The Knowledge | Has Xhaka set a record for a new signing by going 47 games unbeaten?

“Granit Xhaka is unbeaten in his first 47 games for Bayer Leverkusen,” notes Scott Campbell. “Have any players attained a longer unbeaten streak upon joining a new club?”

At first Bayer Leverkusen’s success was one of the stories of the season. It’s fast becoming one of the stories of the century: they are 50 not out, three games away from completing an unbeaten season in all competitions. Granit Xhaka, their summer signing from Arsenal, has played in 47 of those 50 matches. The last time he lost at club level was last May, when Nottingham Forest officially ended Arsenal’s title challenge.

There is at least one player who beats Xhaka, although he didn’t so much join a new club as come through the ranks. “Demetrio Albertini remained unbeaten in his first 73 official matches for Milan: 53 in Serie A, 13 in the Coppa Italia, one Supercoppa Italiana match and six Champions League games,” writes Dirk Maas. “Albertini’s unbeaten run came to an end on 17 April 1993, when Milan lost 3-1 at home to Juventus in Serie A.”

If you like a bit of beauty to accompany your trivia, that game included this majestic goal from Andreas Möller.

Albertini’s unbeaten run at Milan lasted more than four years, although he only really became a regular at the start of 1991-92. He spent much of the previous season on loan at Serie B club Padova, where he was regularly on the losing side. Four of Albertini’s 73 unbeaten games took place before he went to Padova.

While Xhaka’s Leverkusen have scored a number of injury-time equalisers (and winners), Albertini’s Milan tended to sail further from the wind. Not at first, mind: it’s often forgotten that, though they were unbeaten throughout the Serie A season of 1991-92, they needed late equalisers in their third, fourth and fifth games. That included a 92nd-minute own-goal from Juventus’s Massimo Carrera at the Stadio Delle Alpi; it was Milan’s equivalent of Ruud van Nistelrooy’s missed penalty in Arsenal’s Invincible season.

After that, Milan were almost undentable. For the next 18 months, from October 1991 to March 1993, a Milan team containing Albertini were never behind after the 72nd minute of any game.

Albertini’s 73-game unbeaten run is reportedly a record for any player in Europe’s top five leagues, not just new signings; he shares it with Paolo Maldini (during the same period at Milan)and Manchester City’s Rodri, who equalled the record at Spurs last night.Both players missed the Coppa Italia semi-final defeat to Juventus in April 1992. Albertini was also absent when Milan lost 1-0 at home to Parma in March 1993, ending their extraordinary 58-match unbeaten run in Serie A.

Second is everything

“Which club has finished in second place the most times in their national league?” tweets @sigursportswear. “Bonus points for the club finishing second the most times without ever actually winning the league championship.”

Let’s start with the teams who have, in the parlance of association football, been both bridesmaid and bride. Nobody with a passing interest in Scottish football will be surprised that Rangers and Celtic are high on the list. Rangers have been runners-up 34 times, though it might be 35 by the time you read this, and Celtic have finished second on 32 occasions.

There is at least one European team who can beat them, if that’s the right word for this particular question: Ferencváros have been Hungarian runners-up on 36 occasions. The fact they have won the title 35 times is partial consolation.

Despair for Celtic fans after Alan Thompson’s penalty miss at Kilmarnock which would prove costly in the race for the title in May 2003. Photograph: Gary M Prior/Getty Images

But if you want serial runners-up, South America is the place to be. Peter Tomlin points out that the Paraguayan club Cerro Porteno have finished second 37 times, while River Plate have done so on 34 occasions in Argentina. And then there are Uruguay’s finest.

“The teams fighting for the Uruguayan title have been even more predictable than in Scotland, with Peñarol and Nacional winning 100 of the 120 championships combined,” writes Ruben. “Between 1933 and 1975, every championship was won by either Peñarol or Nacional and the other team finished second in all but three years in that era. Overall, Nacional have finished second 45 times, while Peñarol have been the first runner-up in 41 years.”

That leaves us with this list of serial runners-up.

  • 45 Nacional (Uruguay)

  • 41 Peñarol (Uruguay)

  • 37 Cerro Porteno (Paraguay)

  • 36 Ferencváros (Hungary)

  • 34 Rangers (Scotland), River Plate (Argntina)

  • 32 Celtic (Scotland)

  • 30 Benfica (Portugal)

Since you asked, because someone surely did, England’s most common runners-up are Manchester United: they’ve finished second on 17 occasions, most recently under Ole Gunnar Solskjær.

