The Worst Football Teams of All Time

We gave you the Greatest Teams of All Time. Now, it’s time for the worst! Without further ado, let’s go over the criteria that I used:

  • Expectations are Everything. Look at it this way. If you’re from Luxembourg, and you know that the only way you’re qualifying for the Euros is if you’re hosting it, does that make you worse than a team like England, that failed to qualify for Euro 2008 despite having some of the highest-paid players in the world? I don’t think so.
  • For clubs, I only considered top-flight level clubs. Otherwise, we’d be looking at regional sides and semi-pro clubs and the argument would never stop. Who cares whether FC United of Manchester would get beaten 10-0 by a club like Derby County? I sure don’t.
  • For international sides, you had to have flopped in a major competition, like the World Cup, Gold Cup, Euros, Confederation Cup, etc., or failed to qualify despite being favored to do so. I didn’t consider teams that perennially failed to make a major competition, like Faroe Islands or Netherlands Antilles. Or this team, which has been labeled as the Worst Team Ever by most mainstream outlets. If you’re part of the East Timor team, where you can barely afford gear to play the game, does that make you worse than a pampered team of multi-millionaires that fails to qualify for a tournament that they had no right missing? I don’t think so.
  • Teams that splashed a lot of money and underachieved were also considered. Once again, it’s all about expectations.

Worst Soccer Teams of All Time

Team: Tasmania 1900 Berlin, 1965-1966

Overview: Due to a mixture of Cold War politics, cheating, and luck, Tasmania 1900 Berlin, a low-level regional soccer team, found themselves in the German Bundesliga where they were immediately overmatched. Hertha Berlin had been relegated as a result of breaking the league’s rules regarding salary structure, and Cold War politics dictated that the replacement team come from Berlin. The Bundesliga decided to expand to 18 teams that season, as the teams scheduled to be relegated were allowed to stay in the top flight. Tasmania 1900 Berlin finished third in their Berlin regional league, but were allowed into the top flight because the top two teams, Tennis Borussia Berlin and Spandauer SV passed on the chance to play in the Bundesliga. Tasmania 1900 Berlin got the spot by default and wasted no time in showing why they were out of their league, as if anyone needed reminding. They limped back to the regional league the following year, and they couldn’t have been happier.

Lowlights: They hold a number of Bundesliga records, all of which are bad ones. They scored 15 goals while conceding an astonishing 108 goals, making the fact that they won 2 matches all the more impressive. They have the lowest point total in league history with 10 points on a record 28 defeats. They went a league-record 31 matches in a row without winning, lost a record 10 matches in a row, and are the only Bundesliga team to finish the season without an away win. They may have won two matches at home, but their home record was nothing to be proud about. They lost a record 8 straight at home, went a record 15 straight without a victory, and set a record for the worst loss at home, falling 9-0 to Meidericher SV. Their own fans were ashamed to put down their hard-earned money for a ticket to their games. Tasmania set a Bundesliga record for the smallest home crowd ever, drawing 827 on January 15, 1966 against Borussia Mönchengladbach. By the way, they played all their home matches in the 100,000 seat Olympic Stadium in Berlin. They did well against Kaiserslautern, though, going unbeaten against the 15th place winners.

“Accomplishments”: Gave up 108 goals in a season. Lost 28 matches. No truth to the rumor that Erich Mielke, head of the East German Stasi and notorious match-fixer, contacted Tasmania 1900 Berlin to play all their matches against his favorite team, Dynamo Berlin.

Team: Zaire, 1974

Overview: In 1974, Zaire became the first African nation to qualify for the World Cup and were treated like gods in their home country. They were showered with gifts and adulation from their country’s dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, and were promised riches and fame upon returning home from the World Cup. However, when they reached the World Cup that year, they found out how quickly things could change.

