Crisis: a time of intense difficulty or danger; a time when a difficult decision must be made. The term gets thrown around too much in sporting circles to the point where fans get desensitized. For the bigger clubs a crisis is one result away whereas the remainder has to dive into a black hole before the tag is anointed to them. The soccer world is an unforgiving environment and the reality is a touch-and-go call can be the difference between being in a job and lining up at the unemployment office.
“Intense difficulty” can arise from any number of fronts: friction between manager and owner, player unrest, off-field scandal, or just poor form. It’s any wonder why Jose Mourinho looks like he’s aged 20 years in the space of 5 seasons during his time at Real Madrid and his second stint at Chelsea. That suave black Iberian exterior has been replaced by a dour grey color which explains the stresses involved in elite level coaching.
And if we’re being 100% honest with you, the media does contribute to the storm that overshadows the drama at these under fire clubs. Hours of radio, thousands of column inches and segment after segment of television punditry fills the space between fixtures, so it’s imperative that a team in crisis pulls a result from somewhere, anyway they can.
When it’s all said and done these terms are purely subjective. One man’s crisis is another man’s rebuilding period. However, the following clubs have lost the ability to drive their own narrative and we all know they’re falling well below expectation. Lots of these coaches are in a job because their predecessor failed; it’s a world of swings and roundabouts. Here are the top 20 soccer clubs in crisis right now.
20. AC Milan
How the mighty have fallen. Such is the depths AC Milan has sunk to, soccer websites have spoken of a turn in improvement after a 1-1 draw away to midtable Serie A outfit Torino last weekend. A new investment group and a new coach in Sinisa Mihajlovic was supposed to give the Italian giant a hardened edge to compete for a Champions League position, yet for all the changes and endeavor Milan sit 13th with 3 wins from 8 games. The Rossoneri couldn’t even manage a Europa League place last season so it’s imperative for their reputation that the red and black 7-time Champions League winners go on a run of form before the Christmas break.
18 Leeds United
This club is in perpetual crisis mode. Leeds plunged into huge debt and despair after making the semi finals of the Champions League in 2001. The common consensus in English football is that they chased the golden goose, attempting to bite off more than they could chew which ultimately resulted in their relegation in 2004. No less than 3 seasons later they were relegated again to the third tier of the British soccer pyramid. Although they rose one level back to the Championship, eccentric Italian owner Massimo Cellino has fired 6 managers inside 2 years. Instability is their middle name.
17 Western Sydney Wanderers
If you’re an American sports fan, chances are you’ve never heard of the Western Sydney Wanderers. The new A-League franchise was created from scratch only 4 years ago and shocked the soccer world by winning the Asian Champions League against clubs from China and Saudi Arabia with twenty times the resources. Young Australian coach Tony Popovic, for all his remarkable achievements, couldn’t maintain the clubs form which saw them fall out of A-League finals contention months out. 1 Draw and 1 loss from the first 2 games of this season after cutting 17 players means the man they call “Popa” is under huge pressure to appease one of the biggest sporting organizations in the country.
16 Chicago Fire
Not to be confused with the hit television series of the same name, the MLS franchise is in bad shape in 2015. Their 4-0 defeat to D.C. United of all teams last week told it’s own story as the Chicago Tribune ran with the headline “Chicago Fire soccer fans in the mud put of hell.” Sitting rock bottom of the Eastern Conference in 10th place with just 8 wins from 33 matches, there seems to be very little light at the end of the tunnel. Fortunately for the club there is no relegation and a salary cap will ensure that other competitors come back to the field in due course, but they desperately need a good start in 2016 to get the fans back on side.
15 Wigan Athletic
It felt like the soccer gods were shining on the Latics when they upset Manchester City to take the 2013 FA Cup in one of the biggest shocks in English football history. Under Roberto Martinez they played a swashbuckling pass and move game that defied their lowly status to remain in the EPL for 8 years on the bounce. Yet their FA Cup win culminated with relegation only weeks later and they continued to fall down the pecking order with relegation to the third tier. Now sitting midtable in League One, the club are trying to rebuild with an unproven manager in former player Gary Caldwell and an aging owner, Dave Whelan, who seems to have lost his magic touch.
