First XI

Fall from grace

July 7, 2011
By James Dall
(Archive)

Following Argentine giants River Plate's recent relegation, First XI looks at teams that have ridden the painful rollercoaster of a fall from grace.

Blackburn relegated 1999
GettyImagesBlackburn suffered relegation in 1999, just four years after winning the league title

Blackburn

The formation of the Premier League in 1992 also marked Blackburn's return to the top flight after a 26-year absence. And with English owner Jack Walker backing the club financially, the immediate future for Rovers looked bright. Indeed, prolific striker Alan Shearer was brought to Ewood Park for an English transfer record fee of £3.2 million to spearhead their comeback.

After finishing fourth in the 1992-93 season, Blackburn impressed further the year after. Kenny Dalglish's men were runners-up, just eight points behind Manchester United, marking their highest league position for almost 80 years.

And they achieved the unthinkable a year on. With Shearer partnering new £5 million signing Chris Sutton up front, Rovers claimed league glory against all the odds. However, sadly for the club, a fall from grace was only round the corner.

Four years later, with Brian Kidd at the helm, Blackburn were relegated - despite the millions spent. Reflecting on the late Walker's time as Blackburn owner, Tony Parkes, who took over from Kidd in 1999, said: "Jack could have walked away, but he didn't. He went with the relegated team and tried to make it better."

Corinthians

In 2007, Brazilian club Corinthians were relegated following a 1-1 draw with Gremio. This low-point followed a controversial partnership deal with London-based Media Sports Investments (MSI) agreed three years earlier.

Amid allegations of a betting scandal and a fraught relationship between MSI and the club, which saw investments drying up following the high-profile arrivals of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, supporters were left disillusioned. At management level matters were also messy, the club having had seven different coaches in 18 months.

However, Corinthians have lifted the Campeonato Brasileiro four times - the last being in 2005 - and were also victorious at FIFA's Club World championship in 2000. Thankfully for the club, the 2009 Campeonato Paulista (their 26th title) put them back in the spotlight after a season of ignominy in Serie B.

FC Nurnberg

Under coach Max Merkel, Nurnberg claimed glory in the 1967-68 Bundesliga campaign, and they did it in convincing fashion. From the fifth week of the season onwards Nurnberg dominated, remaining top of the table from thereon. It proved a fine, and first, success for the club.

But their fortunes turned rather sour the season after. Defending their title, the club faltered. The summer before the campaign kick-off saw some key names depart, spelling concern, and speculation of a fall-out between Merkel and some of his players did little to ease the fears.

After some very poor form, Nurnberg chose to part company with Merkel in March. But it proved too little, too late for the German club, with relegation to the second division confirmed as they finished a point adrift of safety.

The spiral proved tough for Nurnberg to take as it took them nine years to return to Germany's top flight. Supporters of the club have since had to get used to the despair of demotion, having been relegated a record seven times from the Bundesliga.

Greece

Only Arsene Wenger saw it coming. Seven years ago, 50-1 outsiders Greece won Euro 2004 in one of football's greatest ever shocks. It was the country's first major title.

Forward Angelos Charisteas emerged as a national hero as his goal in the final slayed hosts Portugal, while German coach Otto Rehhagel was hailed for masterminding the triumph. "The Greeks have made football history. It's a sensation," said Rehhagel.

Understandably, after winning Euro 2004, Greece were tipped to impress at the 2006 World Cup. However, they failed to qualify. Yet two years later, Euro 2008 presented the Greeks with a chance to redeem their embryonic reputation and also defend their title.

But Greece lost all three games at the finals, scoring only one goal. They became the first defending European champion not to earn a single point. "Our problem is that we score so few goals," said Rehhagel, who left his role as manager in 2010.

Leeds relegated 2004
EmpicsLeeds were demoted from England's top flight in 2004 as their debts spiralled out of control

Leeds United

In the 1997-98 campaign Leeds clinched UEFA Cup football. Then in late 1998, David O'Leary took over from George Graham and achieved the same feat. The club's rise continued in the 1999-00 term as third place was secured, and with it qualification for the Champions League, while they reached their first European semi-final for 25 years.

Cue the 2000-01 season as Leeds spent big, with the likes of Rio Ferdinand joining for £18 million. An impressive squad fought its way to the final four of the Champions League. Domestically, though, Leeds failed to clinch a top-three finish.

Loans were taken out by chairman Peter Ridsdale to cushion the blow of the disappointment. Almost £100 million had been spent on players, but only fifth was achieved. And so the sales of star names followed while O'Leary left his role in 2002. Leeds were relegated from the top flight in 2004.

The club announced debts of nearly £80 million and Ridsdale resigned as chairman. Things got no better as, in 2007, Leeds were demoted to League One and third-tier football for the first time in their 87-year history. Ridsdale said: "Everyone seems to forget that I left in 2003 and there were three other chairmen before Ken Bates took over in 2005, and they never get mentioned."

Manchester United

Sir Matt Busby left a legacy at United as his first stint at the club saw him bring stunning glory to Old Trafford. Indeed, during his 24 years in charge between 1945-1969, Busby led United to five first division titles, two FA Cup trophies and a European Cup - the club's first.

Reflecting on Busby's achievements, in particular the way in which he reacted both immediately after World War II and the Munich tragedy, current United boss Sir Alex Ferguson said: "It has been frozen into the memory bank. I think of Sir Matt Busby as being here forever. He started at the end of the war and went right through to winning the European Cup in 1968. The time-span seems to be much longer than mine."

