I know we’re into the new year and the new decade now, but these decade-orientated videos are still proving popular, and the people get what the people want here at HITC Sevens. Last week I did a video looking at which teams have suffered the steepest falls from grace this decade, which supporters of said clubs said they found to be deeply depressing.
So on a lighter note, today I’m switching up the mood with a look at seven clubs who have made huge strides in terms of improvement during the 2010’s. Over a period of ten years, there is no shortage of teams who have come on leaps and bounds. I’ve had to whittle all those teams down to just seven, and I’ve no doubt that there’ll be some teams I’ve either overlooked or haven’t considered at all, so let us know your suggestions in the comments.
Here are seven football clubs who enjoyed meteoric rises in the 2010’s:
7. Salford City
I tried to focus this seven on teams in the top flights of Europe’s top five leagues, through fear that if I include lower league British clubs, there will undoubtedly be lower league rises in other countries that I am less familiar with and as such I could be accused of being a little British-centric. The one exception to that rule is Salford City, whose rise over the last ten years I felt was worthy of a place in this seven.
Founded in 1940 as Salford Central, Salford had never played league football up until 2019. At the start of the decade, the club finished 11th in the Northern Premier League Division One North, which is the eighth tier of football in England and the fourth tier at non-league level. The following season they finished 13th, then 16th, and lastly 12th in the 2013-14 season.
It was in 2014 that everything changed for Salford City, as a group of players often referred to as Manchester United’s Class of ‘92, including Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt each acquiring 10% of the club. Billionaire Peter Lim purchased the other 50%, although he has since sold 10% of his shares in the club to David Beckham. In the five seasons since, Salford have been promoted four times, investing heavily in both the playing squad, youth development and the club’s Moor Lane ground. Going into the new decade, Salford are now a top half team in League Two, and the club has ambitions of reaching the Premier League over the course of the next ten years.
6. Leicester City
If you’d have told a Leicester City fan in 2010 that over the next 10 years they would win a Premier League title and reach the knockout stages of the Champions League, they would understandably have laughed in your face. The Foxes began the decade with a takeover which saw Milan Mandaric depart and the King Power Group come in. The Thai-led consortium had lofty ambitions, and they weren’t afraid to splash the cash in the East Midlands. In their debut campaign, former England boss Sven Goran Eriksson was brought in to lead the side, whilst the likes of Martyn Waghorn, Darius Vassell and Yakubu were added to the playing staff.
The Foxes went backwards though, finishing 10th in the Championship in the 2010-11 season, and following a poor start to the following campaign, Eriksson was replaced by former boss Nigel Pearson. They finished ninth that season, they made the play-offs the following season, and then in the 2013-14 campaign, the Foxes cruised to a second tier title. Throughout the following season, Leicester looked doomed to relegation, before Pearson orchestrated a remarkable great escape.
Incidents off the pitch saw the current Watford boss dismissed that summer, and he was replaced by Claudio Ranieri. In the 2015-16 season, Leicester pulled off the shock of the decade by winning a Premier League title as 5,000/1 pre-season outsiders. Three mid-table finishes followed, but Leicester now look like a really impressive outfit once again under Brendan Rodgers. They enter the 2020’s in second place in the Premier League.
Do not be fooled into thinking this seven is solely about English clubs, as there have been some tremendous rises elsewhere in the European and indeed in the world game over the last decade as well. Spanish minnows Fuenlabrada are a fine example of that, having begun the decade in the fourth tier of Spanish football. Founded in 1975 in the eighth tier of the Spanish game, prior to the 2010’s, Fuenlabrada had never played in the top two tiers of Spanish football. In 2012, the club won promotion from the Tercera Division into the Segunda División B, where they remained for the next seven seasons.
In 2017-18, Fuenlabrada reached the round of 32 in the Copa del Rey for the first time, and in 2018-19 they finally won promotion into the Segunda Division. In their first season at this level, the club from Madrid currently find themselves in the dizzying heights of fourth place, looking like real candidates for a play-off spot, and who knows even a shot at automatic promotion into La Liga. Fuenlabrada play out of the 6,000 capacity Estadio Fernando Torres, which is named after the former Spanish international who never actually played for Fuenlabrada, but was born in the town.
4. Luton Town
Okay, admittedly we didn’t leave England for long. In fourth place in this seven, being in the second tier isn’t particularly unusual for Luton Town, who finished as high as 7th in the top flight back in the 1980’s. However, when one looks at where the Hatters were at the start of the decade compared to now, it is undoubtedly one of the greatest improvements made by any team in world football.
In 2009, Luton were relegated from the Football League for the first time, having been Football League members since 1920. As such, they began the decade in the fifth tier of English football, which was then known as the Conference and is now known as the National League. It was in the Conference that Luton spent the first half of the decade, never finishing lower than 7th but failing to win promotion on four occasions.
