Football's Hardest Falls From Grace.
It can be a cruel old game; one minute you’re challenging for trophies and rubbing shoulders with the greats, the next… you’re in Scunthorpe. As, my team, Liverpool, continue to unravel in the aftermath of victory in the Carling Cup, I take a look at some of the other great footballing falls from grace of recent times.
Leeds United’s implosion, 2001-07
As they watched their expensively-assembled team line up at the Mestella Stadium on 8th May 2001, to take on Valencia for a place in the Champions League final, few Leeds United fans would’ve imagined that just 6 years later they would be playing third-tier football for the first time in the club’s history. But after being beaten 3-0 and eliminated from the tournament, and failing to qualify for next season’s competition through the league, the dodgy dealings of Peter Ridsdale plunged the club into financial crisis. Star players such as Rio Ferdinand, Harry Kewell, Robbie Fowler and Robbie Keane were subsequently flogged as the club spiralled into oblivion. Surprisingly, signing Roque Junior didn’t quite plug these gaps and Leeds were relegated to the Championship in 2004. Three years later they were to drop into League 1. A morality tale of risking it all on a dream; Leeds are yet to return to the top flight.
Juventus in Serie B, 2006/7
The most successful club in Italian history, who had spent every year of their existence in the top flight, winning 27 league titles and multiple European honours in the process. Two of those had been claimed under Fabio Capello’s tenure in 2005 and 2006 (he was successful once. Any chance of getting us some silberware Fab?), and a side containing the likes of Lilian Thuram, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Fabio Cannavaro had established itself as one of the best in recent history. Then came the revelations of the Calciopolli scandal (which sounds more like an Italian cough medicine than a betting scam), which alleged that matches had been fixed by club officials for financial gain. The club were prompty demoted to Serie B for the first time ever, with the aforementioned star trio leaving. However, with some stars refusing to jump ship, the likes of Pavel Nedved, Alessandro del Piero and Gigi Buffon ensured the club were back in the top flight the very next year; nonetheless they have failed to challenge for the Serie A title since and perhaps worse, the once revered image of ‘the Old Lady’ seems irrevocably besmirched.
El-Hadji Diouf at Doncaster, 2011
There are perhaps two ways of looking at El-Hadji Diouf’s move to a side in the Championship relegation zone. Either it’s a heartening attempt of a footballer to eschew riches to guarantee first-team action and rebuild his career. Or it’s the culmination of a hilarious and drastic fall from glory for a man who lit up the 2002 World Cup in the over-achieving Senegal side, prompting Liverpool to break their transfer record to secure his services and Pele to name him as one of the 125 greatest footballers of all time. Given that he’s a petulant thug, who has spat at both fans and opponents and laughed at a fellow professional being stretchered off the pitch following a serious injury, I’ll indulge in some schadenfreude and select the latter. Hahahahahahaha.
Andrei Shevchenko at Chelsea, 2006-09
Having scored the penalty that won AC Milan the Champions League in 2003 and netted 127 times in 206 appearances to become the second-highest scorer in the club’s history, Shevchenko was regarded as one of the most lethal strikers in the world. Roman Abramovich was thus encouraged to write a £30million cheque for the Ukrainian, breaking the record for a transfer-fee paid by an English club. However, faced with Didier Drogba at the peak of his career and a rare condition that seemed to suddenly make him crap at playing football (now known as a case of ‘The Torreses’), Sheva scored just 9 goals in 47 appearances in his first two seasons. Not even a loan move back to Milan could help him, as he failed to hit the target in any of his 18 appearances. One more Premier League start was to follow before Shevchenko shuffled back to his native Ukraine, and out of the memory of every Chelsea fan and oligarch owner.
Francis Jeffers’ entire post-Everton career, 2001-present (allegedly)
The joint-top scorer at Under-21 level in England’s history. A 100% goals-to-games ratio at international level. And, at £8million, one of the most expensive fees ever paid for an English player under the age of 21 at the time. Judging by Francis Jeffers’ early career resume, you’d think by 2011 he’d be one of the world’s best strikers. However, this obviously isn’t the case. He’s apparently playing in Australia, having averaged just two goals per calendar year since 2004, playing for the likes of Motherwell and Ipswich Town. Not quite what the ‘fox in the box’ would’ve had in mind for himself back in 2001 when he demanded a pay rise from the man who’d brought him into the Everton side, Walter Smith. He was allowed to leave when Arsene Wegner embarrassingly decided to sign him for a massive fee. A return of 4 goals in 3 seasons made the Frenchman realise his error, and Jeffers subsequently bounded around the outer-regions of the British isles for the best part of a decade, before winding up at Newcastle Jets in Australia. You’d feel sorry for him if he wasn’t a cash-hungry diver with an eminently punchable face.
Steve McClaren as England manager, 2006-7
Having done an excellent job of sitting next to Sir Alex Ferguson for two years at Manchester United, Steve McClaren proceeded to make light work of standing up, shouting and pointing as he became Middlesbrough manager in 2001; guiding the club to the League Cup in 2004, and to their first UEFA Cup final in 2006 by a quite extraordinary route (beating Now Officially Better Than Manchester United FC Basel in a comeback thriller). This put him top of the list to succeed Sven-Goran Eriksson as England manager. Well, almost. ‘Big Phil’ Scolari was first choice, but was spooked by the prospect of media intrusion into his personal life, so the FA plumped for Steve. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a perfect fit; England’s Euro 2008 qualification campaign was a disaster, with a 3-2 defeat to Croatia at a rain soaked Wembley meaning England failed to qualify for the European Championships for the first time in 24 years. Second-Choice Steve was promptly sacked. A title-winning period with FC Twente briefly rehabilitated his image (but produced a comedy Dutch accent) but dire stints as boss at Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest have meant he will forever remain the ‘Wally with a Brolly’ on Wembley’s touchline.