November 6th, 2008
03:01 PM ET

The mighty minnows

If there is one story that fascinates me in the early season, it's how many unheralded and unfancied clubs are holding their own with some of Europe's big boys, not only in their respective leagues, but also in the Champions League.

When Rubin Kazan clinched the Russian Premier League title, it really made me sit up and take notice, because to be honest, even though I have followed football all my life, I knew nothing about this club.

Rubin secured the Russian crown with three matches to play, finishing ahead of all of the traditional title contenders like Spartak, Dinamo and CSKA Moscow, as well as UEFA Cup champions Zenit St.Petersburg.

The side from Kazan has been built around veterans Sergei Rebrov and Sergei Semak with the well-travelled Savo Milosevic contributing a few key goals. Colombian midfielder Christian Noboa adds some South American flair and some of these names will be lighting up the Champions League next season.

1899 Hoffenheim is hoping to duplicate Rubin's historic feat in Germany.

Who could have predicted that this club, who just three years ago was playing in a regional league, would be topping the Bundesliga ahead of powerhouses such as Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen? With a squad which has no star names, Hoffenheim have defied all the odds by winning eight of their first 11 games.

In Portugal, it's Leixoes grabbing the headlines. The northern club, that was out of Portugal's top flight for over 20 seasons, is now leading the way in front of FC Porto, Benfica and Sporting. Being a native of Portugal and having followed the league all my life, it's a huge surprise to see such a power shift.

Over in the Netherlands, NAC Breda is one of the teams at the top of the Eredivisie. This is a club that has not won a single trophy in its history, yet is battling for the top positions in the league with Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord.

Even in the Premier League, where clubs with small budgets can rarely challenge the traditional fat cats, we can find a cinderella story as Hull City has been able to stay close to the top of the table. Their challenge will surely wane, but manager Phil Brown has masterminded some impressive victories, especially against Arsenal and Tottenham.

Success by the so called "small teams" has also been registered in the top club competition in the world - the Champions League.

Anorthosis Famagusta is the best example of this as the Cypriot side, making its debut this season, has beaten Olympiakos and Panathinaikos, plus, it has even managed to draw against Inter Milan and Werder Bremen.

So what does this all mean? Personally, I would like to believe that it means that although the rich clubs will always have more chances of winning titles, smaller sides with old fashioned qualities like hard work and a team philosophy can also challenge for honors. It makes me believe that money is not all you need to succeed.

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Filed under:  Football
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. youwai yap

    Well, it's good to have the smaller guys in the competition. Money is important but the other "real values" (teamwork, determination et al) spell hope for the game as well as any other aspects of LIFE.

    It's the surprises that keep us on our toes. Things fall precisely as per Expectations aren't very exciting, right? So I look forward to the young Arsenal team giving Man Utd a tough fight tonight when the general Expectation is for them to lose. It's also good for Entertainment, isn't it?

    November 8, 2008 at 4:28 am | Reply
  2. youwai yap

    Huh! Now we have a real small team beating Chelsea in the Carling Cup. What a Wonderful World!

    November 13, 2008 at 8:21 am | Reply

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