So, then. Leicester City. It’s not going all that well for them this year, is it? Alright, they’re still in the FA Cup and have weirdly dominated their Champions League fixtures (well, most of them). But their league form? Almost predictably poor. At the time of writing, Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes sit 15th, just six points above the relegation zone. And to think… It was just a few months ago they were crowned Premier League champions.
It might not be much comfort or solace to Leicester, but it’s not entirely uncommon for champions to mount a truly weak title defence. In fact, sport – and football in particular – is littered with lots of good examples of just that. You’ve only got to look at last season, in fact. Just as Vardy & Co. were storming the league, champions Chelsea (the champs’ opponents this weekend) were coughing and spluttering like Steve Evans trying to run a half-marathon.
Here are examples of what we’re talking about, starting with the Blues themselves…
Chelsea – Premier League – 2015/16
2014/15 saw Jose Mourinho back in his spiritual home of West London, parading around yet another Premier League trophy. It was almost as if he’d never gone away. Surely that was it. He was there to stay and an avalanche of titles and cups would be cascading upon the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet, right? Well, no. Wrong.
The start of the 2015/16 season started badly, then got worse. Draws, defeats, the bullying and public shaming of a popular physio by the chief… Points were hard to come by and they didn’t end up retaining their title. Or finishing second. Or getting Champions League. Or even Europa League football. They did bag a top half finish, though. Just. Tenth place. Mourinho went mid-season and old boy Guus Hiddink came in to steer the sinking ship. A truly woeful year.
Blackburn Rovers – Premier League – 1995-96
The 1991/92 First Division – the last season before the Premier League era – was won by Leeds United. So they should’ve been favorites for the new ‘Premiership’, eh? Well, quite. Except they finish their first season in the big new league in 17th. But we’ll let that slide – it was technically a new competition. Who did win it, though? Well, Manchester United, of course. In 92/93 and 93/94. But the next season? We had shock winners, Blackburn Rovers.
Owner Jack Walker’s money helped. He bankrolled manager King Kenny, who assembled a formidable team including the likes of Sutton, Shearer, Sherwood, Le Saux and, er, Colin Hendry. But the hangover was massive. They ended up scraping seventh place and got turned over in the Champions League by European minnows Rosenborg and Legia Warsaw. Kenny Dalglish moved upstairs, Ray Harford came in, they lost thirteen times and it never got any better for Rovers…
France – World Cup – 2002
France ’98 turned out to be a pretty decent tournament for the French. Home soil, great attendances, top football and a trophy at the end of it. They were the dominant force in world football. So when the next World Cup rolled around, Les Bleus were rouge hot favourites. But that wasn’t to be. They didn’t even make it through the groups. Kicking off Asia’s maiden World Cup campaign by losing to Senegal wasn’t the best of starts.
Zidane missed the two opening group games and those that passed their fitness tests were looking decidedly old and shaky. Not least of all Marcel Desailly and Frank LeBoeuf at the back. Their second, against Uruguay, game saw star striker Thierry Henry sent off and the game end goalless. And their third (and final game) of the competition was a two nil reverse to Denmark. Merde.
Montpellier – Ligue 1 – 2012/13
With hot young goalslinger Olivier Giroud firing them in left, right and centre, French side Montpellier stormed to a shock title in the 2011/12 season. Next year? The board didn’t go mad. They kept their expectations realistic. The target? Third or better in their Champions League group and a top six finish in the league. Of course, they lost their main striker to Arsene Wenger’s clutches and it all went downhill from there. Suspensions, injuries, arguments and players not settling led to a capitulation in Europe (after a promising start) and a ninth place spot in the league.
Manchester City – First Division – 1937/38
The First Division title in 1936/37 looked all set to be heading to SE7, with Charlton Athletic all set to win their first (and only) top tier trophy. But a late showing in the second half of the season from Manchester City changed all that. The next season, though? The Citizens chucked it all away in pretty impressive fashion. The very next year they became the first ever team in England to be relegated the season after lifting the trophy. And somehow with a positive goal difference too.
Find out if Leicester can stop the rot this Saturday when they host Chelsea. Kick off’s at 5.30pm.