The phrase ‘too good to go down’ has been used for many years, sometimes accurately and sometimes with blind loyalty. In truth is anybody too good to go down? Each season, in theory, is its own entity. The Leicester fairy tale of 2015/16 goes to show that previous campaigns don’t define your future. Having narrowly avoided the indignity of relegation, the Foxes then went on to win the league, much to everyone’s surprise the next season. We have seen some big clubs come and go since the Premier League’s inception in 1992.
So is anybody really too good to go down?
When considering relegation it is important to factor in the causes. As well as a lack of required quality to cope with what can be the high demands of the league, off-field matters can also take their toll on the welfare of a club’s on-field performance. Struggling finances can be a major factor in a slump in results, especially if it leads to failure to pay wages. Unrest in the squad or in the boardroom can lead to uncertainty and in turn a dip in form. A managerial crisis and perhaps most prevalent; a usually high amount of long term injuries.
During the Premier League era at different stages both Tottenham and Liverpool have had momentary scares with the drop, under Roy Hodgson Liverpool dropped into the relegation zone in 2010 towards Christmas. After eight games of the season in 2008/9 Spurs were stranded at the bottom of the league, with zero wins and just two draws Juande Ramos was duly sacked as manager. Both Tottenham and Liverpool moved to safety and proved they may actually have been ‘too good to go down’.
What about the teams who haven’t been so fortunate to survive. The teams who’s fans for 38 games had told themselves they would survive, believing they were another in a long list of sides with too much quality to be relegated. As we come to the crunch time of the season, I have looked back at the best teams on paper to suffer relegation in the Premier League era. In an attempt to rebuff the myth that it’s possible to be ‘too good to go down’ and attempt to pick the best team to ever be relegated from the Premier League.
None of this seasons fallout’s Norwich, Bournemouth or Watford have made the cut, despite all of them having decent individuals – Nor have Derby County’s infamous 11 points season.
On the face of the league table a strange inclusion perhaps, the Cottagers were relegated without too much of a fight. Finishing below a weaker on paper Cardiff City side in the process and with a brutal minus 47 goal difference.
Fulham’s spending prior to the season was well documented, after earning promotion the ensuing months saw no fewer than 12 arrivals at Craven Cottage – amounting to over £100 million expenditure. Amongst these new signings was the surprise deal to bring Jean Michel Seri to the club, Seri had been linked with Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham before opting for newly-promoted Fulham. Former Chelsea star Andre Schürrle and hot prospect centre half Alfie Mawson – signed from Swansea for a deal in the region of £20 million. Perhaps most importantly they managed to make Aleksander Mitrović’s loan deal from Newcastle United permanent, as well as keeping youngster Ryan Sessengon at the club; both had been integral in earning a promotion and should have been crucial to Fulham’s survival.
Former Liverpool man Ryan Babel was brought in during the January transfer window, in an attempt to salvage their season, he added important goals alongside Mitrović.
The new recruits, however, did not lead to a successful campaign, Slaviša Jokanović was sacked as manager in November and replaced by Claudio Ranieri. The Italian couldn’t improve matters on the field and he was dismissed four months later. Club legend Scott Parker was given the job on a caretaker basis, he couldn’t save the club however and they were duly relegated finishing 10 points from safety in 19th position; only Huddersfield Town below.
Overall Fulham make the list based solely on the strength of the squad, the names involved should have kept them up but it simply didn’t work. Perhaps too many signings and not enough time for them to gel, or no clear policy on building a team and instead of attempting to buy as many names as possible in the hope individual quality will save the day.
Blackburn Rovers 98/99
A must for the list given what had preceded just four years earlier when they had lifted the Premier League. After amassing a measly 35 points Blackburn were sent tumbling out the league alongside Charlton and Nottingham Forest. Remarkably, Rovers competed in the UEFA Cup in the same season after finishing sixth the year before. Going into the 98/99 campaign they were many peoples outsiders for another title challenge.
Managed by Roy Hodgson for the first four months of the season before Man Utd assistant Brian Kidd took over for the remainder.
Despite a turgid attempt at avoiding the drop to the then ‘First Division’, the Blackburn squad possessed enough quality to be classed as ‘too good to go down’. Boasting the likes of a young Damien Duff, an experienced Tim Flowers in goal, David Dunn and Chris Sutton who had fired the club to the title alongside Alan Shearer previously. They also had a youthful Kevin Davies in their ranks. Fans might’ve been forgiven for disbelieving their relegation credentials.