Lowlights: Zaire were roundly disparaged for their performance in the World Cup, single-handedly ruining the reputation of African football. They gave up a record 14 goals without scoring a single goal. They were especially humiliated during their second group match against Yugoslavia, losing by a score of 9-0 in a match. They were ridiculed for appearing not to understand the rules of the game as one player broke off the defensive wall and booted a dead ball downfield before the opposing player could take his free kick. At the time, suspicion was laid at the feet of Zaire’s manager, Zoran Vidinic, who happened to be Yugoslavian. However, it turned out that the Zairian officials had pocketed the players’ wages and per diems. As such, the players didn’t make a cent during the World Cup, and in some cases, returned home without a penny to their names. They protested by failing to put forth their best effort against the Yugoslavs, and afterwards, they were threatened by Mobutu’s Presidential guards and told that they could not return to Zaire if they lost to Brazil by a score of 4-0 or worse. Luckily for the Zairians, they lost 3-0 to the defending champions and were allowed to go home.

“Accomplishments”: Only lost to Brazil by 3 goals. Presumably, it meant that Mobutu made a bunch at the sports book. Too bad the same thing couldn’t be said about the players…

Team: Catania, 1983-1984

Overview: Catania have won titles in every division in Italian football except for Serie A. Which is a little bit like Shaq saying that he’s won in every level of basketball except in the college and the pros (this was before he went to L.A., as I’m sure you can imagine). They do have one “accomplishment” in Serie A, however. In the 1983-1984 season, they pulled a Derby County and won a grand total of one league match, earning 12 points. Surprisingly, they still ended up with more points than Lecce from 93-94 (11 points). They defeated the team that finished in second-to-last place, Pisa. Maybe that means that Pisa was really the worst team of the year…

Lowlights: Catania lost to Fiorentina by a score of 5-0, and to Inter Milan by a score of 6-0. They didn’t give up more than 2 goals in any match at home, including a 2-2 thriller against league runner-up Roma. Future Chelsea and Juventus manager, Claudio Ranieri, played for this Catania club, as did Brazilian international Pedrinho. Clearly, they could have used a few more guys like those two.

“Accomplishments”: One win. That speaks for itself.

Team: U.S. National Team, 1998

Overview: The U.S. was riding high after making it to the second round in 1994 and were looking to build on their success. The team boasted a nice mixture of veterans from 1994 (like Tom Dooley, Eric Wynalda, Alexi Lalas, Roy Wegerle, Tab Ramos, and Marcelo Balboa), youngsters making a name for themselves in the nascent MLS (like Eddie Pope, Frankie Hedjuk, Brian McBride, and Joe-Max Mooore), and non-Americans who became naturalized citizens (David Regis, Preki). American hopes rose and fell with two European-based players: Claudio Reyna, the best player the United States had ever produced, was the kind of European-based veteran that the team was counting on to provide playmaking ability and leadership in midfield, and Kasey Keller, who was already establishing himself as one of the top goalkeepers in the world. The U.S. were drawn in a tough group, but they were confident going into the tournament. They knew what was at stake, and knew that a strong showing would do wonders for MLS and American football.

Lowlights: Coach Steve Sampson was clearly in over his head. He feuded with team skipper John Harkes, and dismissed him from the team right before the start of the tournament (ironically enough, Sampson had named Harkes “Captain for Life” a few months earlier). He had poor relations with other veterans, like Lalas (who didn’t play a single minute in the tournament), Wynalda, and Ramos. Sampson’s incompetence extended to tactics, as he insisted on using a 3-6-1 formation, even though he only had one midfielder (Reyna) capable of keeping possession, his lone forward (McBride or Wynalda) wasn’t skilled enough to hold things down on his own up front, and his defenders (especially the aging Dooley) weren’t good enough to deal with the opposing offensive players. Reyna’s reputation really took a hit, as Americans were counting on him to be their offensive playmaker, even though his skills were really more suited to being a holding midfielder. You could argue that one reason he never got the respect that he deserved from the American press was because of his poor performance in France. American apologists could point to the fact that their opening match against Germany was much closer than the scoreline indicated, and that both Reyna and Hedjuk nearly scored. However, a humiliating loss to long-time political nemesis, Iran, sealed their fate. They were the first team to be eliminated from the World Cup in 1998, and were forced to play for nothing other than pride in their final group match against Yugoslavia (which they also lost, btw). A few days after their elimination, Steve Sampson resigned before he could be fired.

“Accomplishments”: 32nd out of 32 at the 1998 World Cup. Gave Iran bragging rights. Made me cry.

