We all know the feeling. After any particularly unjust defeat, it feels like our teams have been cursed.
Only supernatural forces can possibly create luck this bad, we tell ourselves. And indeed, every club has experienced its fair share of bad luck.
But what about the clubs that simply can’t escape the feeling they are being wronged by the world over and over again? Some teams just can’t seem to put their curses to bed once they’ve become common knowledge.
We racked our brains to come up with seven clubs who seem to constantly encounter misfortune whenever the object of their desire falls tantalisingly within reach. The curses are real.
They may be top of the table, but Spurs fans won’t be getting excited just yet.
If you thought Liverpool’s title drought was long before they eventually lifted the trophy last season, Spurs haven’t won the English top-flight since 1961. And how typical that the campaign they finally put up a challenge in 2015/16, Leicester City pulled off one of the biggest miracles in the history of the game.
Mauricio Pochettino’s young side crumbled to the pressure of the title race four years ago, but there would hardly have been any pressure had Leicester not somehow made history. We might well be talking about Tottenham as Premier League champions if not for the Foxes’ miracle.
To make matters worse, Spurs fell apart after conceding the title in a 2-2 draw with Chelsea, losing their final two matches and slipping below fierce rivals Arsenal, who had fallen out of the title race weeks before Tottenham but made up the ground late on. Only Spurs, they would say, could finish third in a two-horse race.
Things have both changed and the stayed the same since. Spurs finally finished above the Gunners in 2016/17 and have done so ever since, and their progress to the Champions League final in 2018/19 was a sign of how far the club have come since that Stamford Bridge collapse.
But the Londoners haven’t won a trophy since the League Cup success of 2008, and as long as silverware continues to elude them, the fans will feel like a curse has been put on the club.
And while they may currently be leading the Premier League title race this season, have a serial winner in the dugout in the form of Jose Mourinho, and boast one of the most devastating frontline partnerships in Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, Spurs fans will not be counting their chickens (or cockerels) just yet.
In the words of Giorgio Chiellini: “It’s the history of Tottenham, they always miss something at the end.” But, if anyone can lift the curse, it’s surely the medal-hoovering Mourinho.
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Between 1959 and 1962, Bela Guttmann managed Benfica to two Portuguese top-flight titles and two European Cups. Understandably, the former Hungarian footballer believed he was worthy of a pay rise, but the club turned his request down.
In response, Guttmann put a curse on the club: “Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion.” True to his word, Benfica haven’t won the competition since – and it hasn’t been for the want of trying.
Since 1962, Benfica have reached eight European finals: five in the European Cup and three in the UEFA Cup/Europa League. They have lost all eight, most recently losing on penalties to Sevilla in the 2013/14 Europa League final. A year prior, they had lost to a last-minute Chelsea goal in the same competition.
The supporters will be pleased the club has continued to mostly dominate the domestic scene. They have won a record 37 Primeira Liga titles, including four in a row last decade. But those fans will be praying for the European curse to be lifted soon.
3. Bayer Leverkusen
In 2001/02, Bayer Leverkusen finished as runners-up in the Bundesliga, the German Cup and the Champions League, earning themselves the nickname ‘Neverkusen’.
It doesn’t get much more unlucky than coming second in three separate competitions in the same season, but that’s what happened to Leverkusen. To make matters worse, they were Bundesliga runners-up three years in a row between 1999 and 2002.
Most recently they came second in the 2010/11 Bundesliga campaign. Two years before that, they were beaten in the German Cup final. The list goes on.
Leverkusen have never won the Bundesliga despite their very best efforts, and their bad luck extends to the German national team. In the 2002 World Cup final defeat to Brazil, Germany’s team contained five Leverkusen players. Now that’s a curse.
4. Cruz Azul
Eight-time Mexican league champions Cruz Azul have been attempting to shake off their curse since 1997. Striker Carlos Hermosillo scored a winning penalty in a title decider after suffering a blow to the head and was forced to wipe blood away from his face before taking the spot-kick.
