No other team’s fans have experienced unbridled joy and cruel heartbreak in successive seasons as much as those who saw their title-winning teams get relegated in the very next season. Be it due to scandals or just plain poor performances, quite a few teams have gone through the ignominy of suffering the drop after lifting the league title the previous season. Many have come back to the top division in the very next season itself, but missing out on a full season of football in the top-flight can have severe consequences, especially losing top quality players. We look at five such champion teams who were relegated the very next season.
#5 Juventus - Serie A
Technically, Juventus were relegated immediately after winning the Serie A title in 2006 and not after playing another season. But they are in this list because of the scandal that shocked the football world to its very core – the Calciopoli scandal of 2006.
Juventus had won the 2005/06 title comfortably with a record that saw them win 27 games and lose only one in 38. They celebrated the title with 91 points in the bag – three points ahead of AC Milan. But before 2006 World Cup glory, Italian football was brought down to its knees.
Juventus general managers Luciano Moggi and Antonio Giraudo were at the heart of the matter. They were accused of influencing decisions with respect to which referees would officiate games in the Serie A and which key players from the opposing teams would be booked in games against the Turin-based club. Entire telephone conversation transcripts were even published in newspapers.
The result? Juventus were stripped of not only their 2005/06 title but the 2004/05 title as well as more proof emerged. Other clubs were also not spared. Clubs like AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina were deducted points (the original punishments of relegation for the latter three were cancelled after appeals).
The Old Lady ended up losing big players like Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram and Zlatan Ibrahimovic who decided against playing in the Serie B. But there were players who did not desert the team such as Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero, Pavel Nedved, Mauro Camoranesi and David Trezeguet.
“A true gentleman never leaves his lady.” said Del Piero at the time. In spite of a 9-point deduction, Juve won the Serie B title in the very next season and gained promotion back to the Serie A.
#4 Herfolge Boldklub - Danish Superliga
Herfolge Boldklub (or Herfolge BK) have been crowned Danish champions only once in their history. That was in the 1999/2000 season.
The Danish Superliga has only 12 teams, but they play each other thrice over the course of a season making it a 33-game season. And in that season, Herfolge BK won 16 of the 33 games, drawing eight and losing nine games (56 points).
They beat Brondby IF to the league title by just two points! Although they didn’t have any league top scorers in that season, their heroes were midfielder Jesper Falck and Kenneth Jensen who scored 10 goals each but still tied for 8th in the top goalscorers list.
But the very next season, Herfolge BK would go on to get relegated after a disastrous record in the league that saw them win only seven matches – the second-worst record in the league. They were also the second-worst defensive team in the league, conceding 65 goals and scoring only 41.
Their forward Chris Hermansen was the only shining light after he scored 13 goals for the side.
#3 FC Nurnberg - Bundesliga
FC Nurnberg aren’t that bad a team when you look at Bundesliga history. They have won the Bundesliga title 10 times between 1920 and 1968. But most of their success was during the 1920s and they hardly rewrote history in consequent decades.
But the 1967/68 title is significant in this list. It was their first title after Germany decided to have a single national league (the Bundesliga was formed in 1962) instead of many regional leagues.
German forwards Franz Brungs and Heinz Strehl were key to the title triumph, scoring 25 goals and 18 goals in the league respectively. Brungs himself played in all 34 matches while Strehl played a part in 33 games.
Manager Max Merkel then decided to overhaul the title winning team of senior players to make way for a new team that focused on youth players. A total of 13 players were added to the squad and even Brungs was not spared, who eventually joined Hertha BSC.
It would be Merkel's biggest blunder – one that would cost him dearly. Though they survived as a mid-table team in the early stages of the 1968/69 season, they went to the bottom of the table midway through the season and would never find the form that made them champions a season before. Merkel would be sacked in March and, although new manager Kuno Klotzer would briefly oversee a mini-resurgence, it was too late to mount a comeback. They were relegated on the final matchday with results going against them.
Nurnberg player Horst Leupold would later question Merkel’s transfer policy and say he “didn't understand why so many new players joined us after we won the title”. Even Nurnberg legend Max Morlock (who retired in 1964) would describe that forgettable season as “a bad dream”.
#2 Manchester City - English First Division
Manchester City’s first ever league title in the first division came in the 1936/37 season. What made the victory even sweeter was the fact that their arch-rivals Manchester United were relegated after finishing second to last in the table after 42 games.
Although City started the season with a loss to Middlesbrough, they lost only 7 games that season and ended with a strong run of 22 games without defeat which included 15 wins. Four players reached double figures for goals in the league – forwards Peter Doherty (30), Eric Brook (20), Alec Herd and Fred Tilson (15 goals each).
City’s home form was identical to second-placed Charlton Athletic (15 wins and 5 draws – 2 points per win), but their away record was marginally better and they took the title home with a 3-point lead after 42 matches in spite of an abandoned game midway through the season.
But the very next season, their weak defence saw them lose 20 out of the 42 games as they finished in 21st place, above West Bromwich Albion only on goal difference. Surprisingly, they were the team that scored the most goals that season but still couldn’t survive the drop.
City had the second-worst defensive record, conceding 77 goals in the season. Even teams above them who had a negative goal difference managed to score more points.
#1 AC Milan - Serie A
In the 1978/79 season, Perugia became the first team to go undefeated throughout an entire campaign (P30 W11 D19). Unfortunately, 19 draws in the league saw them finish 3 points behind eventual winners AC Milan (44 points). Back then, only two points were awarded for a win.
This was Milan’s 10th Serie A title – and they had earned the right to have a star on their kit. Memorable players from the squad had the likes of legendary midfielder and then-captain Gianni Rivera and defender Franco Baresi – both of whom made over 650 appearances for the club.
It was Rivera’s final season and he retired after winning the Scudetto – his third title, but one he waited 11 years to win. That signalled the decline of the side and they failed to reach the same heights the next season as their arch-rivals Internazionale won the title with 44 points with Juventus finishing second with 41.
Milan actually finished the season with 36 points – effectively third place. But a huge gambling scandal known as the Totonero scandal came to light in March of 1980. The word translates to ‘underground betting’ and two Roman shopkeepers had come forward with the names of players and clubs involved.
Mass arrests followed as Serie A clubs Milan, Napoli, Lazio, Perugia, Bologna and Avellino were all found guilty. While most clubs got point deductions, Milan and Lazio were hit the worst, relegated to Serie B for their part in the scandal.
Although Milan returned the very next season, they were relegated again in 1982 before returning to the top flight again in 1983.
Trivia: Paolo Rossi – one of Italy’s greatest strikers ever – was actually handed a 3-year ban for his role in the Totonero scandal. It was later cut to two years so he could play in the 1982 World Cup where he finished top scorer with 6 goals and led Italy to World Cup glory. The Azzurri have a knack of winning World Cups after scandals, don’t they?