And so to the poor teams who have never won their domestic title. Leverkusen were Bundesliga runners-up five times between 1997 and 2011 before reaching the promised land this season. Schalke have finished second in the Bundesliga on seven occasions without winning it, though they were German champions seven times in the pre-Bundesliga era so they probably don’t count.

In Europe’s bigger leagues, the bridesmaids are Vitesse Arnhem, who were runners-up five times in the Netherlands between 1898 and 1915. More recently, in central Asia, one team has known only pain. “FK Khujand, from Tajikistan, have finished 10 times as runners-up without winning the league,” returns Dirk Maas. “I think that’s a world record.”

These are the teams we (well, you) could find who have been runners-up at least five times without becoming champions of their country.

  • 10 FK Khujand (Tajikistan)

  • 7 Gimnástica Española (Costa Rica)

  • 6 Tiligul-Tiras Tiraspol (Moldova), AEK Larnaca (Cyprus)

  • 5 Vitesse Arnhem (Netherlands)

No English team has been runners-up more than once without eventually becoming champions. The most recent on the list are Lawrie McMenemy’s Southampton, who finished three points behind Liverpool in 1983-84.

Long gaps between winning same competition

“What are the longest gaps between a player first and last winning a competition?” tweets Don Berno. “Mike Widle has just won the Welsh Cup 20 years after first winning it.

“I’ll start the bidding at a certain Stanley Matthews,” begins Jack Hayward, who really means “end the bidding”. “He won Football League Division Two twice, 30 years apart, once in each of spells at Stoke City: 1932-33 and 1962-63. I’ll be very impressed if someone can beat this.”

Stoke City players celebrate after beating Luton to gain automatic promotion to Division One in 1963. Photograph: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy

They can’t, but another ageless favourite deserves a mention. “Gigi Buffon won the Coppa Italia in 98-99 and 20-21, some remarkable 22 years apart,” tweets Jordi Gómez.

The biggest home-and-away aggregate win (2)

In last week’s Knowledge we looked at the biggest aggregate victory across home and away league fixtures in a single season. The leader was MTK Budapest 28-1 Magyar AC, but it’s not any more.

“How about a 37-0 scoreline (14-0 home and 23-0 away) between Vorskla Poltava and Ateks Kyiv in the Ukrainian women’s league’s top division in 2022-23,” writes @mykola_ko. “Vorskla had a brilliant season, scoring 147 goals and conceding only four. Ateks were relegated with eight goals scored and 189 goals against.”

And though this doesn’t count as a league fixture, we’re here for the trivia rather than the pedantry, right?

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@TheKnowledge_GU One for next week obviously… But re: largest aggregate score over 2 league matches – if we extend to officially sanctioned international tournaments/quali that involved double round robins – 2023 Women's World Cup Qualifying – Group D. England 30 – 0 Latvia.

&mdash; James Vickery (@JVickeryUK) May 8, 2024

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@TheKnowledge_GU One for next week obviously… But re: largest aggregate score over 2 league matches – if we extend to officially sanctioned international tournaments/quali that involved double round robins – 2023 Women’s World Cup Qualifying – Group D. England 30 – 0 Latvia.

— James Vickery (@JVickeryUK) May 8, 2024

Knowledge archive

“Paul Doyle suggested in a recent minute-by-minute report that a potential Newcastle-Tottenham shootout could be the worst ever and end nil-nil. It got me thinking, what is the worst penalty shootout there has ever been?” asked Mike Gibbons in 2008.

As Bill Martin, Florian Kinast and Paul Fields all pointed out, the shootout in the 1986 European Cup final takes some beating. Barcelona and Steaua Bucharest had played out 120 of the most tedious minutes of football ever witnessed in a major final, and with the score at 0-0 the game went to penalties, at which point both teams missed their first two. The Romanians then found their shooting boots and knocked home their next two, but Barça, then managed by Terry Venables, twice more failed to beat Helmuth Duckadam in the Steaua goal. Duckadam, who became known as “the hero of Seville”, had saved all four spot-kicks from José Alexanko, Ángel Pedraza, Pichi Alonso and Marcos Alonso, enabling Steaua to run out 2-0 winners.

Terry Venables watches on in the 1986 European Cup final. Photograph: PA Images/Alamy

Sadly Duckadam, who at 27 was reaching his peak years as a goalkeeper, was forced to retire shortly after his finest hour. “Just a few weeks after his epic moment,” wrote Florian, “Duckadam’s career came to an end due to a rare vascular disease in his right arm.”

Florian also pointed to Thailand’s 1-0 win on penalties over Bangladesh in the 1973 Merdeka Tournament, in which Singapore also beat Cambodia 1-0 in a shootout. The world record for the worst-ever penalty shootout, however, is quite predictably held by a pair of English sides.

