Year of the Underdog?
While much of world football is governed by the rich and powerful (primarily the rich), every once in a while, along come a couple of teams that tear up the form books and make the game seem just so much better. And given the way things have been shaping up so far this season, not just in England but in the rest of Europe too, this may just be the year of the underdog.
Let us start with Norwich City. With all due respect, they are an unfashionable club from East Anglia, who’s only real achievements in their 110-year history are a 3rd place finish in the old 1st Division and two League Cups. And yet, the Canaries are flying high (if you’ll pardon the pun) so far this season and are currently in 8th position in the league. And on the path to this lofty perch (for them), they performed admirably in defeat at Old Trafford as well as at Stamford Bridge, and more than matched Liverpool at Anfield, even snatching a point in the bargain. Their latest result, a pulsating 3-3 with Blackburn Rovers, and after being 3-1 down till 8 minutes from time, is a clear indication that Paul Lambert’s men are going to give it their all to stay in the top flight for more than one season, and possibly try and make a daring push into the top 10. They are already above their fellow promoted clubs, QPR and Swansea, as well as above Everton, Fulham and Aston Villa. Of course, it’s only the start of the season, and there’s a long, tough road ahead for Norwich, but if they continue to fight like they have so far, a top half finish is possible, leave alone avoiding relegation.
|Grant Holt scores a late penalty to secure a 3-3 draw with Blackburn|
As for the feel-good football stories in the rest of Europe, you need look no further than Spain. As far as unfashionable clubs go, Levante are as obscure as they come. And yet, this season, they have been punching well above their weight so far, with the high point of their season being their occupation of the summit of La Liga for two weeks. The perennial Spanish heavyweights, Barcelona and Real Madrid were kept off top spot for two whole weeks by a club that finished 14th in the La Liga last season and one that is hardly a household name. Real Betis were also in on the act (albeit earlier in the season when fewer games had been played) but they too have occupied top spot for two weeks this season. Barca and Real may have world class superstars such as Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and the ilk, but the smaller clubs in Spain have the heart, grit and determination to give these giants a run for their money. And long may it continue.
|Levante have been the surprise package in La Liga this season|
Over in Italy, it’s not so much a case of giant killers topping the table, but rather small teams putting paid to the title hopes of some of the bigger clubs. Specifically, Inter Milan. After finishing 2nd last season, and just two years after winning the treble under Jose Mourinho, the Nerazzurri are languishing in 17th after nine games played. They have been far below par, and have already sacked one coach so far this season. They were beaten 3-1 away by Novara, who themselves are in 18th position, along with a home defeat to Napoli. Claudio Ranieri has taken over after the dismissal of Gian Piero Gasperini, but they have not been able to get their act together yet. At least things are going ok for them in the Champions League. Either way, even though it’s only one of the big guns that is suffering the wrath of the supposed whipping boys, one gets the impression that the smaller clubs could continue this trend and cause a few more shocks along the way.
|Novara celebrate their historic win over Inter Milan|
Every season, we have a couple of small clubs that cause shocks against the ‘top dogs’. A few seasons ago, Hull City were on a dream run, and in 4th position in the Premier League in October, but escaped relegation on the last day of the season. Every league in Europe has its share of giant killings year in, year out. The seasons might end in disaster for each and every of one of the aforementioned teams, but football can honestly never cease to amaze. I for one am really looking forward to more shocks and surprises and twists and turns between now and the end of the season, and expect many more to come.
Note: This was written before Norwich City’s defeat to Aston Villa.