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Top 5 Cinderella Stories in Europe this Season

Top 5 Cinderella Stories in Europe this Season. Zach Lowy takes a look at the top five Cinderella stories in Europe this season.

Top Football Cinderella Story

There are just two months remaining in the 2021/22 season, and it’s fair to say we’ve seen our fair share of Cinderella teams, lower-ranking sides that have defied the odds and delivered their fans a storybook, unforgettable campaign that each of them will cherish for the rest of their lives. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the top five Cinderella stories in Europe this season.

Underdogs typically don’t play in European competition, and as such, we will only be looking at league form in consideration of these teams rather than cup competitions.

Gil Vicente

We’re going to start off this list with Gil Vicente, a team that currently sits three points behind fourth-placed Braga and 10 points ahead of Vitória de Guimarães. Gil Vicente will be playing European football no matter what next season, but if they can manage to finish fourth instead of fifth, they will be playing in the Europa League group stage as opposed to the Europa Conference League playoffs.

After defeating Braga thanks to a last-minute goal from substitute Henrique Gomes, Gil Vicente succumbed to a draw against Marítimo. They have seven matches left in what has been a historic season for the small team from Barcelos, a team that will lose starting right back Zé Carlos following his loan return to Braga and will likely lose attacking talisman Samuel Lino to Atlético Madrid in the summer.

No team in the Primeira has had a bigger increase in points than Gil Vicente, who, with respect to the 27th matchday in the 2020/21 season, have picked up 15 more points and currently sit 5th in the table with 46. They have already sealed the contract renewal of diminutive midfield maestro Pedrinho through 2025, but getting Europa League football could be the difference between keeping hold of other players such as Kanya Fujimoto and Fran Navarro.

Luton Town

Founded on April 11, 1885, Luton Town enjoyed their strongest period from 1982 to 1992 when they enjoyed a decade in the top flight and won the 1988 League Cup Final against Arsenal, before suffering relegation – the following season, the Premier League was born. The Hatters remained in the second tier for 15 years before financial difficulties caused them to fall to the fifth tier in just two seasons, with Luton being docked 30 points in 2008/09 due to financial irregularities. They would spend the next five seasons in England’s amateur divisions before getting back into the Football League in 2014 and enjoying successive promotions to return to the Championship after a 13-year absence.

Luton Town finished 19th and 12th in their first two seasons back in the Championship, but they currently sit third, two points ahead of Huddersfield Town with a game in hand, as well as a six-point lead on Sheffield United and Blackburn Rovers. Whilst securing one of the automatic promotion spots may be out of reach with Fulham and Bournemouth enjoying a comfortable lead on the rest of the pack, Luton Town will likely be playing in the end-of-year promotion playoffs and have a chance to secure a berth in the Premier League for the first time in club history.

FC Zurich

Last season, we saw various clubs such as Rangers, Inter, Lille, Sporting and Atlético Madrid put an end to their lengthy title droughts. FC Zurich have not won the Swiss Super League since 2009 but currently enjoy a 12-point advantage over Basel and a 17-point advantage over Lugano and Young Boys, the latter having won the past four league titles in Switzerland. FCZ have nine games remaining in a campaign that will likely see them win their 13th league title in their 125-year history.

After winning the league title in 2009, FC Zurich suffered a gradual decline that culminated in their relegation in 2016. They were able to win promotion on the first attempt and enjoyed an impressive fourth-place finish in their return that saw them qualify for the Europa League group stage after defeating Young Boys in the 2018 Swiss Cup Final, but the following season saw them finish 7th, seven points above the relegation play-off spot. Another relegation battle followed in the following two seasons, but FC Zurich are nevertheless enjoying their best season in a decade under new manager Andre Breitenreiter.

“Getting beaten to the title by Basel, historically their biggest rivals, has put the club in shock,” said Swiss football journalist Emanuel Staub, who is the founder of the Bolzplazz Swiss Football Platform. “That title really was an incredible booster for Basel, who cemented their dominance in Switzerland with 8 titles in a row. The answer to why Zürich declined is probably a mix of Basel, who simply outgrew the league in this period (also thanks to UCL money) and didn‘t leave any room besides them, and questionable decisions off the pitch with the appointment of inexperienced coaches like Sami Hyypiä or Ludovic Magnin.”

Staub credits much of FCZ’s recent success to sporting director Marinko Jurendic, who was appointed in 2020. “He has done excellent business last summer and laid the foundation for this season with perfect transfers. But his biggest achievement was undoubtedly that he managed to sign André Breitenreiter.”

“Breitenreiter accepted the FCZ job last summer and has turned the ship 180 degrees. He is without the shadow of a doubt the most able coach in the league. He turned players that were once deemed failures into key players (Assan Ceesay or Mirlind Kryeziu). He gave the team a clear, simple but very well working tactical system with which they have taken the league by storm this year.”

Royale Union Saint-Gilloise

Club Brugge (16 titles) and Anderlecht (34) have dominated Belgian football with the most league titles, but one team that sits right behind the defending champions with an impressive 11 titles is Royale Union Saint-Gilloise. USG dominated the inaugural stages of the Belgian top-flight with seven titles between 1904 and 1913, but their last triumph came in 1935.

but they ended a 48-year absence from the top-flight last year and have skyrocketed to the top of the league table in their return, currently sitting five points above Club Brugge with 71 points. Unlike other leagues, Belgium’s season consists of a 34-match regular season and playoffs, where each team starts with half of the points they won in the regular season, rounded up to the nearest integer. The top four teams from the regular season enter the championship playoff, with the first-placed team winning the championship in Belgium. Each team plays their opponents twice. As such, USG would still need to face off against Club Brugge and likely two of Antwerp, Gent and Anderlecht in their attempt to win the championship even if they win the regular-season title.


Founded in 1878, Arbroath Football Club have enjoyed their fair share of ups and downs over the past few decades, but under manager Dick Campbell, the Red Lichties currently sit second in the Scottish second tier, four points behind league leaders Kilmarnock and within a shot of promotion to the top-flight for the first time since 1974/75 – despite the fact that their team is composed of part-time footballers.

“Arbroath have been a breath of fresh air in recent seasons. This season has been their best yet under legendary manager Dick Campbell. He arrived at the club when they were in League Two and has them competing with a historic club like Kilmarnock for top-flight promotion. An incredible rise,” says Scottish journalist Callum McFadden.

“They are a part-time club so their team is made up of players who have a range of jobs. Star striker Bobby Linn is a local bin man and manager Dick Campbell works for his brother (and assistant manager) Ian Campbell during the week at his company. It is a unique story and one that we haven’t seen in Scottish football in the modern era. I was born in 1995 and cannot remember a part-time team reaching the top flight of the Scottish game.”

Zach Lowy is the co-creator of Breaking The Lines (@BTLVid) and a freelance soccer journalist for various websites such as BET Central, Soccer Laduma and Hudl Analysis. He is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and is the host of the Cortalinhas podcast, a weekly podcast that discusses Portuguese football. Zach has accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge in football and has written about various subjects for BET Central ranging from Barcelona's financial difficulties to the 'lost generation' of South Africa's Amajita class of 2009.

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