The unpredictability of sport is one of the reasons why it is so popular, and whilst the finances in football threaten to make it a bit of a closed shop at the highest level, this last decade proves that it is still possible for minnows to rise and for giants to fall.
With just a couple of days remaining this decade, today we’re taking a look at a number of football clubs who have had decades to forget. If this video proves to be popular, I’d be more than happy to do a similar one on seven national team declines this decade, seven most improved teams this decade or indeed both.
Here are 7 football teams who have suffered the steepest declines this decade:
Starting out in Germany, there are a number of German clubs who have fallen from grace since 2010. Hamburg began the decade by finishing 7th in the Bundesliga and reaching the semi-finals of the Europa League, yet they end it having lost their record as the only mainstay in the Bundesliga having been relegated in 2018 and yet to bounce back. Similarly, Hannover 96 finished fourth in the Bundesliga in 2010-11, and seventh the following season, yet they will end the decade in the bottom half of the second tier having suffered a second relegation in four seasons in 2019.
Those two both made my shortlist, but the German club that has fallen the furthest since 2010 is FC Kaiserslautern. The four-time title winners finished 7th in the Bundesliga in the 2010-11 season, as well as reaching the quarter-finals of the DFB-Pokal. Bizarrely, they followed that up by getting relegated from the Bundesliga, and they haven’t been back since. To make matters worse, following six seasons in the 2 Bundesliga, Kaiserslautern were relegated again down into the third tier in 2018. It’s an enormous fall from grace for a club with a ground that can hold just shy of 50,000 people, and Kaiserslautern could only manage a ninth place finish in the 3 Liga last season, and they are ninth once again at the midway point this season.
Sunderland's Jordan Willis during the Sky Bet League One match between Sunderland and Lincoln City at Stadium of Light on January 4, 2020 in Sunderland, England.
Not too dissimilar to Kaiserslautern, Sunderland are another historically big club with an enormous stadium who began the decade in the top flight but will end it in the third. Other English clubs who could have featured include the likes of Arsenal, who have gone from stalwarts in the top four to the bottom half at the time of recording, Stoke City, who spent the majority of this decade as a very solid Premier League team but are now in real danger of dropping down into League One, Blackpool, who were in the Premier League in 2010-11 but are now 10th in League One, Portsmouth, who were FA Cup finalists and a Premier League side at the start of the decade but are now also mid-table in League One, and of course Bury and their sad demise earlier this year.
Those are five honourable mentions from England, but Sunderland are the first of three English clubs to make the seven itself. A mammoth football club who have won as many top flight league titles as Manchester City and Chelsea, Sunderland began the decade as a comfortable Premier League side. They recorded their highest league finish in a decade in 2010-11, finishing in 10th place under Steve Bruce in the Premier League.
From 2012-13 onwards though, it was just a matter of survival for the Black Cats. They staged numerous great escapes, seemingly orchestrated by a new saviour every season, until the task became too great in 2016-17. Sunderland were relegated in last place in the Premier League, but a much deeper rot had set in. The following season, they finished last once again, this time dropping into the third tier for the first time since the 1980’s. The Black Cats are now looking to rebuild, but following a play-off final defeat last season, they’re struggling in League One this season, currently in 15th place.
5. Manchester United
Staying in England, Manchester United may not have dropped down two divisions like Sunderland, but relative to their standing at the start of the decade, their decline has arguably been even more severe. At the start of this decade, Manchester United were titans of the English, European and world games. Sir Alex Ferguson made the club the dominant force within the English game during the Premier League era, and they reached the Champions League final in 2009 and 2011, denied only by an awe-inspiring Barcelona side.
Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 having just won his 13th Premier League title, and Manchester United hadn’t finished outside the top two since 2005, and they hadn’t finished outside the top three since 1991. In the six seasons since 2013, United have only finished in the top three once, and even then they were a million miles away from the title winners Manchester City.
The likes of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have all tried to make Manchester United great again, with varying degrees of success. Former United goal getter Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is now the man at the helm, and his team are in 7th place right now, having finished 6th last season. You couldn’t really find a better indication of how far Manchester United have fallen than the fact that they are currently seventh in the league, below Sheffield United, and that doesn’t seem that extraordinary.
