Relegation is a foreign concept to many of European football’s big beasts – but only a few teams have avoided dropping out of the top flight in their histories.
Manchester United were famously relegated in 1974, Juventus spent a year in the lower leagues following the Calciopoli scandal and AC Milan were humiliatingly relegated in the early 1980s.
Even Arsenal, who have been in England’s top flight since 1919, were relegated six years previously. But there are some continental heavyweights who have never experienced the sinking feeling of demotion.
We’ve identified the eight sides from Europe’s top five leagues that have never been relegated.
When you think of Barcelona, you think of a super-club that has dominated Spanish football alongside Real Madrid for what feels like an eternity. It’s right to view the Catalans in this way, but they did once come close to a surprise relegation in the 2002-03 season.
Under Louis van Gaal, the club sat just three points clear of the drop-zone before the Dutch manager decided to terminate his contract. His compatriot Frank Rijkaard was the replacement in the dugout to start the rebuild and ultimately prevent potential embarrassment.
Barca’s arch-rivals hold the record for the most La Liga titles (34). In truth, Madrid have never come close to slipping out of the division – 11th being the club’s lowest finish in the competition.
It’s so often a race to the title between Los Blancos and the Catalans, with Atletico Madrid also emerging as league contenders in recent times under Diego Simeone.
Tradition dictates that Bilbao can only field players who were born in the Basque country. This, added to the financial restraints the club face compared to Barca and Real, makes their achievement of continuously retaining La Liga status an extraordinary one.
“We don’t really need the money,” former club president Josu Urrita said in 2018. The type of statement you wouldn’t ordinarily hear from key figures at football clubs in the modern game.
This probably comes as little surprise to most. Bayern have the record for the most Bundesliga titles, highest points tally, the highest number of wins… this list could go on and on.
Their domestic dominance shows no signs of slowing down and they are currently on course for a record-extending 10th consecutive Bundesliga title.
What a way for Bayern Munich to win their NINTH Bundesliga in a row 🏆 pic.twitter.com/OZjUWoQFML
— GOAL (@goal) May 10, 2021
Leverkusen are five-time runners up but have never won the Bundesliga. Their best opportunity to win the title came back in the 2001-02 season, but they somehow squandered a five-point lead at the summit with just three games to play.
They have mainly competed in the top half of the division and that trend has continued this term.
Wolfsburg have had a recent history of developing world-class stars – there’s no better example than Kevin De Bruyne. Despite regularly coming close to the drop, the side based on the fringes of Berlin have always survived.
They won the competition in the 2008-09 season – the only time they have achieved this feat in their history.
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
All the other three clubs mentioned have a relegation etched on their CV at some point before the Bundesliga existed, but Hoffenheim are the one exception in Germany.
The standout moment for the club came when they played in the Champions League for the first time in 2018. Hoffenheim became the smallest town to host a group stage game in Europe’s elite competition.
Should Juventus had not been relegated due to the well-publicised Calciopoli scandal in 2006, Inter wouldn’t be the only side to have never dropped from the top flight. That should be said.
The Nerazzurri are eight-time Serie A winners and one of the giants of Italian football alongside Juve and AC Milan. Antonio Conte was the manager who earned the club their last title crown in 2020-21 to end Juve’s nine-year reign as champions.
By Joe Sargent