2023’s Most Amazing Incredible Astonishing Implosions by Major Clubs

2023 was a big year for footballing disasters. Here's a list of the biggest failures of European club football, written by someone who is definitely not an expert at sports, or writing, or sports analysis, or microblogging, or really anything related. I welcome your own lists and of course fact-checking is also important.

1. Chelsea FC. It’s highly questionable to lump them in with other first-tier clubs (even their Champions League victory in 2021 barely felt deserved). But even with the relatively modest expectation of qualifying for the CL, they finished twelfth in the Premier League this year, with a goal differential of -9. With shocking transfers ($110m signing Mykhailo Mudryk provided 2 assists and scored zero goals in 15 matches) and a new American owner with no discernible sporting acumen, Chelsea’s hopes of reaching the top four quickly became a struggle to avoid the league’s lower end. New coach Pochettino has inherited very expensive - but also very damaged - goods.

2. Juventus FC. Another heavyweight (or former heavyweight), the club would have finished in a respectable second place in Serie A, outdone in every way by the incredible reincarnation of Napoli. But the club’s management were caught misrepresenting their finances by about €280 in a violation of ‘plusvalenza’ regulations, triggering a massive 10-point deduction and stranding them in the Europa Conference League, pending a reversal of the verdict. Less a sporting tragedy than a legal disaster, Juventus’ already-shaky reputation took another massive hit, and an exodus of top players will begin this summer.

3. Liverpool FC. The resurgence of the famous English side seems to have concluded, with an aging team and ineffective new signings. Like Chelsea, slipped downwards to the middle of the PL table and exited the Champions League in the round of 16, and only managed to claw their way back to the Europa League at the end of the season. Some estimates place Liverpool’s loss of Champions League football around £100m. This will widen the gulf between the club and their state or corporate-owned competitors, which is increasingly becoming a one-team league.

4. FC Bayern Munich. Bayern have become the drama kings of Germany. The previous three clubs are in a free-fall, but only a team of Bayern’s reputation could win the Bundesliga and qualify for the Champions League, yet still experience a complete breakdown. Soap opera writers will study the subtlety and grace of the board, who fire and hire (and then fire some more) on a whim. Players wildly shift from heroics to anonymity, and club legends are ousted like exes in a high-school breakup. Bayern only have their anxiety-ridden comrades up North to thank for this season’s single piece of silverware.

5. FC Barcelona. They won their La Liga by a healthy margin. But this success came at the expense of their financial future, didn’t stop a Champions League failure in the group stages and capitulation in the Copa del Rey to a washed-up Real Madrid. Even the Europa League overwhelmed the Catalans, who went out thanks to perennially disappointing and former mega club Manchester United. Of course, Barcelona have been on a steady decline for close to a decade, but 2023 was the year their downgrade hit home. At least a certain Polish superhuman won the top scorer of the year!

6. PSG. Another team that fell victim to stratospheric expectations, PSG’s total submission to Bayern in the Champions League will be forgotten more easily than their childish protagonists. While they won their league by a comfortable margin, their star players threw international hissy fits, running off to Dubai, skipping team celebrations, and making headlines for sexual assault allegations. The club’s manager, Christophe Galtier, is accused of racism while coaching Nice, and its president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, is accused of ‘kidnap and torture’ back in Qatar. If Bayern’s spiral into madness is depressing, Paris Saint Germain’s season has been worthy of prestige TV. So why aren’t they higher on the list? Because this is only slightly worse than we expected from them.

7. Manchester City. Why I include the team that won 5 out of the last 6 Premier Leagues, and who are currently poised to play a Champions League final against a much weaker Inter Milan, in the list of most disappointing clubs? (They might even be the strongest team ever in England)! For most of us this is obvious – 100 allegations of financial crimes loom over the club. Their victories are stained with illegitimacy, and soon, even modest point deductions might cost them titles. Their reputation as the Juventus of England will haunt them, even more than their disgraceful Super League dreams and their ethically dubious oil-money backing. If regulators don’t suspiciously come up empty-handed, we’ll look at Man City not only as a major bruise for the Premier League but for the integrity of the sport. Maybe we already do?

8. Real Madrid. The aging veterans of a thousand Champions League victories, esteemed generals of La Liga, conquerors of Europe and the Supercup and lords of all the fish in the sea, are no longer in charge. They did win a consolation prize in the form of the Copa del Rey. But Real Madrid are old and tired and need a nap. I’m sure they’ll be back soon enough to win major trophies, rules and odds be damned.

9. Atlético Madrid. Are they a major club? They were contenders in the past. But this year, they finished third in La Liga, crashed out of a competitive Champions League group with a single win, and were ejected from the Copa del Rey quarterfinals by their local rivals. They only made headlines when a group of fans racially abused Vinicius Junior. A bleak year for a usually overachieving club.

10. Borussia Dortmund. The long-suffering fans in the Ruhr suffered even more than usual this year. Erling Haaland’s departure and Sébastien Haller’s cancer diagnosis seemed to curse the team from the very beginning. But after the Winterpause, they marauded the Bundesliga, chipping away at Bayern’s 10-point lead until Dortmund led by two points. They lost on goal differential on the final day thanks to a 2-2 draw to Mainz and a jaw-dropping 89th-minute goal by Jama Musiala. Dortmund might have blown their best chance at a Bundesliga title in years, but out of all the teams on this list, its inclusion on this list is probably the least fair. After all, they were never caught up in intricate financial schemes or haphazard lever-pulling, they didn’t finish 12th, their board is still gainfully employed, and no one accused them of torturing anyone. Where's the fun in that!

11. Honorable lower-tier mentions: Ajax, Valencia, Tottenham. And pour one out for Schalke.

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