14 Real Sociedad
The Basque club decided to do something unconventional by hiring former Everton and Manchester United manager David Moyes last year. British coaches tend to shy away from working overseas, partly because the money is so good at home and the amount of professional clubs usurp those of continental competitions. Scottish boss Moyes was given a lifeline in 2014 by Sociedad when they were lingering towards the bottom of La Liga and while he saved the club from relegation last season, 1 win from 8 starts to sit 16th tells its own story. Moyes is now linked with the Aston Villa gig, a job that might be opening sooner rather than later.
Crisis? Really? Perhaps we might be jumping the gun on the 4-time defending Serie A champions and Champions League finalists, but hear us out. The Old Lady sold enigmatic front man Carlos Tevez, midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo and box-to-box dynamo Arturo Vidal over the summer. While they spent big on some handy replacements, it seems it is only a matter of time before French superstar Paul Pogba is sold next season and the side sit 14th in the league with 2 wins from 8. Manager Massimo Allegri is far from loved in Turin and the club has a history of imploding, so watch this space.
13 Bolton Wanderers
During their glory days of the early 2000s the Trotters were the blueprint for small-to-medium sized English clubs to make a fist of becoming a sustainable EPL outfit. Under Sam Allardyce they ruffled feathers and used sports science to their advantage, qualifying for the UEFA Cup and making the Reebok Stadium a place to be feared. Since their relegation, they’ve become Championship lightweights. Bolton currently prop up the rest of the league in 20th position with 1 win from 11 starts in 2015.
12 Hannover 96
The Reds have a proud history and tradition in German football. One of the first establishment clubs from the late 1890s, Hannover 96 survived throughout the restructuring of the competition in the wake of WWII. They had the horrible ordeal of dealing with the death of Robert Enke, a talented German keeper who suffered silently with depression before he stood in front of an express train to take his own life. Throughout their existence, they only have two league titles to their name, the last of which was in 1954, combined with one cup win in 1992. Currently sitting 14th out of 18 teams in the Bundesliga, their 49,000 strong fan base are served up mediocrity year after year.
11 Colorado Rapids
Since owner Stan Kronke became a major shareholder of English giants Arsenal, it seems he’s dropped the ball on his first soccer team, the Colorado Rapids. Founded in 1995, their 20 years of existence has resulted in one MLS Cup victory in 2010. That’s all. Their average attendances are quite healthy for a niche market in the suburb of Denver, so perhaps we’re asking for too much. The problem is their one trophy doesn’t look to be making any friends in the cabinet anytime soon, as the Rapids continue to lack any marquee names or game breakers to take the club to the next level.
10 Dundee United
Sorry Dundee United fans, we’re talking about your club again. The serial offender of disgusting jersey designs are playing just as horribly as their previous kits, dropping down the pecking order of Scottish football. The SPL is in a very odd place at the moment with giant clubs like Hibernian and Rangers playing in the 2nd tier. Dundee United prop up the table with 1 win from 11 games to start the 2015/16 campaign and the reality is they are getting shown up week in, week out by much smaller clubs. Outfits like Hamilton, Ross County and St Johnstone are better teams at the moment, which is incredibly embarrassing for someone of United’s past pedigree.
9 Aston Villa
Tim Sherwood is a man feeling the heat – there is no other way to look at it. The problem for the Villa faithful is this 2015/16 start is an all-too-familiar turn of events, selling their better players in Benteke and Delph before going on horror runs with seemingly no end in sight. Managers are hired and fired with no clear direction or thought process and the rumors surrounding American owner Randy Lerner regarding his desire to sell the club casts doubt over everything else that goes on. The former European Cup winners are living just to keep their heads above water at the moment.
