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.
If you thought Liverpool’s title drought was long before they eventually lifted the trophy in 2020, 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 seven 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.
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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, particularly this season after they lost to Milan and Sheffield United in the space of a week to get knocked out of their final two competitions for 2022/23.
In the words of Giorgio Chiellini: “It’s the history of Tottenham, they always miss something at the end.”
And of course, those words were echoed somewhat by recently dismissed Antonio Conte, who went on an extraordinary rant about the club after they conceded twice at the death to draw 3-3 with Southampton.
“Tottenham’s story is this – 20 years there is this owner and they never won something,” Conte said last weekend. “We are 11 players that go into the pitch. I see selfish players, I see players that don’t want to help each other and don’t put their heart [in].”
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.
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4. Paris Saint-Germain
Since the injection of money into the club, Paris Saint-Germain have dominated French football, winning the Ligue 1 title in eight of the last 10 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 he has 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).
Four 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 in 2020, 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 again to the Bavarians in the round-of-16, without an injured Neymar.
5. 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 — prior to 2022 — they had got knocked out at the round-of-16.
Indeed, Mexico were eliminated at the last 16 across seven World Cups in a row between 1994 and 2018, when they lost to Bulgaria on penalties. Brazil edged past them in 2018 despite the Mexicans’ impressive group-stage displays, while Qatar was an unmitigated disaster as they failed to make it out of the groups
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 2026 finally be the year Mexico are finally driven by the possibility of putting the curse to rest once and for all?