Team: France, 2002

Overview: France were riding high as the result of an excellent four-year stretch of dominance during which time they won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Zinedine Zidane established himself as the greatest player of his generation, while French mainstays Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Lillian Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Didier Deschamps, and Laurent Blanc enhanced their own considerable reputations. Going into the 2002 World Cup, France looked ready to add to their legend and got some help from the lottery gods as they were drawn into a fairly tame group consisting of Denmark, Uruguay, and debutante Senegal. The knock-out round was a given, and it seemed as if nothing could stop France from making a deep run in the World Cup, possibly even winning it.

Lowlights: Turns out, France were doomed before the World Cup even started. Zidane suffered a thigh injury during France’s final pre-World Cup friendly and France’s hopes of repeating went down the toilet. Senegal, playing its first World Cup match ever, shocked France and won by a score of 1-0. France kept their chances of advancing alive with a disappointing scoreless draw with Uruguay, and rushed Zidane back, prematurely, to face Denmark in the final group match. France, with their hobbled talisman barely able to run, let alone create goal scoring chances for his suddenly incompetent teammates, went out with a whimper, losing to Denmark by a score of 2-0. France ended up making history, but not the kind that they wanted. They became the very first defending champion to fail to score a single goal.

“Accomplishments”: Worst World Cup defense ever. Showed how valuable one player can be. Gave Senegal something to cheer about.

Team: Real Madrid, 2003-2004

Overview: During Real Madrid’s Galacticos policy, results and trophies took a backseat to merchandise sales. On-the-field chemistry was treated as heresy, with management frequently making decisions about what players would get playing time based on their marketability. Nowhere was this more apparent than with management’s decision to let Claude Makelele, the unheralded defensive midfielder who was seen as the heart of the team by the likes of Zidane and Figo, leave in a salary dispute, while taking on David Beckham, a one-man marketing machine whose best days as a player were clearly behind him. Real Madrid unveiled their latest toy right before a tour of Asia, and Brand Beckham took Asia by storm, nearly making back every cent that Real Madrid had spent for him. Beckham’s arrival also led to the departure of well-respected and popular winger, Steve McManaman. McManaman, who ended up having a decent career in Madrid, much to the consternation of the English media, took some parting shots at Real Madrid, accusing them of turning into Disneyland (which proved fairly prophetic). Becks wasn’t the only high-priced star. Real Madrid had broken the transfer record to get Luis Figo from archrivals Barcelona in 2000. They broke that record a year later to get Zinedine Zidane from Juventus (even though Zidane more-or-less played the same position as Figo). Ronaldo followed in 2002 to play up front with mainstay Raul.

Lowlights: Galacticos or no Galacticos, you would think that a team with Raul, Ronaldo, Zidane, Figo, Beckham, and Roberto Carlos would be good enough to win at least one trophy, right? You would be wrong. During the 2003-2004, Real Madrid finished fourth in La Liga, forcing the team to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Real were shocked by AS Monaco in the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League, and they lost in the Finals of the Copa del Rey. Manager Carlos Querioz, who was fired after the season, complained of being denied players by management (notably Pepe, who was available for 2 million Euros) because they didn’t “sell enough shirts” (Pepe eventually went to Real Madrid for the bargain-basement price of 30 million Euros). Real Madrid responded to their setback by opening up the checkbook in the offseason, acquiring Michael Owen, Walter Samuel, and Jonathan Woodgate while making an audacious bid for Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira. Real Madrid went trophyless again the following season, finishing second in the league and making it to the Quarterfinals of the Champions League and Copa del Rey. They’ve seemed to have put the Galacticos Era behind them, but there are indications that it could be on the way back. After all, they’ve vowed to do everything short of rename their stadium after Cristiano Ronaldo.

“Accomplishments”: 4th in La Liga, Quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League, Finalist in Copa del Rey. 1st in shirt sales.