An emphatic 2013-14 campaign finally saw the return of league football to Kenilworth Road, and four consecutive top half finishes in League Two followed. The Hatters did some really good business in the summer of 2017, and in the 2017-18 campaign, they returned to the third tier of English football for the first time since 2008. They didn’t stick around for long, making it back-to-back promotions last season under Nathan Jones and Mick Harford. Luton have made a big jump in a very short amount of time, and survival in the Championship is the Hatters only aim this season – they find themselves in 21st place in the second tier at the time of recording.
3. Sheffield United
Even if they were just having a normal season in the Premier League this term, Sheffield United would be strong candidates for this seven, but the fact that they are competing for a Europa League place going into the New Year means they deservedly take third. The Blades began the decade in the Championship, but they were relegated from the second tier in the 2010-11 season, dropping into League One for the first time since the 1980’s. Despite coming close on many occasions, the four-time FA Cup winners seemed jinxed in the play-offs. In total, Sheffield United spent six seasons in League One before appointing Chris Wilder.
Wilder was born in Sheffield and played over 100 games for the Blades as a player, and he would prove to be the catalyst in their rise through the divisions. A League One title in 2017 was followed by consolidation in the Championship in 2018. Last season, Sheffield United pipped their Yorkshire rivals Leeds United to second place in the Championship, thus securing a Premier League return for the first time in more than a decade. The Blades have the smallest wage budget in the top flight, but Wilder continues to work miracles, and Sheffield United have been outstanding this season. Whilst many wrote them off before a ball was kicked, I thought they had a decent chance of survival with Wilder at the helm, but I certainly didn’t expect the kind of form they’ve shown this season. At the time of recording, the Blades find themselves eighth in the Premier League, one point below Tottenham and two ahead of Arsenal.
Bournemouth have become such regular fixtures in the Premier League that it is all too easy to forget where they have come from and how far Eddie Howe has taken the club. Bournemouth began the decade in League Two, but they won promotion in May 2010. In 2011, Russian businessman Maxim Demin purchased a 50% stake in the club, and Howe was handed some funds to help him operate in the transfer market.
Bournemouth won promotion to the Championship in 2013, and much like Chris Wilder at Sheffield United, Howe had a season of consolidation finishing 10th, before winning yet another promotion this time to the Premier League. Bournemouth had never played top flight football prior to 2015, and the tiny Vitality Stadium looked a little out of place alongside the likes of Old Trafford and the Emirates.
Despite an injury-plagued season, Bournemouth retained their top flight status, and they have replicated that feat in each of the last three seasons. Over the last three campaigns, Bournemouth haven’t just survived, they’ve finished 10+ points above the bottom three and even finished in the top half once. This season looks likely to be more of a struggle, and if the Cherries are to really push on, then they need to move into a bigger ground.
0. Honourable Mentions
As I said, I couldn’t possibly name every side to have made major improvements over the last ten years, and I’d love to hear some of your suggestions in the comments. However, a handful of teams that made my shortlist but just missed out include the likes of Brighton & Hove Albion, Alaves, Eibar and Leganes. There are also teams like Juventus and Liverpool, who have always been massive clubs but were underachieving at the start of the decade but have now returned to the apex of the European game, who I almost included but decided against. Similarly, Manchester City began the decade without a trophy in over 30 years, yet they have won 13 trophies over the last ten years. Okay, and now for your top spot…
1. RB Leipzig
I would love for top spot in this seven to be a complete fairytale story of a club built on the success of academy graduates operating on a shoestring budget and defying all the odds. Sadly, twenty first century football doesn’t really work like that. If this seven proves anything, it is that for the most part, any kind of significant rise in football has to be facilitated by an injection of cash. As impressive as some of the rises in this seven have been, the likes of Salford, Leicester and Bournemouth all had significant takeovers which proved to be catalysts for their rises.
No club has risen more significantly though, and no clubs rise can be more clearly attributable to an ownership change and an injection of cash, than that of RB Leipzig. The 2009-10 season was RB Leipzig’s first in their current guise, with the Red Bull conglomerate having taken off fifth tier side SSV Markranstadt and completing renaming and rebranding them upon their arrival. There was an immediate cash injection and enormous ambition, and Leipzig won promotion from the fifth tier in 2010.
It took three seasons for them to win promotion again, this time into the third tier, but the goals of Daniel Frahn fired them to back-to-back promotions and a place in the 2 Bundesliga. Further investment was made ahead of life in the second tier, and following a fifth place finish in 2015, Leipzig won another promotion in 2016. In their first season in the Bundesliga, now having firmly established themselves as the most hated club in Germany, Leipzig finished as runners-up in the top flight to Bayern Munich. Timo Werner has been Leipzig’s star man since 2016, and his goals helped them to a 6th and 3rd place finish in each of the last two campaigns. At the time of recording, Leipzig currently top the Bundesliga table, four points ahead of Bayern Munich in third and seven ahead of Dortmund in fourth. To go from the fifth tier at the start of the decade to potential Bundesliga champions and regulars in European competition by the end is a rise almost unprecedented within the European game, even if there was absolutely nothing organic about it.