In January 1998 Under-10 sides Mickleover Lightning Blue Sox and Chellaston Boys faced off in the Derby Community Cup. The game finished 1-1 and the Blue Sox won 2-1 on penalties, though not until a remarkable 66 penalties had been taken. Thanks to Paul Haynes for that one. All these and many other penalty-related facts, including the best-ever shootouts, can be found at the ever-marvellous rsssf.com.

Knowledge archive

Can you help?

“I recently purchased a rare copy of Gosh it’s Tosh: Poems and Pictures (1976), by Welsh wizard John Toshack. Curiosity piqued by a footballer publishing a volume of poetry in the pomp of his playing days. My question is are there any examples of other – be they active or retired-player poets? Any Roy, ahem, Racines?” asks Dr Nick Kennedy.

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@TheKnowledge_GU
What is the earliest a team in the football league since 1888 has been confirmed as promoted or relegated i.e after how many matches and what percentage was that of the total number of matches they played that season? Thanks, Martin

&mdash; Mhb (@Martinhb001) May 8, 2024

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@TheKnowledge_GU
What is the earliest a team in the football league since 1888 has been confirmed as promoted or relegated i.e after how many matches and what percentage was that of the total number of matches they played that season? Thanks, Martin

— Mhb (@Martinhb001) May 8, 2024

“Has a team ever been ‘all but relegated’ and still survived by achieving a massive goal-difference swing in their final few matches?” wonders Stefan Glosby.

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@TheKnowledge_GU Ipswich &amp; Forest Green have gone from being in the same league last season to being 4 leagues apart next season after successive promotions for Ipswich &amp; relegations for FG. Has there ever been a case where two sides from the same league ended up 6 leagues apart?

&mdash; Daniel Hill (@hilldaniel) May 7, 2024

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@TheKnowledge_GU Ipswich & Forest Green have gone from being in the same league last season to being 4 leagues apart next season after successive promotions for Ipswich & relegations for FG. Has there ever been a case where two sides from the same league ended up 6 leagues apart?

— Daniel Hill (@hilldaniel) May 7, 2024

“Olympiakos have currently conceded 26 goals in Europe this season in 17 games.
Has any club ever conceded more goals in a European campaign en route to reaching the final?” asks Jack Blackbird.

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On May 8, 2024, Tampa Bay Rowdies were leading Birmingham Legion 4-0 in the 82nd minute of their US Open Cup tie. The final score was 4-4. has a team ever scored 4 goals in the last 10 minutes to overcome a 4-0 deficit? https://t.co/Rx1ehwsWQY

&mdash; Paul Berry (@BerryPauluws) May 9, 2024

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On May 8, 2024, Tampa Bay Rowdies were leading Birmingham Legion 4-0 in the 82nd minute of their US Open Cup tie. The final score was 4-4. has a team ever scored 4 goals in the last 10 minutes to overcome a 4-0 deficit? https://t.co/Rx1ehwsWQY

— Paul Berry (@BerryPauluws) May 9, 2024

“Vitesse’s 3-2 win over Fortuna Sittard on 28 April saved them the embarrassment – following an 18-point deduction and a poor season on the pitch – of being relegated from the Eredivisie on negative points. Has this ever happened in a top-flight European league before?” asks Jack Hayward.

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The English top flight has not had an English manager winning it since 1992 (Howard Wilkinson with Leeds). Any other top flight leagues with a similar or longer streak of non-native managers winning?

&mdash; Ben Chia (@BenChiaCars) May 14, 2024

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The English top flight has not had an English manager winning it since 1992 (Howard Wilkinson with Leeds). Any other top flight leagues with a similar or longer streak of non-native managers winning?

— Ben Chia (@BenChiaCars) May 14, 2024

“What‘s the longest one-two in the history of the game in terms of: a) the number of touches traded between the same two players; or b) the length of pitch covered?” muses Albert Farkas.

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Brackley Town have fallen at one stage or another of the National League North play offs for six successive seasons. Got to be a record, surely.

&mdash; MSJM (@MSJM71223419) May 10, 2024

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Brackley Town have fallen at one stage or another of the National League North play offs for six successive seasons. Got to be a record, surely.

— MSJM (@MSJM71223419) May 10, 2024

“Leicester City have won every domestic honour this century except League Two. Anyone done any better?” asks Philip Vial.

“Wolfsburg just won their 10th DFB-Pokal Frauen in a row. Is that a record for a cup competition?” wonders Kári Tulinius.

The Guardian