Football Features

Eight football clubs around the world that are totally cursed

By Steve Jennings

Published: 18:08, 16 May 2019

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 wracked our brains to come up with eight clubs who seem to constantly encounter misfortune whenever the object of their desire falls tantalisingly within reach. The curses are real.

1. Leeds United

This season, Marcelo Bielsa led Leeds to their highest league finish for 15 years. A return to the Premier League finally seemed possible, especially when they went 2-0 up on aggregate in the play-off semi-final second leg at Elland Road.

Alas, no. Leeds will go into their 16th consecutive year outside the top-flight next term after Derby County’s remarkable comeback. The Yorkshire club will rue the fact they even took part in the play-offs; for most of the campaign, it looked as if they would pip Sheffield United to the second automatic promotion spot.

But a shock home defeat to relegation-threatened Wigan Athletic in April followed by a 2-0 loss at Brentford saw the curse of Leeds rear its ugly head.

Since their relegation from the Premier League in 2003/04, Leeds have done everything possible to return but there seems to be an invisible forcefield between them and the top flight. Even when they fell into League One, it took three seasons for them to get out.

After a mostly brilliant campaign under Bielsa, one wonders what more Leeds have to do to secure their return to the big time.

2. Liverpool

If you told someone at the beginning of the season that Liverpool will finish with 97 points and fail to win the Premier League, you’d have been told to shut up. But after thinking about it for a while, it makes complete sense.

This is Liverpool we’re talking about, the club that has failed to win the league for 30 years after dominating English football in the 1980s. They’ve come close a few times since then but it just won’t happen, and this season was the cruellest blow of them all.

In truth, 2013/14 was painful, too. Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip against Chelsea swung the title race in Manchester City’s favour. In 2008/09, Rafael Benitez’s “facts” rant is widely considered evidence that Sir Alex Ferguson had finally made Rafa crack, in turn having a negative effect on the Liverpool team and allowing arch-rivals Manchester United to gain the impetus.

The Champions League success of 2004/05 was obviously a wonderful moment for Liverpool, and the Reds could taste European glory again when they face Tottenham in the final next month. But the last 30 years have been a bit of a slog domestically.

Former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar claims a witch doctor put a curse on the club, resulting in their title-less spell. No trophy from a 97-point campaign, a higher total than any runner-up has ever recorded in any of Europe’s top five leagues, suggests he might actually be onto something.

3. Tottenham

If you thought Liverpool’s title drought was long, Spurs haven’t won the English top-flight since 1961. And how typical that the season 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 three 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 it not for the Foxes’ miracle.

To make matters worse, Spurs fell apart after losing 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 this term is a sign of how much the club has come on.

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.

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4. Benfica

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 36 Primeira Liga titles, including four in a row earlier in the current decade. But those fans will be praying for the European curse to be lifted soon.

5. 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.

6. 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.

The club did manage to win the Concacaf Champions League in 2014, but a first league title since 1997 remains elusive.

7. Paris Saint-Germain

Since the injection of money into the club, Paris Saint-Germain have dominated French football, winning the Ligue 1 title in each of the last six 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? He keeps 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).

This season even 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.

Typical of their luckless run in the competition, PSG were downed by a stoppage-time VAR call for handball that allowed Marcus Rashford to step up and score the winning penalty. It means PSG haven’t got past the quarter-final stage in recent years despite all of their talent.

And if PSG needed any more convincing as to whether they’re cursed, the reigning Ligue 1 champions need only look at how Solkskjaer’s United side finished their season.

8. 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?