What happens to football’s
What happens to football’s

What happens to football’s “nearly men”?

With the Premier League enjoying a record-breaking two-horse title race and both the EFL and Champions League having seen favourites falter, a wave of anxiety will already have washed over many fans who are worried about the aftermath of failure.

Is there such a thing as a serial loser, and is there a lingering hangover for those who come close to glory without achieving it? We’ve looked back over the recent history of the game to track what happens to those who miss out on a trophy to see how often they repeat the trick or succeed at the second attempt.

Premier League

One of Liverpool or Manchester City will end the season in second place despite having amassed a points tally which would have been more than sufficient to claim the title in just about any other season. Premier League history is littered with ‘nearly men’ whose teams repeatedly challenged for the title without ever earning a winner’s medal: two of whom did so in 10 separate seasons.

Bacary Sagna and Theo Walcott are unique in having secured a double-figure number of top-four finishes with their clubs – mainly Arsenal, plus a few seasons at Manchester City for Sagna – without ever finishing a campaign at the summit. Liverpool pair Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher each did so nine times for the Reds, with Gerrard frustratingly achieving second place on three separate occasions.

Scousers also dominate the list of also-rans for the Golden Boot, with Wayne Rooney and Robbie Fowler having both never finished as Premier League top scorer despite coming second twice. Rooney has finished in the top 10 a further five times, as has his successor at Manchester United, Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian has time on his side, however, as he won’t turn 26 for a few weeks yet.


With the EFL season almost over, discussion has already turned to the play-offs where, by definition, three of the four sides who compete will fail to secure promotion. In such competitive divisions, there is no guarantee that success will be repeated the following year, with only around one in four teams going one better and securing promotion.

In fact, over 60% of clubs who lose in the play-offs won’t even make it that far up the table the following season, and around half of those will actually end up in the bottom half. In all three divisions there have even been teams relegated in the year following a failed promotion campaign – both Wigan and Leyton Orient did so in 2015.

Champions League

The Champions League is increasingly becoming a closed shop and it is not a forgiving environment for teams who crash out in the group stage, over half of whom haven’t even quality for the tournament the following year. Likewise, over one in three of those eliminated in the Round of 16 didn’t qualify at the next attempt and only around one in five went deeper in the competition.

One in four failed quarter-finalists don’t feature in the tournament the following season, which is a trend that two of this year’s last eight – Manchester United and Porto – are in danger of perpetuating. Both are currently on course to miss out on automatic qualification for next season’s group stage unless they finish their domestic campaigns strongly.

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