Team: Sunderland, 2002-2003

Overview: If Manchester United have been the dominant club of the Premier League era, then Sunderland could very well be the complete opposite. They’ve been relegated three times, and have set the record for least amount of points in Premiership history on two separate occasions. The first time was in 2002-2003 when they limped out of the Premiership with a mere four league victories and a record-low 19 points. They actually had some talent, including striker Kevin Phillips, who once won the Golden Boot with 30 Premiership goals. Unfortunately for Sunderland, Phillips only managed 6 league goals,

Lowlights: They did well against league champion Manchester United that season. They drew 1-1 in August, clawing back from a 1-0 deficit to earn a point (future Sunderland manager Roy Keane was sent off in that match, ironically). In the reverse fixture, they led 1-0 for most of the match on a Juan Veron own goal before giving up two late United goals to lose, 2-1. They beat United 7-0 in the League Cup — third-division squad Cambridge United, that is (although they did beat Arsenal in a League Cup tie before falling to Sheffield United in the next round). Otherwise, it was a pretty dismal season characterized by a then-record 15 league defeats in a row, as well as a whopping one point taken in matches against West Brom and West Ham, the two teams that were relegated along with Sunderland that season.

“Accomplishments”: Worst Premiership Team ever for three whole seasons.

Teams: Sunderland, 2005-2006

Overview: As bad as Sunderland’s 2002-2003 season was, it looked like Manchester United’s Treble winning season compared to their 2005-2006 season. Coming off their rousing win in the Championship the previous season, Sunderland “improved” on their 2002-2003 record-setting standard by slumping to new lows in terms of wins and points, records that would stand until Derby County came along in 2007-2008. They won three matches and earned a mere 15 points, winning their first league match on September 25 (2-0 against Middlesbrough) and not winning another one until January 21, 2006 (1-0 against West Brom).

Lowlights: Manager Mick McCarthy was fired in March after failing to win a single home game and replaced by Kevin Ball, who eventually guided Sunderland to their first, and only, home win of the season: a 2-1 win against Fulham on the second-to-last week of the season. They also got demolished in the Tyne Wear Derby, losing to Newcastle twice by a total score of 7-3. Sunderland did earn a point at Old Trafford, holding United to a 0-0 draw, so it wasn’t all bad.

“Accomplishments”: Were the worst Premiership team ever until 2007-2008 (see below). Went back to Championship, where they won the 2006-2007 title under new manager, Roy Keane.

Team: England, 2008

Overview: England weren’t among the favorites for the Euro 2008 title, but they were certainly expected to qualify. They had a tough qualification group, but with the likes of John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, and Frank Lampard, they should have been able to sleepwalk into the tournament. They had performed consistently in previous international competitions, losing in controversial fashion against Portugal in the Quarterfinals of both Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup. Highly regarded Steve McClaren (it seems strange to say this now, but at the time, he was a rising star in managerial circles) took the reins as manager and committed one misstep after another. He tried to establish himself as someone willing to break with the past by cutting a number of respected veterans from the team, notably Sol Campbell, David James, and former skipper David Beckham, only to undercut himself by bringing back Beckham and Campbell when England struggled during their qualification matches. He insisted on using a 3-5-2 formation, which didn’t suit his players, most of who were used to playing some variation of the 4-4-2. He insisted on playing Lampard and Gerrard together, even though it was clear that their midfield partnership wasn’t working. And, of course, who can forget the image of McClaren standing under an umbrella during that final match at Wembley against Croatia? If there were ever a more fitting image for a man as maligned as McClaren, that was definitely it.

Lowlights: Paul Robinson was so bad in goal (and committed a horrendous howler against Croatia when he completely missed Gary Neville’s back-pass and gifted the other side a goal) that McClaren actually decided to play untested Scott Carson in England’s single biggest game of the year, a lose-and-you’re-out date at Wembley against Croatia. Carson committed a terrible howler of his own that led to Croatia’s 3-2 victory, knocking England out. Most people defended the move, pointing out Robinson’s terrible form. However, they forgot about the fact that McClaren could have nipped the whole thing in the bud by going with David James, which is exactly what Fabio Capello did once he took over. For some reason, McClaren refused to use Owen Hargreaves, his most seasoned holding midfielder, instead sticking with inexperienced Gareth Barry. People point to the Croatia match as where it all came apart for England, but they could have been out of it before that match. If it weren’t for Israel shocking Russia, England would have been eliminated by the time they met Croatia at Wembley, which makes their collapse all the more pitiful, in retrospect. And, of course, there was the whole umbrella thing.

