What if Juventus or Liverpool never return to their best?
Form is temporary, class is permanent. The phrase is often used for top players experiencing a difficult spell, but does it refer to clubs as well?
Looking back at the European game, it appears the biggest clubs tend to stay at the pinnacle of the sport give or take a few dips.
Manchester United went awol in the 1970s and 1980s but their sheer size meant they were always likely to regain the glory of the 1950s and 60s. Real Madrid and Barcelona have had their ups and downs in Europe but domestically they have dominated massively and surely always will.
But what will happen to spluttering giants Juventus and Liverpool?
Juve are still suffering indirectly from their 2006 match-fixing demotion. They bounced straight back to Serie A with aplomb and quickly returned to the Champions League but damage had been done.
Last term the twice European champions limped home seventh in Serie A after a bungled transfer policy which could only bring good but not great players to Turin. The brand was no longer what it once was.
This term, their raft of new signings have again lacked the quality which Juve fans were spoiled with when the likes of Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane were recruited.
It has got to the stage where Thursday’s 3-1 home defeat by Palermo was by no means a surprise. On the other hand, the soccer world just assumes this is an extended blip and Juve will rise up again to challenge at the very top.
Maybe they won’t. Maybe they will sink like admittedly smaller names but still previously very successful European teams like Nottingham Forest or 1985 scudetto winners Hellas Verona, who are now in the semi-pro leagues. Borussia Moenchengladbach will probably never regain their former glory in Germany while sleeping giants Schalke have been snoozing for decades and Dutch side Ajax look to have lost their aura for good.
Rich Juve are the most supported and most successful domestic Italian team but at the moment they don’t have the gravitas of Inter Milan, AC Milan or even AS Roma.
They are playing in the modest Stadio Olimpico but even when they move next season to their new ground, on the site of the old 70,000 capacity Delle Alpi, it will only house 40,000.
Most Juve supporters don’t come from Turin but southern Italy, where Milan and Inter have been making inroads with their own fanbases. It will be a real battle for La Vecchia Signora to make it back as a true heavyweight.
Liverpool have been similarly woeful to Juve in the past two years, with Wednesday’s penalty shootout loss to fourth tier Northampton Town in the League Cup a seminal moment for many fans.
Two decades without a league title and no sign of a renaissance given their debts, who says the five-times European champions will be a power again?
PHOTO: Juventus’ players react during their Italian Serie A soccer match against Palermo at the Olympic stadium in Turin September 23, 2010. REUTERS/Paolo Bona