Gremio’s relegation from the Brazilian top flight in early December has marked them as one of the fallen champions – teams that have won at the very top level but can’t seem to replicate those achievements no matter how hard they try.
Gremio fans faced a harsh reality in early December when the club was forced to relinquish its elite status and officially become one of the fallen champions. Despite a 4-3 victory over Atletico Mineiro, the 2017 Copa Libertadores Champions were unable to maintain their top-tier position in Brasilian Serie A. Their victory in the final round was insufficient because Gremio required negative results not only from one, but two of their contenders, Juventude and Bahia.
Ultimately only Bahia slumped to a 2-1 defeat to Fortaleza, whereas Juventude surprisingly sealed a narrow 1-0 win over Corinthians. The latter was safe but the former had to fall alongside Pedro Geromel and Co to the second tier. They followed Sport Recife and Chapecoense, which have officially gone down earlier. Gremio will be joining two other fallen champions, Vasco da Gama and Cruzeiro next season.
Gremio’s Relegation Officially Includes Them as One of the Fallen Champions
The Unexpected Downfall
Ironic is the only word to describe how quickly their fate has changed. They won their third Libertadores title four years ago after defeating Lanus 3-1 on aggregate. Unfortunately, their fortunes deteriorated after that, with semi-finalist status in 2018 and 2019, elimination in the quarter-finals in 2020, and failure to advance from the group stage in 2021. Gremio’s relegation this year is not exactly their first, but their third ones already, following 1991 and 2004. However, it is still quite unexpected because no one saw this coming at the beginning of the season. The club has no financial or administrative problems and a fairly strong squad.
There were several factors that contributed to Gremio’s relegation. One of them is undoubtedly the tougher domestic competition. Recently, newcomers have emerged to meddle the classic rivalry between traditional giants in Brazil’s Serie A. Red Bull Bragantino, which has received support from the Red Bull network and Fortaleza, as well as the current league winner, Atletico Miniero, have had successful seasons this season. They all qualified for the Copa Libertadores after finishing in the top six. Their success has left the likes of Sao Paulo, Internacional, and Gremio struggling in the bottom half of the table. Eventually, the first two did not manage to secure even two tickets for Copa Sundamericana, equal to UEFA Europa League. Vagner Mancini’s side sadly suffered the worst.
Such predicament has led those traditional giants to shift their focus to domestic cup and continental titles. This might explain why Brasil have dominated Copa Libertadores in the past five seasons, with even all Brasilian finals in the last two editions. Ironically, Gremio’s success in 2017 sparked the trend.
Unfortunately, focusing on their continental campaign comes with consequences. They only aim to finish in the top six for Libertadores or at least top ten to secure the berth in Copa Sundamericana, instead of getting involved in a title race. Only relying on the young talent instead of their key men for league games is sometimes not enough to help them finish in the top ten. Eventually, some like Cruzeiro, Vasco and now Gremio end up losing their way and only time will tell when they will return to the top tier.
The Fallen Champions in Europe
Surprisingly, they are not the only former champions which remain in the second tier. In Europe Nottingham Forest and Hamburg are the example of the fallen ones. They have not been able to make their way back to the top flight for a while and the list could go on if UEFA Cup winners are included with Schalke, Parma and Real Zaragoza in it.
Forest are possibly the longest suffering of the fallen Champions. The two-time European Cup winners in 1979 and 1980 have failed to bounce back to the top flight since their relegation in 1999. This season could be their best chance to return through the playoff path with the club now sitting in eighth place the Championship standings and only four points adrift from QPR in fifth. Steve Cooper’s men have only lost once in their last fifteen games as well so they are certainly one of the form teams going into the busy winter schedules.
Hamburg has rather different story. The winners of the 1983 European Cup have been on the verge of returning to the Bundesliga several times since their relegation in 2018 but they have always stumbled at the crucial stages.
Schalke, Parma, and Real Zaragoza, on the other hand, are in opposing positions. The Royal Blues, who won the UEFA Cup in 1997, have been performing well in the top four. Meanwhile, Parma and Zaragoza are currently languishing in the bottom half.
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