The glitz and glamour of the English Premier League is the biggest stage in world soccer. The riches on offer are astronomical and players are worshipped around the globe as Gods. But there’s another side to that coin. With big money and endless fame comes the possibility of astronomical failure.
Playing careers have been ruined in the Premier League and once-giant clubs have been reduced to failed piles of rubble. Own goals, defensive slip ups and goalkeeping howlers can have far-reaching effects that overshadow the damage done to any scoreboard. Off-field mismanagement meanwhile can destroy historic clubs and even claim lives.
The horrific fire at Bradford City’s home ground in 1985 caused 56 deaths. A build up of litter below an outdated wooden stand ignited one afternoon and within minutes it was entirely ablaze. Four years later an even bigger stadium disaster cost 96 lives. Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium was hosting an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest when too many fans poured into one run-down section of the ground. The resulting crush caused a broken barrier and a sickening pile up of supporters.
Stadium regulations have since been introduced to avoid similar repeat instances. Since the English Premier League began in 1992 with its all-seater stadiums, nothing of the Hillsborough or Bradford City magnitude has been seen. But the EPL has produced its share of both on-field and off-field disasters. The riches of the league often mask the dangers lurking below the surface. The temptation is to stay in the top flight at all costs, usually by overspending with money you don’t have. Margins are so fine that one mistake in a single game can cost a league title, or even worse, lead to relegation. Financially speaking this can mean tens of millions of pounds. Here’s a collection of the not-so fine moments in Premier League history.
10. Ali Dia
Ali Dia is more commonly known as the worst player in Premier League history. Back in 1996, Southampton manager Graeme Souness took a phone call from a man claiming to be George Weah, the Liberian soccer great at the time playing for AC Milan. Souness was told that Weah had a brilliantly talented cousin who was good enough to play in the Premier League. This led to Souness signing Ali Dia on a one-month contract and more remarkably still, using him as a substitute against Leeds United.
Retired midfielder Matt Le Tissier was playing for Southampton at the time and described Dia’s performance as comical. “I was amazed to hear that he’d been named on the subs’ bench,” Le Tissier later wrote. “I think the picture of the faces of the boys must have been remarkable. Our jaws all dropped to the floor. He didn’t really have a position. He was just wandering everywhere.” Dia was so bad Souness had to burn another substitute to remove him from the game after 20 minutes. Souness resigned his post at the end of that season.
9. Derby County’s Train Wreck Season
Derby’s 2007-08 Premier League campaign was a horror show from the moment it began, and remains the worst ever single season by a club in the EPL era. The bare bones read like this. Just 11 points from 38 games, collected from one solitary win and eight draws. They scored 20 goals over the season and conceded 89, still both records today, and finished 24 points adrift of 19th-placed Birmingham. Their top scorers were Kenny Miller, Matt Oakley and Tito Villa who bundled in three apiece.
In fairness, they were always going to struggle after a surprise win in the Championship playoff final the season before. They were ill-equipped at the top level, and parted company with manager Billy Davies after 14 games and just one win. Paul Jewell came in but never looked like saving the Rams and they haven’t been back to the English Premier League since.
8. Bradford City’s Stint At The Top
Now here’s an example of how the Premier League can ruin a club. Bradford won promotion to the promised land in 1999 under manager Paul Jewell. Enjoying his club’s strong run of form chairman Geoffrey Richmond had started spending big and allowed Jewell to bring in a number of players costing more than a million dollars each. Incredibly Bradford survived their first year in the EPL, staying up thanks to a 1-0 win on the final day against Liverpool. More incredibly, Jewell was told by Richmond that the lowly finishing position was a disappointment and two months later he was out the door. Richmond kept spending, feeding his burning desire to stay in the Premier League but it backfired.
They were relegated after just two seasons and left with debts swirling around the 13 million pound mark and an untenable wage bill. By 2007 the club had been relegated three times to the bottom of the English league. Richmond meanwhile was declared bankrupt in 2004.
7. Andriy Shevchenko
This guy used to be Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s favorite player, although we’re tipping that’s probably not the case any more. He was wrested from AC Milan for 30.8 million pounds at the end of the 2005-06 season, at the time a record sum for a Premier League transfer. He’d banged in 173 goals for the Italian giants, was captain of Ukraine, and had long been in the sights of manager Jose Mourinho, still in his first stint with the west London club.
Fast forward three years and Abramovich couldn’t get rid of Shevchenko fast enough. He only managed 48 top-flight games and a measly nine goals. That’s roughly 3.4 million pounds per goal based on his transfer fee, not to mention the 120,000 pounds a week wages. In fairness to the once prolific Ukranian, his time at Chelsea was riddled with injuries. Be that as it may, his signing is still arguably the worst we’ve seen in the Premier League.
6. Portsmouth’s Financial Woes
Portsmouth were on top of the world after winning the FA Cup in 2008, yet it’s a miracle the club is still with us today. Severe financial problems bubbling under the surface broke through in late 2009 when players were unable to be paid. Late in the year the High Court threatened to end the club’s existence with debts reportedly at the 135 million pound mark, so Portsmouth went into administration and were relegated at the end of that season. In October 2010 the club again teetered on the brink of liquidation but were saved when a key creditor struck a deal with the club.
