Published on 9 December 2023 at 13:00

Times are changing in football in 2023. The likes of Arsenal and Bayer Leverkusen are breathing new life into the Premier League and Bundesliga title races, Girona are making waves in La Liga, and the Serie A in Italy has perhaps never been so hotly contested. But for all the triumphant winners and resurgent clubs, it's been a landmark year of disappointment for a number of world football's once-elite sides. Here's five teams who have endured an underwhelming 2023.

1) Santos


The home of Pele, Neymar and other exceptional talent for much of the last century, Santos boasts a rich footballing history and was an ever present figure in the top flight of Brazilian football. The key word there: "was".


In one of the most chaotic endings to a domestic football season in some time, results went against Santos on the final day, condemning the Peixe to relegation and the Serie B for the first time in their illustrious 111-year history.


Just under three years ago, they were narrowly edged out in the Copa Libertadores final against fierce rivals Palmeiras: three years later, and Palmeiras have just won a record-setting 12th Brazilian championship, whilst Santos faces the prospect of continuing in a downward spiral. 


2) Ajax 


In the latter half of the 2010s, particularly during the tenure of Erik ten Hag, Ajax had a stranglehold on Dutch football. With a new generation of exciting talent emerging from Amsterdam, and increased eyes on the Eredivise giants still in the fallout of their 2019 UCL run, Ajax looked to be preparing themselves for another few years at the top of the table in the Netherlands.


Instead, for a short time in 2023, the legendary club became the laughing stock of club football on the continent. Winning just one of their opening eight league games, sat rock bottom of their Europa League group, and facing increased scrutiny for fan and hooligan behaviour, Ajax's short return to being the Kings of Dutch football definitely looks to have come to an abrupt end in 2023. 





3) Liverpool 


Up until the final week of the 2021/22 season, Liverpool was contesting for the quadruple: having already scooped the Carabao and FA Cups, only the Premier League and Champions League remained. 


Flash forward to 2023, and any chance of major silverware evaporated before it ever truly looked capable of happening. Failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2015-16 and exiting the remainder of their competitions at an alarmingly early rate, their (mostly) successful rebuild of their midfield has been the key difference in making sure 2023 was simply an underwhelming year for the Reds, rather than a truly disastrous one. 


4) AC Milan


Whilst a top four finish in the Serie A and reaching the Champions League Semi-Finals for the first time since 2007 would be a success in the eyes of many clubs, AC Milan may feel they have been underwhelming and underperforming particularly in comparison to their city rivals Inter. 


Humbled and humiliated by Inzaghi's side across both legs of the Champions League semi-final, AC Milan lost five different derby games in 2023 alone, firmly displacing the Rossoneri as the no.1 team in Milan. 


Their form in the 2023/24 season has left much to be desired as well. Barring a few standout performances from likes of Maignan, Hernandez and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, AC are facing a premature exit from the Champions League group of death in which many tipped them to be favoured to progress from. 


5) Lyon


Relegation beckons for the club that was once the finest in all of France. An institution in domestic football in the country, the Summer saw a mass exodus of young and promising talent including the likes of Barcola, Malo Gusto and Aouar. 


In the opening nine weeks of the 2023/24 season, Les Gones led a game for just a measly 57 minutes, the lowest in all of Europe's top five leagues. A mis-firing attack, porous defence and questionable board management, 2023 may soon go down in history as Lyon's worst year in the modern era. 


A club and its fanbase who have all but officially conceded they are favourites to be relegated, Lyon may soon become just the latest casualty of once top teams faltering in France, following on from Toulouse and Saint-Ettienne's relegations in recent years. 


Image Credit: Steffen Prößdorf


By Jaspar Shepherdson 

(@jasparshepmedia on X/Twitter and Instagram)


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