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Football Relegations: Five of the most shocking in history

Relegation is one of the biggest fears for football fans and clubs. The heartbreak and agony relegation can bring to a city or town is truly unique and an experience some clubs never recover from.

A “big” club suffering relegation is often unheard of, but there have been occasions when it has occurred. Here are five of the most shocking relegations in football history.

Villarreal (2011/12):


The 2010/11 season saw Villarreal finish in fourth place in La Liga and qualify for UEFA Champions League football. With experienced players such as Diego López, Marcos Senna and Giuseppe Rossi in the squad, the following season was an unexpected nightmare for “El Submarí Groguet”.

Star strikers Rossi and Nilmar, who scored 29 goals between them the previous season, suffered long-term injuries in the 2011/12 season, which left Villarreal lacking attacking options. Their lack of goals led to their defense being put under pressure and eventually getting exposed week in week out.

Despite their best efforts, Villarreal would be relegated on the final day of the La Liga season, missing out on safety by a single point. The club has since bounced back from their relegation, winning the UEFA Europa League against Manchester United in 2021 as well as reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League the following season under the management of Unai Emery.

River Plate (2010/11):


Argentinian giants River Plate suffered their first relegation in their 1000 year history in 2011. A financial crisis at the Buenos Aires club saw them rack up $75 million in debt and eventually suffer relegation.

River Plate found themselves in Primera B Nacional after finishing bottom of the top division and then losing a two-legged play-off match to Belgrano de Córdoba 3-1 on aggregate. The relegation sparked joy for River Plates city rivals Boca Juniors who made sure to mock their enemy on their darkest day.

It only took one season for River Plate to return to the top flight in Argentina and in 2014 they even won a record 36th Primera Division title in 2014, leaving them with the last laugh over their arch rivals.

Juventus (2005/06):

The relegation of Juventus is possibly the most unique and shocking in football history. In the 2005/06 Serie A season, Juventus actually dominated the league and won the title with an incredible 91 points, a record at the time.

However, things quickly turned sour for “the Old Lady”. The club found themselves caught up in the famous Calciopoli match-fixing scandal which saw Juve suffer major consequences. Luciano Moggi, Juventus’ general manager at the time and club chairman Antonio Giraduo were found guilty of manipulating referees in order to benefit their club.

As punishment for their actions, Juventus was automatically relegated to Serie B, the second division of Italian football. Players such as Patrick Vieira, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Fabio Cannavaro all departed the club after the relegation was confirmed.

Club legends Alessandro Del Piero, Gianluigi Buffon and Pavel Nedved all remained at the “Bianconeri” and helped the club bounce back to the Serie A at the first attempt. Since then Juventus has gone on to dominate Italian football for the past decade.

Schalke (2020/21):


Schalke are regarded as one of the biggest clubs in German football which made their relegation to the Bundesliga 2 all that more disappointing for their fans. In 2017/18 the club finished 2nd in the Bundesliga behind Bayern Munich. Schalke have also had impressive Champions League campaigns throughout the past decade, often going toe-to-toe with some of Europe’s finest sides.

Despite their positive seasons, financial issues and severe club mismanagement began to catch up with the club. Mid-table Bundesliga finishes followed before the shock of 2020/21. Schakle finished the league season with just 16 points, one of the worst recorded seasons in Bundesliga history. 

The club did return to the Bundesliga but the core issues have still not been fixed which led to a second relegation back to the German second tier, where the club finished mid-table in the 2023/24 season.

Leicester City (2022/23):

Leicester City had an unbelievable time over the past decade, from just surviving relegation from the Premier League to winning the title against all the odds. After a successful UEFA Champions League campaign in which the club reached the quarter-finals, those in charge at the club wanted to continue to build on their momentum.

With the incredible money within the Premier League, Leicester invested heavily into their playing squad, making an array of big money signings to help push for another season of Champions League football. Under the management of Brendan Rodgers, the club failed to qualify for Europe’s elite competition multiple seasons in a row, often narrowly missing out on the final games of the season.

Despite an FA Cup victory against Chelsea, money problems continued to grow, meaning Leicester had to sell their best players and did not have the funds to replace them accordingly. A disastrous 2022/23 season followed, with the club struggling on and off the pitch. Leicester finished the season in 18th place, two points behind relegation rivals Everton.

Despite relegation, the club bounced back at the first time of asking under the management of now Chelsea manager Enzo Maresca.


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