Thursday, July 18, 2024

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The 'Sleeping Giants' of Football

Giant in Lost Gardens of HeliganAccording to the Collins English dictionary, a 'sleeping giant' is "an organization that has unrealized potential". When the phrase is used in football the average fan will cite several examples, and often the same clubs will come up. However, I started to wonder how fair the label is, are some sleeping giants overlooked whilst others fail to live up to the hype?


Newcastle United

If a football club could win based upon the support of its fans alone, then the Magpies would have a trophy cabinet to rival any great club. Last season they had the third highest average attendance (51,021) after Manchester United and Arsenal, and there can be no doubting the loyalty of their fanbase.

Then again, if we talk about the history of Newcastle United, their last major honour was the 1969 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (predecessor to the UEFA Cup). Their last major domestic honour was the 1955 FA Cup, and the last time the Toon won the league was 1926-27. To put this into context, Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Aston Villa, Ipswich Town and even Sunderland have achieved far more recent success.

If we take sleeping giant most literally, then Newcastle United have not been one since the late, great Bobby Robson was in charge. They certainly had potential during his tenure, but then Freddy Shepherd made the ludicrous decision to sack him and since then the going has largely been tough.

Now, after 4 years in charge, it appears that Alan Pardew is going to quit his position in favour of Crystal Palace. Whilst those at will be pleased, perhaps they should consider that the target of their ire is abandoning ship for a team threatened by relegation. In other words, Newcastle United are no longer a sleeping giant, instead the club is a problem that most managers can do without.

So, if Newcastle United do not qualify as a genuine sleeping giant, which clubs do? Now bear with me, as I've attempted to narrow down the field and to create the model for being one, with focus on that word potential:

The Formula for What Defines a Sleeping Giant In Football:

(1) A club must have won more than two major honours in the past 30 years. If we go back further than this it's (with the greatest of respect) beyond generous to refer to Preston North End, Huddersfield Town & Sheffield Wednesday as such.

(2) A club cannot have won more than two major honours in the last 15 years. Winning more trophies than this suggests that the club has the infrastructure to regularly challenge, and so they cannot exactly be sleeping too much.

(3) The club must have the obvious potential to challenge for honours. Whereas Newcastle United frequently demonstrate that they can't, Tottenham Hotspur clearly have the finances available to do so, plus they sometimes get to the semi-finals of a competition (if not the final).

In light of this, I'll run through some clubs on the basis of my criteria above, and you should see what I'm getting at.

FC Schalke 04: The Miners have a clear pass on points (1) and (3), but they have won 3 DFB-Pokal since the 2000-01 season and have finished 3rd in the Bundesliga twice in the last 3 years.

Verdict: No sleeping giant.

Torino: Whilst the club has often been in the shadow of its Turin neighbours Juventus, they are in fact the 5th most successful club in Serie A history. However, their last league title was 1975-76, although their last major honour was the Coppa Italia in 1992-93.

When it comes to point (3) though, they come unstuck. Torino became bankrupt in 2005 and had to technically re-start from scratch, albeit in Serie B. Whilst they're now re-established in Serie A, it seems unlikely that they will end their trophy drought anytime soon.

Verdict: No sleeping giant.

Everton: A tough one. The Toffees dominated English football alongside Liverpool in the 1980's, but since then Everton have only won the 1995 FA Cup. Still, the David Moyes era saw consistency as they finished in the top 7 in 6 of his last 7 seasons as manager.

Although the club is currently struggling for form, and the budget remains relatively tight, it's not too much of a stretch to see them challenging in the cup competitions under Roberto Martinez.

Verdict: A sleeping giant.

Feyenoord: Traditionally the 3rd biggest club in the Netherlands, only Ajax and PSV have won more Eredevisie titles than Feyenoord. However, their last league title came back in 1998-99 under the guidance of the legendary coach Leo Beenhakker. In the last 15 years there have been 2 major honours, the Uefa Cup in 2001-02 and the KNVB in 2007-08.

Last season they were runners-up in the title race, but then last summer saw manager Ronald Koeman leave for Southampton. Currently they lie a distant 3rd in the Eredevisie, but with the capable Fred Rutten as head coach it would not be a surprise if they won a cup.

Verdict: A sleeping giant.

So there you have it. I admit that opinions may be split on this one, but I'm confident that this represents a more sensible reflection of what really constitutes a sleeping giant in football. For too long clubs have been able to rest on their laurels, when in reality they are the solid, mid-table staple of a division.

Feel free to put your own club through this test, maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised by their standing, or perhaps you'll realise that they are not as ambitious as you thought. Football is built upon history, tradition and statistics, so either way clubs should be proud of what they've achieved- just as long as it doesn't cover up for the deficiencies of the present.

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