“Accomplishments”: Missed Euro 2008. Killed Steve McClaren’s career. Finally put an end to the Gerrard/Lampard midfield experiment — oh wait…

Team: Derby County, 2007-2008 Premiership

Overview: Derby County had finished third in the Championship the previous season, and were promoted to the Premiership after winning a playoff against West Bromwich Albion. They splashed some cash and acquired two Americans in Benny Feilhaber and Eddie Lewis (the latter of which had done very well in spells at Preston North End and Leeds United). They also broke their transfer record and acquired striker Robert Earnshaw from Norwich for £ 3.5 million. After a poor start to their season, during which time they won one out of their first twenty league matches (including a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Liverpool, a 5-0 butt-kicking by Arsenal and that powerhouse West Ham, and a 4-1 squeaker against Manchester United), they threw around some money during the January transfer window, bringing in eight players, including midfielder Robbie Savage from Blackburn and goalkeeper and former Manchester United “legend” Roy Carroll from Rangers. Let’s be diplomatic and say that those reinforcements didn’t quite work out.

Lowlights: Based on the numbers, Derby were the worst team to ever play in the Premiership. They were officially relegated by the end of March, the earliest any team had ever been relegated in the history of the Premiership. Their eleven league points was the lowest in Premiership history. They only won one Premiership match all season, a 1-0 win against Newcastle in the middle of September (in retrospect, maybe the F.A. should investigate that match to make sure it wasn’t fixed). Their big-ticket striker, Earnshaw, scored a whopping one goal for Derby before being benched (although it as still a better return that what Newcastle got with Alan Smith) Their lone highlight of the season was getting past Championship side Sheffield Wednesday in the 3rd Round of the F.A. Cup (so what if it was in a shoot-out in a replay?) before losing in the 4th Round, 4-1, to Championship side Preston North End. They did play Manchester United tough during the reverse fixture, losing a hard-fought 1-0 battle during which time Roy Carroll made United fans wonder who the heck this guy was and what happened to the Roy Carroll they knew and loved. For manager Paul Jewell, what happened on the pitch wasn’t the only embarrassment he suffered that season. A lurid sex tape featuring him engaged tying up and spanking a woman not named Mrs. Jewell surfaced in March, 2008. Unfortunately, this tape marked the only time anyone from Derby delivered a spanking during the entirety of the 2007-2008 season.

“Accomplishments”: Worst team in the history of the Premiership. Nearly took a point from Manchester United. Paul Jewell replaced the guy who played Screech as the person you least wanted to see in a sex tape. Let Eddie Lewis go to the L.A. Galaxy, which might have actually been a step up for him.

Honorable Mention:

Team: Inter Milan, 1999-2000

Overview: Inter Milan were sick and tired of their trophy drought and they weren’t going to take it anymore. They had lagged far behind their Italian rivals, AC Milan and Juventus in terms of domestic and European silverware (although Inter did win the UEFA Cup on three occasions), and were itching to get back to the elite of Serie A. In 1995, Massimo Moratti took over and promised results, and he blazed a path that would eventually be followed by the likes of Tottenham and Manchester City. He opened up his checkbook and went on a spending spree. He bought Ronaldo from Barcelona for a then-record 30.5 million Euros in 1997. He then broke the record two years later by acquiring Italian striker Christian Vieri from Lazio for 48.3 million Euros. Despite tying up so much money in two players, Inter promised big things in 1999-2000. They didn’t qualify for European play, so the argument was they could concentrate on domestic honors. Anything less than a Scudetto would be seen as a disappointment.

Lowlights: Well, it was certainly a disappointment. Ronaldo hurt his knee early in the season and didn’t play again until late in the season, when he reinjured his knee after playing a mere seven minutes in the Coppa Italia Final. Vieri had a mere 13 goals in the league and the club slumped to a fourth place finish in the league. The following season, Inter signed Robbie Keane (because they didn’t have enough money tied up in their strike force), and were even worse, finishing fifth and missing out on the Champions League. Ronaldo regained his form sufficiently to force a sale to Real Madrid in 2002, while Vieri left in 2005.

“Accomplishments”: They almost won the Coppa Italia in 2000. That’s something, right?

Transfer Rumors (30 Jan 09): Ronaldo in 91m Real deal, Arsenal and Manchester City talk Toure, Tottenham offer Bent to Blackburn for Santa Cruz, and more
Tottenham and Manchester City resuscitate the January transfer window


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