Too good to go down? Beware Dortmund, the teams that weren't...
Borussia Dortmund were supposed to be Bayern Munich’s closest title challengers again this season, but things haven’t exactly gone to plan.
At the midway point of the campaign, Jurgen Klopp’s side sit joint-bottom of the Bundesliga after four wins, three draws and 10 defeats from their opening 17 games. Die Schwarzgelben were in the Champions League final just 19 months ago, won back-to-back league championships in 2011 and 2012 and have a squad boasting the likes of Marco Reus, Shinji Kagawa and Mats Hummels.
Fans of the club should be careful, however, before uttering the phrase ‘too good to go down’. Here’s a few sides who defied expectations in disastrous fashion...
Man City, 1937/38
Younger football fans will only know City as the Abu Dhabi-backed, big-spending global powerhouses of today, but the club had a very different identity for much of its history.
The 1937/38 season was perfectly representative of the phenomenon known as ‘typical City’ or ‘City-itis’: Wilf Wild’s men, who were reigning First Division champions, were relegated with a positive goal average and the league’s best scoring record. Seventy seven years on they remain the only English side to top the division and then suffer relegation the following campaign.
Following its World Cup triumph in Brazil last summer, German football has rightly been lauded for its forward-thinking and sensible planning in recent years. It is strange to think, then, that the country was relatively late to adopt a nationwide professional league.
When such a system was finally introduced in 1963, there was, predictably, an initial state of flux: seven different clubs won the Bundesliga in the first seven years of its existence. Nürnberg were one of those, lifting the league title in May 1968. Twelve months later they were relegated.
Despite that championship win, manager Max Merkel brought in 13 new players and let 11 go, including the prolific striker Franz Brungs. Nürnberg’s new squad never really gelled and Der Club were sent down on the final day after a 3-0 loss at Köln.
Man United, 1973/74
It’s often misconstrued today that Manchester City’s Denis Law relegated former club Manchester United with his backheeled winner in the 1974 end-of-season derby. But results elsewhere actually meant that Tommy Docherty’s outfit would have gone down anyway.
A brief renaissance in spring – United gained nine points from a possible 10 against Chelsea, Burnley, Norwich, Everton and Newcastle – looked like it may be enough to lift the Red Devils out of trouble, but a draw and three losses in their final four games condemned the side who’d won the European Cup in 1968 to the second tier.
United’s problem was scoring goals: they managed just 38 in their 42 league games, with goalkeeper Alex Stepney’s two penalties enough to make him the club’s joint-top scorer at Christmas. That 1-0 defeat to City in the season’s penultimate game saw United relegated for the first time since the 1930s.
Swansea today are seen as a model club to follow for those in the lower divisions - a shining example of how to establish yourself in the Premier League through smart recruitment, a defined style and a coherent, top-to-bottom club ethos. From 1982-86, though, the side from south-west Wales showed exactly how not to do it.
An outstanding rise saw Swansea soar from the Fourth to First Division in four years between 1977 and 1981, but the fall was equally rapid. The club was dogged with financial problems between 1982 and 1986 and couldn’t prevent their dramatic bottom-to-top ascent happen in reverse.
Each season they appeared ‘too good to go down’ but, just as the modern-day Swans have done by continually surpassing expectations over the last five years, City proved people wrong time and again.