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Underdog Triumphs: Small Football Clubs That Became Unlikely League Champions

Small Clubs League Champions

Football is known for its unpredictability, which adds to the beauty of the game. In the world of football, there are numerous instances where less prominent teams have defied expectations and defeated the more established clubs.

These clubs have disrupted the traditional hierarchy in their league. All scoring statistics are sourced from Transfermarkt, unless specified otherwise.

Leicester City – 2015/16

Undoubtedly the most surprising league champions in recent years. During a time dominated by financial power in football, Leicester achieved a remarkable feat by defeating some of the wealthiest clubs in the world to win their inaugural Premier League title in the 2015/16 season. The Foxes secured the deal with a 2-2 draw for Spurs at Stamford Bridge.

Jamie Vardy

Leicester’s squad featured standout players such as Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kanté, but Jamie Vardy was widely considered their key player during that season. During the 2015/16 season, the striker netted 24 goals and came in second in the top scorers’ list, just behind Harry Kane.

Montpellier – 2011/12

In France, Montpellier surprised everyone by clinching the Ligue 1 title in 2011/12, finishing three points ahead of powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain. ‘La Paillade’ clinched the championship with a 1-2 victory against Auxerre, courtesy of two goals scored by John Utaka.

Olivier Giroud

Olivier Giroud had a significant impact for Montpellier that season, finding the back of the net 21 times. His impressive displays led the French striker to join Arsenal, where he maintained his scoring prowess and established himself as a top striker in European football.

AZ Alkmaar – 2008/09

AZ Alkmaar clinched the Eredivisie title in 1981 and achieved the same success in the 2008/09 season. ‘The Cheese Farmers’ finished the season with an eleven-point advantage over FC Twente.

Louis van Gaal

Although Mounir El Hamdaoui was AZ’s and the Eredivisie’s leading scorer, Louis van Gaal’s expertise helped the team succeed by assembling a formidable squad with the finest defense in the league. World Football claims that AZ only gave up 22 goals during the 2008–09 season.

FC Twente – 2009/10

After one season, FC Twente surprised Dutch powerhouses like PSV and Ajax by winning its first league title with Steve McClaren at the helm.

Bryan Ruiz

Bryan Ruiz from Twente was the standout player, netting 24 goals and securing second place in the top scorers’ list.

AA Gent – 2014/15

Twente acquired Ruiz from AA Gent in 2009 for €5.5 million, according to Transfermarkt. A few years later, the Belgian team celebrated their first top-flight title after steadily climbing to the top of Belgian football.

Hein Vanhaezebrouck

The success coach for Gent was Hein Vanhaezebrouck, who had exceptional players such as Sven Kums and Laurent Depoitre on his team. ‘The Buffalos’ ignited the fireworks by defeating Standard de Liège 2-0 and securing a spot in the group stage of the Champions League.

VfL Wolfsburg – 2008/09

In Germany, VfL Wolfsburg won the Bundesliga in the 2008/09 season, securing its first-ever league title. They finished two points ahead of Bayern Munich and five ahead of VfB Stuttgart.

Edin Dzeko en Grafite

Having Edin Dzeko and Grafite on the team gave ‘The Wolves’ two powerful strikers who each scored 26 and 28 goals that season. That’s over half of the 80 goals Wolfsburg scored that season.

Hellas Verona – 1984/85

In the 1984/85 season, Hellas Verona surprised the top teams in Italy by clinching the Scudetto for the first time. ‘The Yellow and Blues’ defeated Torino and Internazionale to claim the title of Italy’s top football team.

The Perfect Mix

Verona surprised everyone by clinching the title, thanks to the partnership of German Hans-Peter Briegel and Dane Preben Elkjaer, along with striker Giuseppe Galderisi and midfielder Antonio Di Gennaro.

Blackburn Rovers – 1994/95

Finally, Blackburn Rovers should also be included on this list. In 1991, industrialist Jack Walker took over The Riversiders, and his substantial investment led to success in the top-flight league shortly after.

Alan Shearer

Blackburn and Walker made significant investments in Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, who played key roles in the 1994/95 title victory, scoring 34 and 15 goals, respectively. Blackburn ended the season with a one-point lead over Manchester United, who had been the champions in the previous season.


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