Off-field problems continued and the club was relegated again after two seasons. The club was threatened once more with extinction over the summer of 2012, and told it would be closed down unless all its professional players left. They did, and unsurprisingly Portsmouth’s woes on the field continued next season as and they went on a 23-match winless run. A supporters’ trust eventually bought the club in April 2013 but the club had already been relegated, this time to the bottom of the English league. There they remain.
5. Sheffield United’s Unlikely Relegation
In a parallel universe, Sheffield United could easily be a mid-table Premier League club of the Stoke or Swansea variety, instead of languishing two divisions beneath as a fallen giant. Who knows how well they’d have established themselves in the EPL had they not been so cruelly relegated on the final day in 2007. Sheffield United went into their last game of the season three points clear of the drop zone needing only a draw at home to Wigan to survive. Even if that failed, they could still fall back on Manchester United beating West Ham at Old Trafford. At 1-1 with halftime approaching, Phil Jagielka handballed in the box allowing Wigan a penalty, taking the score to 2-1 which is how it finished.
A Carlos Tevez goal at Old Trafford meanwhile handed West Ham an improbable 1-0 win, sending Sheffield United down on goal difference. So livid was manager Neil Warnock that he threatened legal action against the Hammers. West Ham had been fined earlier in the season for illegal conduct when signing Tevez and fellow Argentine Javier Mascherano. The fine meant they managed to escape a points deduction which would’ve sealed their relegation instead of Sheffield United’s. Warnock was unsuccessful in his legal challenge and the two clubs are now a world apart.
4. Sir Alex Ferguson Retiring
Whoever filled Sir Alex Ferguson’s shoes at Manchester United was always destined to fail. The greatest manager of all time in the English game, Ferguson masterminded all 13 of Man U’s English Premier League titles, surpassing Liverpool in the process as England’s most successful club. Sir Alex hand-picked another Scotsman, David Moyes, to take the poisoned chalice. Despite his credentials having managed Everton very well on a shoestring budget for more than a decade, Moyes oversaw the majority of United’s worst season in EPL history before he was sacked a month from its end. The club ended up finishing seventh and failed to qualify for Europe.
Louis Van Gaal was drafted in and started the following season just as poorly as Moyes had. He eventually lifted United to fourth and remains in charge today with the club still a shadow of its former self. Van Gaal has already spent more than a quarter of a billion pounds and resembled a mad scientist at times with baffling team selections including Wayne Rooney in midfield and Antonio Valencia in defence. United are still badly missing Sir Alex.
3. Manchester United Title Choke
Really it should have been 14 titles for Sir Alex until…”AGGUUEERRRRROOOOO!” happened. This slice of commentary, still a dagger to United supporters, brought a thrilling end to the 2011-12 Premier League season. Two late goals against Queens Park Rangers delivered Manchester City’s first league crown in more than four decades at the expense of their cross-town rivals who seemed to have the title sewn up a month earlier.
United had an eight-point lead on City and would’ve all but wrapped things up against lowly Wigan, had they lost 1-0. Two games later they threw away a lead against Everton to draw 4-4 then lost to City 1-0, leaving both teams level on points. Even still United looked to have it in the bag after beating Sunderland 1-0 while City trailed QPR 2-1 at home heading into injury time. Then Eden Dzeko struck before Aguero finished things off, at long last shifting the balance of power in Manchester.
2. Steven Gerrard’s Slip
So harsh is life in the Premier League that Steven Gerrard will likely be more remembered for his infamous slip up against Chelsea, rather than the wonderful goals he scored for Liverpool that delivered FA Cups and a Champions League. Liverpool was five points clear at the top of the table after 11 straight wins until they were beaten 2-0 by Chelsea at Anfield. Right on halftime, Gerrard miscontrolled a pass then slipped over, gifting possession to Demba Ba who ran in unopposed to score.
Gerrard’s shoulders are still feeling the burden of a winning season lost, and admits the slip up still haunts him. When it was all said and done, Manchester City overhauled Gerrard’s team to win the title by two points leaving Liverpool agonizingly short of a first league crown since 1990.
1. Leeds United Self Implode
If ever there was a club blinded by the lights of competing at the highest level, it was Leeds United. The year was 2001 and after a steady build under manager David O’Leary, the club made the Champions League semi-finals. Pulling the strings behind the scenes was Peter Ridsdale and he decided after his club’s deep run in the Champions League that it was time to spend big and elevate Leeds even further up the elite ladder. The following season Ridsdale borrowed a whopping 60 million pounds against future Champions League income – income that never materialized.
The club’s best players were eventually sold off and Leeds tumbled spectacularly down the table, their inevitable relegation from the EPL coming in 2004 with debts at roughly 100 million pounds. The following year Leeds were forced to sell their stadium and training ground to stay afloat. Then in May 2007 they went into administration and were relegated again to the murky depths of League One. Leeds are now back in the Championship, but merely a shadow of their former might.
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