The midseason sale of club captain Tim Sherwood to Tottenham damaged Blackburn’s hopes of survival. Scoring goals proved difficult for Blackburn, the club’s top scorer’s Kevin Gallagher and Ashley Ward finished tied on a dismal five goals apiece. Eventually, they were left stranded seven points from safety at the end of the season.
Leeds United 03/04
The aftermath of a financial mess behind the scenes lead to Leeds United dropping out of the top flight for the first time in 14 years. A wrong they have only this season put right, having come close on a couple of occasions as well as dropping down further to the third tier of English football.
Their relegation came three seasons after reaching the Champions League semi-final. With debts racking up forcing a huge club to its knees they narrowly avoided the drop a year earlier but couldn’t avoid the fate this time around. Finishing level on points with fellow relegated sides Wolves and Leicester; all seven points from safety.
Given the circumstances that surrounded their relegation, it could not have been a surprise that top players were sold in an attempt to pay off some of the mounting debts. However, a club the size of Leeds United were certainly ‘too big to go down’. A huge fan base and a stadium to go with it, the magnitude of the disappointment was palpable.
Despite the recent departure of some of the better players, including Harry Kewell to Liverpool and Oliver Dacourt to Roma. Leeds still possessed what could have been enough quality to stay in the division. Australian legend Mark Viduka lead the line with 12 league goals, the evergreen and currently, Liverpool man James Milner made 34 appearances and on-loan winger Jermaine Pennant also impressed through the season. It was at the back where they couldn’t cope, conceding a staggering – then record-high 79 goals (that Derby team smashed this record when conceding 89 in 07/08)
West Ham United 02/03
The highest accumulation of points by a relegated team, West Ham finished a staggering 16 points ahead of West Brom below them and 23 points clear of Sunderland at the bottom. However, 42 points weren’t enough to avoid the drop, finishing the season three points from safety. West Ham’s squad in 02/03 was certainly too good to go down.
Names like Jermaine Defoe, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Paolo Di Canio, Frédéric Kanouté and David James littered the West Ham squad. Striker’s Defoe and Di Canio scored eight and nine respectively in the Premier League, including goals in a last-ditch survival attempt when the Hammers won three of their last four games.
The relegation proved catastrophic for the London club with stars departing on mass. No place like home: has the London Stadium been bad for West Ham?
The arrival of multi-million-pound signings Emerson and Fabrizio Ravienelli was supposed to lead the North East club to the dizzy heights of European football after a comfortable 12th place finish the season before, what followed was a disappointing campaign, culminating in relegation. Perhaps most surprisingly from the season was Boro’ showing their quality in cup competitions, losing finalists in both the FA and League Cup.
Italian striker tried his level best to steer his new club from danger, 16 league goals and 31 in all competitions an impressive return in his first season on UK soil. Coupled with the midfield genius of Brazilian Juninho the Riverside club underperformed in the league and finished two points short of safety.
Two points the key figure as following the club cancelling a match with Blackburn at short notice, citing injuries and an inability to field a team. The FA charged Middlesbrough and they had three points docked from their tally, points which would have kept the club in the league.
Four managers, seven wins and out of the Premier League for the first time in its history. Club legend Alan Shearer’s forlorn attempt to keep the club up from April was in vain. They were relegated on the final day of the season after a home defeat to Fulham and away at Aston Villa in their final two matches. Inflicting Newcastle’s first top-flight relegation since the birth of the Premier League.
The failure was a shock to most, especially a passionate Newcastle fan-base. When you look at the abundance of talent that the club had at its disposal, including Nigerian star Obafemi Martins, England legend Michael Owen as well as Damien Duff and Nicky Butt to name a very select few. Aston Villa 1-0 Newcastle United: Highlights
Some strong candidates for the honour of best team to be relegated in the Premier League era, definite proof that nobody is in fact ‘too good to go down’.
Out of these, however, the Leeds United squad of 2003/4 take the questionable acclaim, the recent Champions League semi-final and the depth of talent within the squad meaning they simply shouldn’t have been anywhere near the drop zone. More remarkable the fact a club the size of the Yorkshire outfit has yet to see Premier League football at Elland Road since.
Clubs and fans alike should be wary in future about their belief they are simply too big a club or too strong a squad to face relegation, if it can happen to some of these it can happen to anyone.