of the Qatari Sports Investment which purchased PSG in the year 2011. In their bid for instant returns, they appointed Carlo Ancelotti as the manager in 2012, only to fail in their league campaign to surprise champions Montpellier. The modest club from the south of France had an annual budget of GBP 29m, less than the amount PSG splashed on Javier Pastore.
Under the able tutelage of Rene Girard, Montpellier finished on 82 points ahead of PSG’s 79, before having to bear a nerve-wracking final game against Auxerre. Needing just a draw, the eventual champions found themselves trailing by one goal, as the referee had to stop play thrice owing to crowd disturbances. PSG had come from behind, to win against Lorient, and this was not music to the ears for Montpellier. However, they showed excellent composure to register a famous 2-1 win courtesy John Utaka’s double. Spurred by Olivier Giroud’s 21 goals (he was the leading scorer in the league), Montpellier created history and serves as the perfect antidote to those who moan about rich foreign investors coming into modern football.
3. AS Roma (2000-01, Italy)
The Italian Scudetto, over the past thirty years, has seen an utter dominance from Juventus and the Milan teams. However, the capital city of Rome ushered in the turn of the millennium gleefully as its clubs and arch-enemies Lazio and AS Roma won the Serie A in consecutive years. Roma’s win was one of a kind though, as the side managed by Fabio Capello was toiling hard to finish in the first four prior to their incredible season. Inspired by their icon Francesco Totti and the Argentine superstar Gabriel Batistuta, the Giallorossi found its way into the history books.
Lauded for its fluidity, the Roma team boasted of great attacking prowess and defensive stability. The season had its fair share of ups and downs, with Juventus and Lazio making matters tough for the Romans, only for Capello’s team to play some sumptuous football and grab the Scudetto title.
2. Atletico Madrid (2013-14, Spain)
The La Liga has almost always been a hegemony of either Real Madrid or FC Barcelona, with other teams rarely coming into the picture. The fact that Atletico Madrid managed to challenge their oligopolistic reign speaks volumes about the dedication and perseverance of their Argentine manager, Diego Simeone, who carved out a signature style of play to create history. Heralded as a club legend in his playing days, Simeone masterminded Atletico’s surge in one of the most exciting La Liga seasons of all time.
Atleti winning their first La Liga in 18 years was mainly down to their stupendous defensive record of having conceded merely 26 goals. With Thibaut Courtois, Diego Godin, Gabi, Koke and Diego Costa proving to make the difference, the Rojiblancos’ 24.6 tackles per game showed their ability to regain possession and stunt counterattacks. They deservedly claimed the title in the last league match with Barca at Camp Nou, which ended 1-1.
1. Leicester City (2015-16, England)
Easily one of the most breathtaking stories in the history of English football, Leicester City were touted to be relegated and were 5000/1 outsiders as per the bookies, to win the title. Proving to be the Italian Claudio Ranieri’s first ever major league title, the Foxes became part of a narrative that belongs to an entirely different era altogether (Nottingham Forest were the last first-time winners in 1978).
Leicester’s success under the Italian will arguably go down as one of the biggest sporting achievements and it might actually be difficult to comprehend the sheer absurdity of them being crowned as the champions of England in 2016. The likes of Wes Morgan, N’golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater, Shinji Okazaki, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy were the toasts of the town, as Leicester managed to shun the challenge of a determined Tottenham Hotspur and created the most beautiful underdog story there is.
Cover picture credits: Goal.com