4. AC Cesena
OROGEL STADIUM DINO MANUZZI, CESENA, ITALY - 2019
Italian football clubs tend to be more volatile than most, and Inter Milan were only spared from featuring in this seven due to the fact they’re now challenging for the Serie A title under Antonio Conte, meanwhile Catania could easily have featured having gone from mid-table in Serie A at the start of the decade to mid-table in Group C of the Serie C table now, whilst Bari could have an even stronger case, having finished 10th in the Serie A table in the 2009-10 season before twice being forced to be re-form during the 2010’s and now playing in Serie D.
Whilst the aforementioned trio just missed out, AC Cesena aren’t so fortunate. Founded in 1940, Cesena finished 15th in Serie A in the 2010-11 season. They were relegated the following season, but despite already being a club in crisis, they won promotion back into Serie A in the 2013-14 campaign. They were unsurprisingly relegated in 2015, and although they finished sixth in Serie B in 2016, the club was in big trouble.
In 2017-18, despite finishing mid-table in Serie B, the club declared bankruptcy and eventually folded. A phoenix club, Cesena FC, was founded 2018, and they currently rank mid-table in Group B of Serie C, having won promotion from Serie D in their debut campaign as a club last season.
3. AC Milan
I said Italian clubs were volatile, and we’re sticking in Italy in third place. AC Milan may still exist as we head into 2020, but there have been times over the last ten years when their fans may have wished that they didn’t. It seems like lightyears ago now, but AC Milan actually began the decade with a Serie A title. They were crowned as Italian champions in the 2010-11 season, finishing second the following season and third in the campaign after that.
The Rossoneri still had a star-studded squad at the start of the decade, boasting the likes of Robinho, Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Silva, Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Many were soon to depart, and an era of underachievement was to come. In the 2013-14 season, AC Milan dropped to an 8th place finish, their worst league performance since 1998, and the following year they fell even further down to 10th.
We’re now closing in on a decade of AC Milan decline, with the club having failed to finish in the top four since 2013. Following a very slow rise up to fifth last season, any good work looks to have been undone at the midway point this season, with the club languishing in 11th place and recently having suffered their worst defeat in 21 years in a 5-0 defeat to Atalanta. AC Milan are a fallen giant, and right now they’re far closer to dropping into Serie B than they are to competing with Juventus or their crosstown rivals Inter Milan for a Serie A title.
2. Bolton Wanderers
Bolton Wanderers' Daryl Murphy (right) celebrates scoring his side's second goal with team mate Thibaud Verlinden
Bolton Wanderers is a club that has spent much of its existence in the top flight, and they were a really decent Premier League outfit between 2001 and 2012. Particularly under Sam Allardyce, Bolton attracted some brilliant players like Youri Djorkaeff, Nicolas Anelka and Jay-Jay Okocha to the English game, and what was then known as the Reebok Arena was a really tough place to go. Allardyce departed in 2007, but Bolton were still pretty much a mid-table Premier League side at the start of the decade.
That came to an end in the 2011-12 season, as Owen Coyle’s Trotters were narrowly relegated in 18th place. Four seasons in the Championship followed, without a top six finish, before relegation down into League One. The club won promotion in 2017, but having stayed up by the skin of their teeth in the 2017-18 campaign, they were soundly relegated last season, finishing a whopping 12 points from safety.
Bolton has faced severe financial struggles since 2015, lumbering from one crisis to another. In May 2019, the club entered administration and was looking in serious danger of being expelled from the EFL. New ownership saved their status, but they were handed a five point deduction, which means they’re currently dead last in League One and looking almost certain to suffer a fourth relegation since 2010 at the end of the season, this time into the fourth tier for only the second time in the club’s 145 year history.
1. FC Dnipro
A number of clubs have not just declined but actually ceased to exist this decade, but none bigger than FC Dnipro. Dnipro finished in the top four of the Ukrainian Premier League every season from 2009-10 to 2015-16, with the change in format for the 2016-17 campaign due to the military conflicts in Ukraine coinciding with their demise.
In May 2015, Dnipro reached the final of the Europa League, where they were narrowly beaten by Sevilla. Dnipro beat the likes of Saint-Etienne, Olympiacos, Ajax, Club Brugge and Napoli in an incredible route to the final, in what was the finest achievement in the club’s history and among the finest in the history of Ukrainian football.
However, controversial owner Ihor Kolomyskyi was soon to pull all funding from the club, thus signalling the beginning of the end. The exact situation at Dnipro is a complex one, but ultimately they suffered multiple relegations, some of which were enforced, before stating that the club had been liquidated in June 2019. A phoenix club has now been set up which competes in the amateur leagues of Ukrainian football, whilst another club based in Dnipro has become a force within the Ukrainian Premier League.
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