Cruz Azul won their eighth league title, but onlookers suggested the blood cursed the club. Since then, Cruz Azul have failed to win the Mexican top-flight title and have lost a number of finals in the last minute, leading to the term the ‘Cruzazulear’ being used for when a team loses in a humiliating way.
And they don’t come much more humiliating than letting slip a 4-0 aggregate lead in the semi-finals against a bitter adversary. Cruz Azul led Mexico City rivals Pumas 4-0 in the first leg of their Liga MX final phase semi-final encounter this season, but complacency (or a curse) crept in and they capitulated in the second leg.
Pumas ran out 4-0 winners themselves in the return fixture to make in 4-4 on aggregate, progressing to the final via a better position in the league table. History was made by Pumas as they became the first Liga MX club to overturn a four-goal deficit, while for Cruz Azul, the ‘curse’ lives on.
The club did manage to win the Concacaf Champions League in 2014, but a first league title since 1997 remains elusive.
5. Paris Saint-Germain
Since the injection of money into the club, Paris Saint-Germain have dominated French football, winning the Ligue 1 title in seven of the last eight years. However, European glory has eluded them to a frustrating degree.
So how did PSG try to address their lack of Champions League progress? They completely destabilised the European transfer market through paying €220 million to sign Neymar from Barcelona in a deal that shook the world of football. How has that worked out for them? Well prior to last season he kept getting injured at exactly the same stage of the competition they’re most desperate to win (the round-of-16) with more or less exactly the same injury (a metatarsal fracture).
Two seasons ago echoed La Remontada, the time they lost 6-1 to Barcelona and blew a four-goal first-leg lead in the process. After winning 2-0 against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Champions League round-of-16 first leg, progression to the quarter-finals appeared to be a formality. But Thomas Tuchel’s side fell to an embarrassing 3-1 home defeat and were eliminated on away goals, with a late, controversial VAR decision going against them.
They did manage to reach the final last season, and Neymar did manage to stay fit, but Bayern Munich were simply on another level to any club in the competition and walked to a sixth crown, while the Parisians’ problems have already started to manifest again this term, losing once more to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the French capital, albeit in the group stages this time.
6. Mexico national team
We’re cheating here a little bit, but think of Mexico as the Arsenal of international football. They approach every World Cup with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. But every year, it’s the same old story, because every year they get knocked out at the round-of-16.
Indeed, Mexico have been eliminated at the exact same stage of every World Cup since 1994, when they lost to Bulgaria on penalties. Brazil edged past them last summer despite the Mexicans’ impressive group-stage displays.
It’s the kind of repeated occurrence that can only have a negative effect on the psychology of the team, generating nerves every time the group stage is over. Will 2022 be the year Mexico are finally driven by the possibility of putting the curse to rest once and for all?
7. 21st century reigning World Cup champions
To win the highest honour in international football is something all professional footballers dream about prior to their place among the elite. The Fifa World Cup is the pinnacle of any professional footballer’s career and is something that is never forgotten.
However, from the turn of the 21st century, a strange phenomenon has started to occur.
It began with France back in 1998 who lifted the World Cup trophy on home soil before heading to Japan and South Korea as reigning champions four years later. A 1-0 opening match defeat to surprise package Senegal was followed by a 0-0 draw against Uruguay – with Thierry Henry sent off for France – and a 2-0 defeat to Denmark.
The reigning World Cup holders have been knocked out at the group stage in four of the last five tournaments:
2002: 🇫🇷 France
2010: 🇮🇹 Italy
2014: 🇪🇸 Spain
2018: 🇩🇪 Germany
The curse of the champions. pic.twitter.com/u8xINJ6yom
— Squawka (@Squawka) June 27, 2018
France embarrassingly crashed out of the World Cup in the group stages and thus a weird sequence of events started to emerge throughout future World Cup competitions.
2006 World Cup champions Italy left the 2010 tournament in the group stages. 2010 champions Spain did the same in 2014, as did Germany four years later.
The only country to survive the ‘curse’ is Brazil – the 2002 World Cup champions – who went on to reach the quarter-finals in 2006.
If France leaves the 2022 World Cup in Qatar early doors, we’ll know that something truly strange is happening.