When you’re a club like Real Madrid, Manchester United or Barcelona, money is never an issue. Teams like these have the backing of millions, nay billions, at their disposal and, therefore, the power to but some of the biggest star footballers in the world. Of course, most don’t have such good fortune and have to work that extra bit to scout well and scout cheap and work at developing young talent.
Many notable players in the past and even today are the result of such management. Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t get his start at a big European club but instead at a modest club in Portugal. It was Sir Alex Ferguson who recognised his potential and signed him as a teenager. There are many clubs who nurture their own talent, scale the heights of greatness only to sell their best and pass into ignominy, sometimes.
Football is replete with instances of clubs who sold their best players and suffered the brunt of that decision.
Here’s a look at five clubs who sold their success:
#5 Tottenham Hotspur
The story of Tottenham Hotspur in recent years has been a case of ‘what if’. With no silverware to speak of since the League Cup victory of 2007-08, Spurs have only aspired to greatness without actually getting there. Case in point, the Premier League title race last season. In their second last game of the season against Chelsea, they lost their two-goal lead to hand Leicester City their extraordinary title win.
While they were consumed by a sense of opportunities lost, they saw two of their former players, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, lift the Champions League trophy for the second time in three years. Both former Spurs players are at the height of their careers at the Bernabeu.
Ever since Spurs signed Mauricio Pochettino as manager in 2014, the side has seen an upward rise in their fortunes. The squad which boasts the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen combine attacking prowess with a strong defensive back-line. But with no replacement for Kane’s striking abilities and Eriksen's creativity, they could have loved to have the services of Bale and Modric.
While the sale of the two stars brought in over £130 million to the club, there’s no price tag on a championship that could have been theirs if the stars had remained and played alongside their current squad.
#4 Porto FC
The 2003-04 team of Porto FC is legendary thanks to a certain Jose Mourinho. Not only did they win the Primeira Liga that year but also lifted the Champions League after an emphatic 3-0 victory over AS Monaco in the final. To put their victory in perspective, they were the first club outside of the big four European leagues to win the Champions League since 1993.
Their domestic victory was equally impressive, coming first by eight points after conceding only 19 goals in 34 games in true Mourinho style. ‘The Special One’ had also led them to the league title, Portuguese Cup and the UEFA Cup the previous season. With the likes of Ricardo Carvalho, Benni McCarthy, Maniche, Costinha, Paulo Ferreira, Derlei and Deco in the side, the Dragons were just as fierce as their name implies.
But Mourinho left for Chelsea after their European victory and with him followed an exodus of players to other climes. Ferreira and Carvalho followed the Portuguese manager to London and Deco left for Barcelona. In spite of losing some of their best players, the worst loss was that of their manager.
Even though they have managed to feature strongly in domestic football, they have hardly made their presence felt on the European stage since the manager’s departure.
Olympique Lyonnaise were a dominant force in Ligue 1 in France for the first decade of the new millennium – they won seven consecutive league titles starting in 2002. But the icing on the cake came in 2007-08 when they won the domestic double, winning the Ligue 1 and Coupe de France. Their twin victory was even more surprising since they had sold some of their best players – Florent Malouda, Tiago and Eric Abidal just before the start of the season.
However, the exodus didn’t affect the team as much since they had Hugo Lloris, Miralem Pjanic and Karim Benzema ready to take up the mantle. The season went according to plan and they were French champions but their performance also attracted a lot of interest for their stars. Benzema was the first to go after Real Madrid made an offer he couldn’t resist.
After the Les Gones lost their most prolific goalscorer, they also lost their title to Bordeaux and then Marseilles. Lloris and Pjanic followed suit and Lyon were left bereft. The French side are yet to win the league since their departure and have just managed a Coupe de France in 2011.
Ajax were on top of the world in 1995. Louis van Gaal had worked wonders at the Amsterdam club, leading them to two Eredivisie titles in a row, winning the second one without losing a single game. In fact, that year, the Lancers lost just one game in the Dutch Cup to eventual champions Feyenoord. They followed up their domestic victory in the Netherlands with a victory in Europe after they conquered AC Milan in the final of the Champions League in 1995.
With well-honed academy graduates and superstars like Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert, Frank Rijkaard and Edwin van der Sar, the Dutch side looked set on course for years of domination of European football. Many hoped they would be able to replicate the kind of success they had enjoyed in the early 1970s when they won three consecutive European Cups.
However, the Bosman ruling of 1995 meant Seedorf and Kluivert could leave for free at the end of their contract, which they did. By the end of a couple of years, nine of the 16 players from the Champions League-winning side had left.
The players who left went on to win four more European trophies and 28 other titles but Ajax didn’t fare as well. They lost the Champions League final to Juventus and are yet to get anywhere near it since.
#1 Borussia Dortmund
Bayern Munich have been infallible in German domestic football in the last couple of years and the memories of a young and exciting Borussia Dortmund side have almost receded. Back in 2012, Dortmund had won two consecutive Bundesliga titles after they re-signed former player Marco Reus and even went on to the Champions League final in 2013.
Alas, European glory eluded them as they fell 2-1 to the Bavarian side in Wembley, allowing them to complete a historic treble that season.
And that's where the troubles began for the Black and Yellows. Mario Gotze moved to rivals Munich soon after the final in England, and Robert Lewandowski left a year later. Their departures was just the beginning as even their manager, Jurgen Klopp left in 2015, followed by Ilkay Gundogan and Mats Hummels who were part of the league-winning side in 2011 and 2012.
In spite of the best efforts of Michael Zorc, the Dortmund sporting director, to bring in fresh young talents like Ousmane Dembele, Raphael Guerreiro and Julian Weigl, they were hardly equal to the title-winning side of 2011 and 2012.
The squad broke up just before the arrival of Pep Guardiola in Bavaria handing them the advantage. Thomas Tuchel, who was unhappy with the recent sales may have more hardships to deal with now that RB Leipzig are in the ascendancy.