In every sport, there exists a team that every fan has a soft spot for and genuinely wishes for them to do well. It could be due to the personalities in the team, the style they play or the underdog victories they keep pulling off. In cricket, it is New Zealand while in tennis, it is either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.
Similarly, football provides the opportunity for such teams to arise that are cheered almost unanimously by every fan around the globe and are appreciated even if they beat a personal favourite.
These clubs could be the platform for top talents to develop or could have suffered a brutal tragedy that unites the footballing world. Conversely, they could play a brand of young and exciting football that endears them to fans all over the world.
Also read: 5 most hated clubs in World Football
On that note, here are the five teams that neutrals love to root for.
Associacao Chapecoense de Futebol (ACF) or commonly known as Chapecoense is a team in Brazil that was founded in 1973 following a merger of Atletico Chapecoense and Independente. The Brazilian club was mostly an unknown entity to football fans all over the world until November of last year.
Chapecoense made it to the final of the 2016 Copa Sudamericana, the second-most prestigious club competition in South America and were supposed to face Atletico Nacional in what was touted to be their biggest match in history. However, a horrific plane crash carrying the players, staff and journalists killed 71 out of the 77 passengers on the plane and it turned into one of the saddest stories in football.
Support poured in from the footballing fraternity from all sides and the Brazilian club is now one of the most loved clubs in the world. With the love and support from fellow clubs and fans all across the globe, Chapecoense will be looking to find their feet again and get over the unfortunate tragedy.
In a league where each of the top six teams has a healthy global fanbase, it is almost impossible for any of them to be a neutral’s favourite. So, it is only natural that a club next to the top teams is universally appreciated.
In this case, it is Southampton Football Club in the Premier League. The Saints were relegated after 27 consecutive seasons in the first division in 2005 and returned to the Premier League in 2012.
Meanwhile, their academy was constantly at the forefront with Arsenal poaching Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tottenham snapping up Gareth Bale who went on to become one of the world’s best at Real Madrid.
Southampton’s nurturing of players coupled with an attractive style of play saw them win fans over, first under Mauricio Pochettino and later under Ronald Koeman. Departures do not affect the team’s performances as low-key players are brought in, who subsequently go on to make a name for themselves before fetching a good price a few seasons later. It is this football model that has not only made them self-sustainable in the money-rich league, but also made them a neutral team for fans to root for.
Almost no other football academy in the world has produced as many phenomenal players as Amsterdamsche Football Club Ajax in the last few decades. The names include Johan Cruyff, Patrick Kluivert, Dennis Bergkamp, Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf and so on. The players start out at the Dutch club in their initial years, helping the club dominate, and eventually move on to bigger leagues.
This philosophy has served the club pretty well as they are the most successful club in the Netherlands ahead of Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven. Not even a couple of seasons pass by without a new name emerging into the spotlight that takes the world by storm, with the most recent one being that of Kasper Dolberg.
The notion of nurturing their own players is one that endears every football fan to the club. With the club slowly expanding its recruiting programs to South Africa and the USA and opening academies outside the Netherlands, Ajax will continue to provide the world with top players in the near future as well.
Before this season, a mention of Association Sportive de Monaco Football Club or AS Monaco would quickly transport the fans back to the 1990s when Arsene Wenger was in charge and players such as Thierry Henry and Lilian Thuram emerged, or to the epic Champions League clash between Real and Madrid and the French club in 2004.
However, the club has been struggling since then and it is only in this decade that the resurgence has finally begun. After a few struggles with Financial Fair Play due to overspending, Monaco finally found the right formula to remain competitive by investing in elite youth while living within their means, as the commercial revenue for the Monaco-based club does not match up to their European counterparts.
It is this change in business model that makes Monaco the most exciting team in Europe and led by Leonardo Jardim, they sit atop Ligue 1 ahead of Paris Saint-Germain, and have scored more goals than the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich this season.
Every top team in Europe is after the budding young talents in Monaco’s locker with names such as Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva and Tiemoue Bakayoko reverberating on everyone’s lips.
When the Champions League quarter-finals get underway, there is no doubt as to which team the neutrals will be rooting for to go on and win the tournament.
#1 Borussia Dortmund
Some of the aforementioned teams have gained a following in the last couple of seasons while the remaining have failed to challenge for the biggest trophies despite the appreciation they receive for their contribution to football.
However, if there is one team that always lives within its means, constantly nurturing youngsters into world-beaters and competes with the best teams across Europe consistently, then it is Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e.V. Dortmund, more commonly, Borussia Dortmund.
After poor financial management crippled the club’s performances in the mid-2000s, current Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp along with CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke and sporting director Michael Zorc revived the club and developed the strategy of buying players efficiently and developing them while playing exciting attacking football.
The results were phenomenal as Dortmund beat the financial clout to win the Bundesliga in 2011 and 2012.
Further, the club reached the finals of the Champions League in 2013, winning footballing hearts all over the world. Thomas Tuchel took over from Klopp in 2015 and has continued to keep Dortmund competitive as they find themselves facing another young attacking team in Monaco in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
In all their highs and lows, there exists a huge wall of support, famously referred to as the “Yellow Wall”, which is another reason why the club has a special place amongst football fans.
In terms of constantly developing young players who can play for the first-team, consistently challenging the football elite and by playing an attractive brand of football, Borussia Dortmund are the second love for most football fans all over the world.