Leicester City overcame 5000/1 pre-season odds to win the 2015-16 Premier League title in one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of the beautiful game.
Having flirted with relegation for most of the last season but somehow remarkably finishing 14th in the previous season, the Foxes were one of the favorites to finish in the bottom three at the end of the current campaign. In an age where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on acquiring unproven transcontinental starlets, Leicester City barely spent anything and yet overcame the odds to script one of the most enduring football fairy tales of all time.
As remarkable as Leicester’s underdog story is, the history of the beautiful game is awash with tales of outlandish feats occurring all over the world. Here are five of the most inspiring football underdog stories you have never heard of.
Hellas Verona win Serie A (1984-85)
Hellas Verona became the first club this season to get relegated across Europe’s top 5 leagues (Spain, Italy, Germany, England, France). After going on a winless streak of 22 matches in Serie A, Hellas Verona finally managed to win their first match of the season against Atalanta in early February.
21 years ago, however, things were slightly differently for the club based in the north east of Italy. In the era of Diego Maradona (Napoli), Michel Platini (Juventus), Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (Inter Milan), Zico (Udinese) and Franco Baresi (AC Milan), the little known club present in the Italian province of Veneto went on to lift the Scudetto in one of the most astonishing sporting achievements in the history of world football.
Manager Osvaldo Bagnoli’s astute deployment of the catenaccio system proved to be the undoing of Italy’s dominant clubs that season. The miracle of the 1984-85 Serie A season will never be forgotten by the folks residing in that sleepy little town in northern Italy.
Ipswich Town win the English League (1961-62)
In 1955, Ipswich Town were relegated to the English Third Division (South) under manager Scott Duncan. Alf Ramsey took over the reigns at the south-eastern club in the summer. In 1957, Ipswich secured promotion into the second division courtesy of Ramsey’s tactical astuteness and the performances of winger Jimmy Leadbetter.
At the end of the 1960-61 season, Ipswich Town became the champions of the second division and secured their place in the English top flight for the first time in decades. A year later, Ramsey and his men went on to win the English league in one of the most unexpected title triumphs in the history of English football.
Alf Ramsey would later go on to become the manager of the England national team that lifted the World Cup in 1966.
Montpellier win the French title (2011-12)
Prior to the 2011-12 season, little known French club Montpellier spent five of the previous eight seasons in the country’s second division. A string of positive results at the end of the 2010-11 campaign had seen Montpellier escape relegation and finish 14th in the French Ligue 1.
On the other hand, capital club Paris Saint-Germain had just been taken over by Qatari billionaire Nasser al-Khelaifi, who spent a record €86.4 million on transfers during the summer. With defending champions Lille faltering and French powerhouses Lyon and Marseille undergoing a transitional phase, it was considered a mere formality for PSG to win the French title.
However, the unthinkable happened. Unfancied Montpellier, under manager René Girard, went on to win the French Ligue 1 title by defeating Auxerre 2-1 in the final match of the season. Olivier Giroud, with 21 goals and 9 assists in the season, spearheaded Montpellier’s campaign and finished as the league’s top scorer.
Kaiserslautern win the Bundesliga (1997-98)
At the end of the 1995-96 season, German club 1. FC Kaiserslautern got relegated after finishing third from bottom in the Bundesliga. At the same time, Bayern Munich manager Otto Rehhagel was sacked by the club after finishing second in the league table behind arch rivals Borussia Dortmund. Rehhagel, who was appointed the manager of Kaiserslautern immediately afterwards, led the Rhineland club back to the top flight after winning the Bundesliga second division title.
With players such as Michael Schjønberg, Miroslav Kadlec, Pavel Kuka, Ciriaco Sforza and Andreas Brehme in their ranks, Kaiserslautern went on to defy the odds and script an unlikely Bundesliga triumph. The title victory was especially sweet for Rehhagel, who’s team managed to edge past his former employers and defending champions Bayern Munich by 2 points. Kaiserslautern’s historic Bundesliga win remains the only instance of a newly promoted club winning the league in their first season back in the German top flight.
Once Caldas win the Copa Libertadores (2003-04)
Once Caldas, a football club based in the Colombian municipality of Manizales, currently plies its trade in Colombia’s Categoría Primera A. Their 2004 Copa Libertadores (South American equivalent of the UEFA Champions League) triumph, is one of South American football’s greatest underdog stories.
Caldas entered the tournament as one of the weakest teams in the draw. However, wins against some of the region’s stellar clubs such as Barcelona (Ecuador), Santos (Brazil) and Sao Paolo (Brazil) saw the Colombian minnows register their place in the final of the tournament – against Argentinian giants Boca Juniors. After a goalless draw in the first leg at the La Bombanera, Caldas went on to beat Boca Juniors via a penalty shootout in the 2nd leg to win South American club football’s most coveted prize.