In every major league there are one or more ‘nearly’ teams. Do the words ‘Tottenham Hotspur’, ‘Deportivo’, ‘Palermo’ and ‘Borussia Dortmund’ ring a bell? I’m here to meticulously assess the strengths, weaknesses and credentials of my handpicked selection of ‘nearly’ teams. Behold:
Forever underachievers, Spurs embarked on another spending spree this summer after last season’s disappointing 11th place finish. The start to this season doesn’t bode well either, as it is Spurs’ worst start to a season in 34 years. They have only managed to get one point from four games.
Among the players signed this summer were Gomes from PSV, Luka Modric from Dinamo Zagreb, Roman Pavlyuchenko from Spartak Moscow, and Giovani dos Santos from Barcelona. Although they lost Dimitar Berbatov to United and Robbie Keane to Liverpool in the summer, Tottenham are still very strong in attack and midfield but they lack depth in defence and this problem has been revealed once again in Spurs’ underwhelming start to the season.
After their horrific 14th place finish in 2006-07 under the helm of now England U21 boss Stuart Pearce, City were bought by former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Sven-Goran Eriksson was brought in as manager and he signed a host of promising players like Rolando Bianchi, Valeri Bojinov, Vedran Corluka, and Elano. After an excellent start to the season, City’s form deteriorated and they ended up finishing 9th and qualified for the UEFA Cup. Last summer brought more changes, as they signed Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Jo, and Tal Ben Haim. They made headlines on deadline day as the Abu Dhabi Investment Group bought the club and pulled off the shock of the century by signing Robinho straight from under Chelsea’s noses. But can they challenge for the top 4?
The eternal coach-sackers, the Rosanero rose to prominence in 2006-07 when they challenged for the Champions League during the whole of the Juventus-less Serie A season but ended up finishing fifth to achieve UEFA Cup qualification. After being sacked in November 07, Stefano Colantuono returned in the summer and while he let stars like Amauri, Zaccardo, Jankovic and Barzagli go, he completely transformed the side by signing Marco Amelia, Fabio Liverani, Antonio Nocerino, Igor Budan, Andrea Raggi,Tulio de Melo, Davide Lanzafame, and Simon Kjær. De Melo was sold again to Lille and Palermo’s fortunes took a dip as they were defeated 4-2 by third division side Ravenna and lost 3-1 to Udinese. It is a mystery whether they will be able to recover.
Napoli have not tasted success since the glorious 1988-89 season in which a certain Diego Armando Maradona helped the club to UEFA Cup glory and 2nd place in both the Serie A and the Coppa Italia. The year after they won the Serie A as well. But Napoli have since fallen and they were declared bankrupt in 2004 and relegated to the Serie C1 (Italian third tier) and renamed Napoli Soccer by owner Aurelio De Laurentiis. After their Serie C1 win, the club reverted to its old name of SSC Napoli. They then came in an astonishing second in the Serie B (second tier) behind Juventus and were promoted to the Serie A. They signed Marek Hamsyk, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Walter Gargano, and Marcelo Zalayeta and achieved an amazing eighth, gaining qualification to the Intertoto Cup. They are currently in the UEFA Cup First Round. They signed German Denis in the summer to help them. But will it be enough to return them to glory?
In 1996, Die Schwarzgelben won the Bundesliga title, thus qualifying for the Champions League, which they won the following year. But since then, the team has spiraled ever lower, finishing a miserable 13th last year. Their team is still star-studded, even with the departures of Tomas Rosicky and David Odonkor to Arsenal and Real Betis respectively in 2006 and Cristoph Metselder to Real Madrid in 2007. The team qualified for the UEFA Cup, losing in the DFB Pokalfinal to Bayern Munich 2-1 in extra time.
The relatively unknown club made headlines when they finished 5th in the league last season, qualifying for the UEFA Cup. They signed Rodrigo Alvim, Cristian Zaccardo, Andrea Barzagli and Zvjezdan Misimovic last summer to strengthen the team for the UEFA Cup campaign. The team looks strong and should be able to reach the group stage and could go far in Europe.
Deportivo La Coruna
In 1999-00, the Galician club achieved title success and went on to participate in the Champions League in which they reached the quarterfinals and were defeated by Leeds United 3-2 on aggregate. Depor lost out in the quarters the season after as well, again to an English club. Man U beat them 5-2 on aggregate. Their next campaign was not a success, as they were eliminated in the second group stage. 2003-4 marked the club’s last Champions league participation and was their most successful one to date, as they were kicked out by Porto in the semis, just 1-0. They are in the UEFA Cup this season through the Intertoto Cup.
They were a European giant and a member of the now-defunct G-14 only back in 2006-07, but their rapid decline last season has seen them being dumped out of both the European and Spanish elite. They have finished runners up in the Champions League twice and have won La Liga six times, the most recent being 2003-04. They failed to qualify even for the UEFA Cup, finishing 10th last season after Ronald Koeman’s disastrous tenure.
Tottenham, Man City, Palermo, Napoli, Borussia, Wolfsburg, Depor, and Valencia. My pick. There are many more ‘nearly’ teams like Sporting Braga, Nancy, Aston Villa, Bayer Leverkusen, Lazio, Racing among others. What do you think?