So when Busby retired from his position in 1969, canoe-sized shoes were left to fill. And, after a succession of replacements, United were relegated under Tommy Docherty's stewardship. Further salt was rubbed into the demotion wound after United legend Denis Law came back to haunt his former club, scoring at Old Trafford when playing for bitter rivals City on the day the Red Devils' fate was confirmed.

Marseille

From 1988-93 Marseille ruled the roost. The French giants built one of the most fearsome sides in footballing history and duly conquered most that they met under the stewardship of Bernard Tapie who was appointed as president in 1986 and began constructing a staggering squad.

Highlights of the additions included Jean-Pierre Papin, Didier Deschamps, Marcel Desailly and Eric Cantona, while at a coaching level Franz Beckenbauer was brought in. Needless to say, Marseille won four successive league titles. Then in 1993, the club lifted the Champions League trophy, becoming the first French team to become European victors as they defeated AC Milan in the final thanks to Basile Boli's goal.

However, l'OM were later involved in a match-fixing scandal, after allegations Tapie had bribed French club Valenciennes FC into throwing a league game to allow them to win the title and therefore have more preparation time to concentrate on the aforementioned Milan meeting.

Marseille were duly stripped of the French title for the 1992-93 season, relegated to Ligue 2 and banned from participation in European football for the following season. A decade of decline followed.

Monaco

Monaco used to be quite the French force, the club having won seven league titles. Also on their honours list are five Coupe de France triumphs and a Coupe de la Ligue success. Furthermore, the club reached the 2004 Champions League final, only to be beaten by Porto.

Last season, however, Monaco were condemned to Ligue 2 after finishing 18th in the division. Their first relegation in 35 years was confirmed after a 2-0 home loss to Lyon on the final day of the campaign as Pape Malickou Diakhate and Lisandro Lopez put the final nails in Monaco's proverbial coffin.

In truth, Monaco have been a side on the wane since they were crowned as French champions in 2000. While they collected two cup trophies, their league displays have been poor since 2005, having failed to finish higher than eighth.

Pele New York Cosmos
GettyImagesPele catapulted football into the American limelight when he joined New York Cosmos

New York Cosmos

American side New York Cosmos are famous for their lofty ambition demonstrated in the 70s. In 1975 they sealed quite the remarkable coup as they landed long-term target Pele for a handsome sum, the world's best player inking a three-year contract worth $2.8 million.

Pele's impact was impressive, as he helped boost the average NASL attendance by almost 80%. "We had superstars in the United States but nothing at the level of Pele," said John O'Reilly, the club's media spokesman. "Everyone wanted to touch him, shake his hand, get a photo with him."

The Brazilian helped Warner Communications-owned Cosmos lift a title in 1977 as he was joined at the club by Lazio star Giorgio Chinaglia. The same year, Pele retired.

Pele's leaving of the Cosmos marked a steady decline for the club and the NASL off the field. Such was the lure of Pele that a division without the folklore felt empty and less captivating. The Cosmos, meanwhile, had financial issues of their own, with stars soon heading for the exit doors. Money soon started being pulled out of the league, and in 1984 it folded.

River Plate

River have been Argentine champions a record 33 times. But in the 2010-11 season they were relegated from the Primera Division for the first time in their 110-year history. They had been one of only three clubs never to have dropped out of the top flight.

The club's reputation as South American heavyweights is felt around the world, although a closer look at their recent league positions demonstrates a side on the decline, despite them winning the Clausura in 2008. Indeed, River have dwindled since then.

A rotten last campaign culminated in a decisive play-off against Nacional B side Club Atletico Belgrano. They headed into the second meeting following a 2-0 defeat in the first leg, knowing a tie on aggregate would save them. Yet River only managed a 1-1 draw in a game where Mariano Pavone missed a penalty. Emotions were high post the final whistle; some players and fans in tears, whilst others vented via violence.

The national daily, Clarin, wrote: "No-one, absolutely no-one, will be able to forget this day." Juan Jose Lopez resigned as manager shortly after the demotion, while Daniel Passarella, the club's current president and one of their all-time greatest players, said: "We will resist (the critics). We will reformulate the club from now on." River are said to be in £12 million of debt.

Verona relegated
GettyImagesVerona suffered the heartbreak of relegation despite boasting a fine set of players

Verona

Verona flirted with tangible glory in 1976 when the Italian club reached the Coppa Italia final. And in the early 80s they came close once more, making the aforementioned showpiece in 1983 and 1984, but suffering heartbreak on both occasions. Indeed, it seemed Verona would always be the nearly-men of Italian football.

However, during the 1984-85 season the club finally tasted success. Verona claimed the Serie A title, much to the joy of their die-hard supporters. They also dabbled in Europe to cap a fantastic time for the team. But agony was on the horizon.

Financial meltdown crippled the club, and in 1991 the team folded before being reborn as 'Verona FC'. They returned to the title 'Hellas Verona FC' four years later. The team held on to their top-flight status until 2002 when relegation was suffered, despite the squad boasting the likes of Adrian Mutu, Mauro Camoranesi, Alberto Gilardino, Martin Laursen, Massimo Oddo and Marco Cassetti.

Their demotion turned out to be the first stumble on a slippery slope as in 2007 they were relegated to Serie C1, ending 64 years in the highest two tiers. Their impressive fanbase then almost witnessed a further drop only for the team to salvage security at the death. They remained in Serie C1 for four years.

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