8 Vasco da Gama
Vasco are a proud Brazilian institution. They’ve developed some of the best players to ever pull on a Brazil shirt, players like Roberto Dinamite, Romario, Ademir and a host of others. Vasco won promotion last season but are in a world of hurt trying to stay afloat in 2015. They sit rock bottom of the Brazilian League and such is their predicament they’ve be universally mocked by rival fans. One Fluminense supporter told ESPN, “How can they (Vasco) field a reserve team when they don’t even have a first team?”
The Seasiders were the romantic’s choice when they won promotion to the EPL in 2010. By doing so, they achieved the rare feat of climbing the English football ladder by conquering every playoff final win along the way, never coming up through automatic promotion. Under eccentric British coach Ian Holloway, the team played an attacking brand of football that delighted their tiny 17,000 supporter base at Bloomfield Road. But their joy was short lived and they went down the same season, losing to Manchester United on the last day of the campaign. Chairman Karl Oyston took his outlandish behavior out on fans and financial problems have crippled their chances ever since, sitting in the relegation zone of the 3rd tier.
Marseille are a pillar of French football. They’ve developed some of the greats of the French game and the 10-time league winners and 1992 European Cup winners have always been one of the big draw cards. However, the club are languishing in 16th place of Ligue 1, with just 2 wins from 10 games. Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa pulled the plug only one game into this season, putting huge pressure on stand in man and former Marseille player Michel to revive their hopes. They finished 4th last season to make the Champions League and anything short of that will be a complete failure for Les Olympiens.
A 6-2 victory over Norwich City last Sunday turned the tables on the form book to stem the bleeding, but one swallow does not a summer make. The Toon Army faithful last saw their team lift a trophy in 1955 with the FA Cup, a drought that sustains itself through bad ownership, bad management, bad recruitment and bad selection. Betting mogul owner Mike Ashley is hated by the Jordies and Steve McClaren cannot get his side up the table quick enough for one of the proudest institutions in British football. A business model of selling their top talent to survive for surviving’s sake is a waste of a magnificent club.
4 Werder Bremen
No one wants to begin their first 9 games with 2 wins. Nobody. Even if you know it will be in a fight to the death to avoid relegation, you want a healthy start to provide a buffer when the results inevitably sour. The Green-Whites in Werder Bremen seem to have hit a road block in recent Bundesliga campaigns, regressing to the mean at a staggering rate. Their 10th place finish last season seemed respectable enough, yet the 4-time champions have a squad that is looking more mediocre as each year goes by. American international Aron Johannsson is one of their shining lights, which isn’t saying a great deal about the rest of their squad.
The North East might be dominated by the black and white Tyne side in Newcastle, but the Wear outfit Sunderland seem to be in crisis 24/7. Since they came up into the Premier League under former Manchester United legend Roy Keane, the Black Cats have avoided the drop with great runs in April to just keep their heads above water. Owner and chair Ellis Short has overseen a litany of managers and flop purchases, panicking to deliver a sustainable club with a proper identity and purpose. New coach Sam Allardyce might be able to steady the ship, but a start of 0 wins, 3 draws and 6 losses from the first 9 games makes Big Sam’s task a daunting one.
2 FC Twente
Under the tutelage of British boss Steve McClaren, FC Twente won the Dutch league and cup double in 2010/11. Before this monumental achievement, the Tukkers were usually considered lightweights in Holland until they made some smart acquisitions and built a solid foundation. But that house made of brick is looking like a house made of sticks, which threatens to blow over any moment. Their 30,000 faithful have seen only 2 wins from 9 games and have interim coach Rene Hake trying to stabilize the ship. It looks to be a long season ahead for the former Champions League representatives.
What 3 points can do for a club. The Champions were languishing just outside the bottom three before a 2-0 win at home to fellow strugglers Aston Villa, catapulting the blues to 11th. The reality is that the on-field action is only part of the story for Chelsea. Senior players are unhappy, a medic has been sacked, selection is inconsistent and the media will not let Mourinho off the hook. The manager’s ramblings are the rants of a mad man unable to control his emotions. The FA are fining him and the knives are out for a club that dominated all before them in the league just months prior.