In European football, it is difficult to run a successful club without spending a lot of money.
Maintaining a high level in football usually requires teams to purchase expensive players. Most of the teams at the top of European football spend a lot of money to get there.
However, there is nothing fascinating about buying a team of megastars and then winning a meaningful trophy. Winning without spending and after careful planning is way more fascinating and is much more exciting.
So with that in mind, here are the clubs that have done exactly that, without spending huge amounts of money.
5. Brentford FC
Probably one of the most wholesome stories in football, Brentford's story is quite amusing and heartwarming.
In 1979, an 11-year-old Matthew Benham watched along as Brentford beat Colchester 1-0, in the third division of English football at the time.
Little did he know, that 32 years later he will become the owner of the club, bailing them out of a debt hole of a jaw dropping £500,000 pounds.
Since then, he has worked consistently to make his boyhood club reach the top, His experience in setting up a successful betting company and being a professional gambler himself have allowed him to make smart investments.
The way Brentford is run is really amazing. They tend to buy unheard and unheralded players from lesser known leagues in Europe. They also don't keep a youth academy in the traditional sense.
They have a B-team which consists of youth players from other Premier League teams' academies. These players are released early by their clubs at the age of 17 and 20.
Their transfer policy is one to admire, as they have made a fortune selling stars they uncovered. Examples of this include Said Benrahma to West Ham and Ollie Watkins to Aston Villa for a combined profit of £55 million. These are only a couple of examples of their brilliant transfer policy.
The club has ended each financial year in profit since the 2014-15 season. This is something not even many Premier League clubs have managed to do.
The future now looks bright for Brentford, with promotion to the Premier League and their novel way of running the club. One wouldn't bet against them staying up this season.
At the moment, Brentford aren't a part of any European football, but they could certainly get there in the future.
4. FC Midtjylland
After talking about Brentford and Matthew Benham, it is only fair to continue praising him for his incredible work with FC Midtjylland. A Danish club, here he applied his statistics and analytics-based model.
He helped them win their first Danish Superliga title in the 2014-15 season. (Inside a year of taking over the majority share in June 2014). Here he went one better and invested $10 million.
He worked his magic, and in the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League, Midtjylland made their first appearance in the group stages. Despite not qualifying for the knockout rounds, the future for Midtjylland is very promising.
Midtjylland are changing the landscape of European football with their novel approach. One hopes that they will continue their success both in domestic and European football.
They could reach even farther in European football than Brentford. They play in Europe and get extra revenue to re-invest in the team.
3. SSC Napoli
Napoli have emerged from the dead, quite literally, and the success this club has achieved is really underrated by all of Europe.
Filmmaker Aurelio De Laurentiis bought the club for €30 million and re-founded it in 2004 after it went bankrupt from all the loans it took to buy Maradona.
Napoli's future looked bleak in 2004. However, under the guidance of the shrewd De Laurentiis, they went from fourth tier (Serie D) to Serie A within four years. They eventually gained promotion to Serie A in 2007.
It would have been unprecedented to think that such a club could become the force it once was in Italian and European football.
Then again, Napoli surprised us by securing European football for the 2010-11 season. This was only possible due to smart business investments.
The club went on to win their first piece of silverware in a while, winning the Coppa Italia in 2013-14, and then won the Italian Super Cup in 2014-15 as well. Napoli most recently won the 2019-20 Coppa Italia.
The future looks pretty secure for this historic club from southern Italy, who have rightly regained their place among European football's elite.
2. Villarreal CF
Villarreal are very similar to Napoli in the sense that they have been plotting their success for a long time as well. Their owner, Fernando Roig, bought the club for €432,000 in 1997 when the club was in the second division of Spanish Football.
He invested smartly in the club, and they immediately got promoted to La Liga, the premier division in Spain.
They made some shrewd acquisitions following their promotion. Roig appointed Manuel Pellegrini as head coach in 2003, who led them to Champions League football in the 2004-05 season.
They also won the now-defunct Intertoto Cup. This established them in European football. Once Pellegrini left, however, their glorious path took a sudden downturn and they were relegated in 2012.
This was a wake-up call for Fernando Roig, who had vastly expanded his ceramic business by then. He immediately sold some of his shares and invested money back into Villarreal.
They immediately went back up to La Liga and in the 2013-14 campaign finished sixth to get back into European football.
Villarreal have regularly qualified for European football since then. (Most notably reaching the semi-finals of the Europa League in 2016-17). They went one better by winning the UEFA Europa League in the 2020-21 season.
This triumph finally got the club and its owners the recognition they richly deserved. They are making big strides in European football.
This is one of the most well-documented and astounding stories in world football.
One must also mention the hiring of Claudio Ranieri, which was 'the' turning point for Leicester.
The focus will be on their owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, though, who passed away in a tragic helicopter accident in 2018. Srivaddhanaprabha had bought Leicester City for £39 million in 2010, and the club ended up winning the Premier League five years later.
His son has kept up the good work, with Leicester winning the FA Cup last season. They also won this season's Community Shield.
After their title success, they had their first taste of European football in the Champions League. They might become one of the big players in European football in the future.
Also heartwarming is the fact that the owner doesn't hesitate to come on to the field after games, whether victory or defeat. This is rarely seen by the people who own most of the clubs nowadays.