Why have previous winners failed in recent World Cups?

The 2018 World Cup has pointed out one very cleat pattern shown in the last five World Cups. In the last five editions of the tournament, the previous winner has only qualified from the group stage once, which was Brazil in 2006, who reached the Quarter finals after winning it four years earlier. But they are just an anomaly, with France going out in the group stage in 2002 after winning it in 1998, Italy in 2010 after winning it in 2006, Spain in 2014 after winning it in 2010, and finally, most recently, Germany exiting in the group stages in 2018 after dominantly winning it in Brazil four years ago. In all four of these examples, it has come as a huge shock to see these nations exit the World Cup so early considering they were many people’s favourites going into their respective tournaments, and seemingly all of these came out of no where with them all having very strong squads, for example this years Germany team had so much strength in depth that they had the luxury of leaving Premier League PFA young player of the year Leroy Sane out of their 23 man squad. So with all of these countries showing such promise and riches before defending their trophies, why in recent years have previous winners struggled to defend their titles so much. I believe that there are two main reasons for this.


If you’re a manager and have just won the World Cup for your country, you will hold a great deal of trust and respect for the players that helped you get to that stage, and that’s understandable considering what they’ve just achieved together. However one problem this causes is that managers will struggle to drop the players that four years earlier  won him the greatest prize in world football. This loyalty and commitment to a group of players may seem fair as it would be harsh to drop a player that has done so much for a manager, but it seems to lead to a team becoming stagnant with teams already knowing their strengths and weaknesses. This point has been clearly shown in the 2014 and 2018 World Cups. If you compare the Spain starting eleven of the 2010 final against Holland to their opening game in 2014 against Holland, they had seven of the same players starting in both games. In 2010 they beat Holland 1-0, in 2014 they lost 5-1. Similarly, if you compare Germany’s starting lineup from their final against Argentina in 2014 to their opening game against Mexico in 2018, they had six of the same players (which would’ve been seven if Khedira wasn’t injured before the final.) The fact that both these teams kept in the aging players who had won them the whole thing four years prior may have been the reason for their failure because these players were no longer the best in the world and had been overtaken by a younger crop of players. Nations who win the World Cup and want to defend it four years later, need to embrace the younger generation of players to avoid become stale and bring an air of excitement to the team.


It seems pointless to say that if you have won a World Cup, then as the next tournament approaches, there will be an arrogance about you team because of what they have done. However, this arrogance can breed complacency into a squad as they will almost expect that they will just go and win it again as they know how to. This links to the point about the loyalty to the players as a manager won’t believe that he has to change a winning formula, so he will rarely change the personal or the system between tournaments. Whereas, if you contrast this with a side who did poorly in a previous World Cup, they will freshen up their squad and change their system in order to success. A good example of this has come during the current World Cup with World Champions Germany, and England. Germany have a fairly similar squad to their victorious 2014 squad and playing a similar system, so they have become stale and subsequently got knocked out in the group stage, whilst England were knocked out in the Group stage in 2014, but are now in the quarter finals, playing some of the best football in the tournament. It seems to be that those teams who come into the tournament with a sense of arrogance about them, will fall flat as they will get complacent, and the teams who have realistic expectations and a hard working team, will fair a lot better.

So looking forward four years to Qatar, will this years eventual winner follow the same fate as recent winners of the most prestigious trophy in world football, or will they stop the trend of nations failing to defend their title.

What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments below!