Serie A’s worst-ever title defences: How does AC Milan’s failed 2022/23 attempt rank?

AC Milan's attempted title defence went so very badly wrong in 2022/23, with the Rossoneri never in the race. But where does it rank among the worst-ever in Serie A history?

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AC Milan won the 2021/22 Serie A title after shaking off a challenge from city rivals Inter, but their attempted title defence was disappointing to say the least, finishing the 2022/23 season 20 points behind scudetto winners Napoli.

Coach Stefano Pioli created a Milan team that was solid at the back while Franck Kessie ran tirelessly in midfield, Olivier Giroud scored decisive goals, and Rafael Leao provided plenty of flair on the left wing. Unfortunately, Pioli could not produce the game magic in 2022/23, and the Rossoneri did not play with as much conviction as when they won the league.

As disappointing as AC Milan were in 2022/23, there have been worse title defences in the history of Italian football. Although some were provincial clubs that suffered huge drops in form, the giants of Italy also have had a shocking inability to defend their titles.

Stefano Pioli during a game. (Photo: AC Milan)

What make the following title defences the worst ever?

Final Serie A position was the strongest determining factor used to choose these worst-ever attempts at title defences, making AC Milan’s fourth-placed finish not rank all that badly. Over the course of the 2022/23 season, though, there were real fears that it could have been a lot worse for the Rossoneri and they never at any point looked capable of ever getting into the title race.

Some of these clubs lost players due to retirement, some star players suffered serious injuries or were absent for other reasons, or these teams got found out tactically. To make matters worse, these reigning champions also suffered some embarrassing defeats, making people wonder how on Earth these teams had won a championship previously.

Here are a collection of the worst title defences in Serie A history.

AC Milan 2022/23

AC Milan were expected to produce a more competitive defence of their Serie A title. As the 2022/23 season progressed, it became evident that the Rossoneri were lacking in depth, and there were moments when key players had drops in form.

The Italian giants paid Club Brugge a reported figure of €35 million for Belgian youngster Charles De Ketelaere, but the attacking midfielder failed to have an impact and failed to score in 32 league games. Divock Origi arrived on a free transfer and couldn’t capitalise on the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic or displace Olivier Giroud in attack.

AC Milan striker Divock Origi in action against Spezia (@ACMilan)

In addition to those bad signings, Ciprian Tatarusanu did a horrible job of deputising for Mike Maignan when the French goalkeeper was injured, and the mercurial Rafael Leao went goalless in Serie A in a two-month spell at a crucial point of the campaign.

AC Milan were also at risk of failing to qualify for the Champions League, though they were able to seal qualification for Europe’s elite competition in the penultimate round of the season.

AC Milan: 2021/22 Serie A champions (86 points), 2022/23 4th in Serie A (70 points, 20 points off top spot in the era of three points for a win)

Juventus 1961/62

In the 1960/61 campaign, Juventus had been involved in a tight battle with Inter for the Serie A title. However, controversy was ensured when a victory that was initially awarded to them has been taken away after an appeal, and the Bianconeri won the rescheduled match 9-1 to end the season.

Star forward Omar Sivori finished the season with 25 goals in Serie A, second to Sergio Brighenti of Sampdoria, and he went on to win the Ballon d’Or. It was also the final campaign for club legend Giampiero Boniperti, who retired after 15 seasons with the Italian giants.

Julius Korostelev replaced Carlo Parola as coach for the 1961/62 season, but the Italian was brought back after just two rounds. Despite the return of Parola as coach, he could not stop the slump that the Bianconeri endured – they suffered a 5-1 defeat to eventual champions AC Milan one of their matches – and the club finished the season in 12th place.

Juventus: 1960/61 Serie A champions (49 points), 1961/62 12th in Serie A (29 points, 24 points off top spot in the era of two points for a win)

Hellas Verona 1985/86

Arguably the most remarkable of all scudetto triumphs, Hellas Verona won the 1984/85 Serie A title in one of the most competitive eras in Italian football.

The Gialloblu were built around foreign stars Hans-Peter Briegel and Preben Elkjaer as well as Italian talents such as Antonio Di Gennaro and Giuseppe Galderisi. After losing the Coppa Italia Final in the previous two seasons, they stunned the Italian peninsula by going on to win the league, and defeated reigning champions and eventual European Cup winners Juventus 2-0 in one of their games.

Hellas Verona could not replicate the magic in the following season as they could only finish in 10th place and they only avoided relegation by five points. Even in an era in which a Serie A season went for 30 rounds and two points were awarded for a win, that was still a narrow escape.

Hellas Verona: 1984/85 Serie A champions (42 points), 1985/86 10th in Serie A (28 points, 18 points off top spot in the era of two points for a win)

Verona’s Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi. (@sampdoria_en)

Inter 1954/55

Inter had won back-to-back Serie A title in 1952/53 and 1953/54, and under coach Alfredo Foni, they were one of the first teams to achieve their success with the infamous defensive tactic known as catenaccio.

After the departure of defender Attilio Giovannini, their defence was weakened, and the Nerazzurri could not longer rely on just nullifying the opposition. They finished eighth in the league, and their consolation prize was to participate in their inaugural Inter-City Fairs Cup, the forerunner to the UEFA Cup and now Europa League.  

To make matters worse, they lost the title to city rivals AC Milan, who played more offensively and scored 81 goals.

Inter: 1953/54 Serie A champions (51 points), 1954/55 8th in Serie A (36 points, 12 points off top spot in the era of two points for a win)

Napoli 1990/91

When the legendary Diego Maradona played for Napoli, he inspired the Southern Italian club to two Serie A titles in 1986/87 and 1989/90. However, the fairytale period for the enigmatic Argentinian and the Neapolitans was about to come to an end.

A statue of Diego Maradona at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. (@sscnapoli)

In 1991, Maradona received a ban for 15 months after failing a drugs test, and with the downfall of their hero, the Partenopei finished eighth in the league. They were also outclassed by eventual champions Sampdoria, losing 4-1 in both encounters during that season.

Napoli were relegated in 1997/98 and went bankrupt in 2004. Partenopei fans had to wait until this season for their team to win their third Serie A title and the first without the late Maradona.

Napoli: 1989/90 Serie A champions (51 points), 1990/91 8th in Serie A (37 points, 14 points off top spot in the era of two points for a win)

Cagliari 1970/71

When Cagliari won their only Serie A in 1969/70, it was also the only time a team outside of the mainland of Italy has won the scudetto.

Gigi Riva was the clear star of this Isolani squad, but his teammates Enrico Albertosi, Comunardo Niccolai, Angelo Domenghini, and Sergio Gori also featured in Italy’s 1970 World Cup team, which eventually lost 4-1 to Pele’s Brazil in the final.

Unfortunately, Riva suffered a severe leg injury in October 1970 while playing for Italy against Austria in a qualifier for the 1972 European Championship. As a consequence, Cagliari suffered without their talisman and finished seventh in Serie A. Given their dependence on his goals, Riva was still his team’s leading goalscorer along with Domenghini in the league with eight goals.

Cagliari: 1969/70 Serie A champions (45 points), 1970/71 7th in Serie A (30 points, 16 points off top spot in the era of two points for a win)

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