Anyone who follows the German Bundesliga will know that VfB Stuttgart won the league this year. As an avid fan of this (wonderful, magnificent, gracious) team, I was naturally delighted. But from an objective perspective, how is it even possible that a team which honestly no one thought had a fighting chance of even reaching the CL this year actually wins the league? Let’s be honest about it, seasons like this can only be won if other teams have made some serious mistakes.
I’ll be the last guy on Earth to belittle Stuttgart. They played some amazing football and deserved to pick up that salad bowl at the end of the season. But are “unexpected” champions good for football, because they keep it interesting, or bad for football, because they shed a bad light on the overall quality of a competition? Let’s look at some recent “unexpected” champions and observe the long-term affects of their wins on football in general, in addition to what happened to them afterwards.
1. Greece. Won Euro 2004, then failed to qualify for the World Cup. I think we can all agree that Greece played some pretty awful football during the European Championships, truly defensive and not as pretty to watch as the likes of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and a younger (but still brilliant) Cristiano Ronaldo. Although these fairy tales are in some ways inspiring, I’d say that Greece winning Euro 2004 didn’t bring European football forward at all. The two championships before that, with the respective winners Germany and France, actually included some good football being played by the winners, especially France’s football fully justified their three- to four-year dominance of world football.
So: good for Greece, bad for progressive football, football which people besides Greeks want to watch. They might qualify for Euro 2008, but they have never, in three years since their amazing win, looked or played like European champions.
2. FC Porto. 2004 was a pretty weird year, really. A Champions League final consisting of Monaco and Porto – who would have thought? Porto’s win through some exciting football was followed by virtually all of their good players (and their manager) being taken away – not something you’d expect of a CL winner.
They have failed to make a noticeable impact on European football ever since, despite two domestic titles. No one really looked at Porto and decided to take an example from their football – they basically just bought the players.
3. Liverpool. Another CL winner, the following year. Liverpool played some inspiring football and showed great spirit in the final. They even managed to reach it again two years later, becoming a force to be reckoned with in Europe, despite their pitiful attempts at regaining the Premiership crown.
The likes of Gerrard, Alonso, Riise and Kuyt are usually always mouthwatering to watch, and if the Scousers are lucky, they’ll have some American dollars going towards some strong reinforcements soon. A good example of how surprise winners can sustain themselves.
Back to Stuttgart, though. Surprise winners, no doubt. Europe next season, with a virtually unchanged squad (Turkish international Yildiray Bastürk is coming on a Bosman transfer from Hertha Berlin, a new striker is yet to be found). The young squad played fresh football this season, but keeping it up will be hard.
It’s probably safe to say that despite Bayern’s fourth-place this season, they’d do a lot better in Europe next year than Stuttgart will. Stuttgart’s seemingly inevitable failure to do well in Europe (although the true fan remains ever-positive) will effect Germany negatively in UEFA rankings, so technically Bayern being in the CL would benefit Germany, really.
What do you think? Are surprise winners good for football? Why / why not?