Great names in jeopardy
© AFP

While it is true to say that big clubs never die, only a few have never suffered the shattering disappointment of relegation. Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona are two institutions to have avoided such a fate, but at some point or other in their illustrious histories many other members of the global aristocracy have had to relinquish top-flight status.

In some cases, a year in hell provides a springboard for renewed success. Often, however, it has marked the beginning of lengthy spells in the wilderness, with some clubs taking years to regain their place in the top tier and others shuttling eternally between one division and another. And as FIFA.com reveals, the current season has seen a clutch of clubs with major reputations either fighting the drop or battling hard to return to the elite.

Italy has its fair share of yo-yo teams, among them Bologna. Despite collecting seven league championships and two Italian Cups over the years, i Rossoblu are having a tough time of it and are immersed in another Serie A relegation battle. Keeping them company are fallen giants Torino, who boast eight scudetti and five national cups but lie just one place off the drop zone.

Should the duo fall through the trapdoor, they can at least take heart from Parma. Winners of the UEFA European Super Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup in 1993, and the UEFA Cup in 1995 and 1999, Parma dropped down to Serie B last season, but look well placed to climb straight back up again.

A big club in big trouble in the Bundesliga are Borussia Monchengladbach, who dominated the German scene in the 1970s, winning five league titles, a German Cup and two UEFA Cups, but are mired in the bottom three with just six games to go. Saddled with the second worst defensive record in the league, M'gladbach's survival hopes took a further dent last weekend when they went down 4-1 at Eintracht Frankfurt.

If they do go down, Hans Meyer's men could do worse than follow the example once set by Kaiserslautern, who bounced back from relegation in 1995/96 to become Bundesliga champions by 1997/98. The only side never to have suffered the dreaded drop since the inception of the Bundesliga in 1963 are Hamburg, who are battling for the domestic crown once again this term.

Magpies in the mire
Over in England, Newcastle United find themselves further away than ever from the Big Four and have turned to strike legend Alan Shearer to help them stave off relegation. The former England international scored 206 goals in 404 appearances for the Tynesiders between 1996 and 2006, but will be hard pressed to halt further deterioration in the club's fortunes, a process that began with the dismissal of Sir Bobby Robson as coach in 2004. With five matches remaining, the Magpies lie one place off the bottom, some four points behind Blackburn Rovers and salvation.

Another footballing hotbed that has fallen on hard times recently is the Basque Country. Real Sociedad dropped down a flight in 2006, just three years after finishing runners-up, and are by no means certain to return to La Liga this season. The men from San Sebastian are nine points off the promotion places with nine games still to go and could well be joined in the second division by neighbours Athletic Bilbao, who are once again involved in a relegation dogfight.

Founded in 1898, Athletic are the only other Spanish club aside from Real Madrid and Barcelona who have never been relegated. Having remained loyal to their policy of signing only Basque-born players, one that has brought them eight championships and 23 Spanish Cup successes, it has been many years since Los Leones last mounted a serious title challenge. By way of consolation, however, they have reached the final of this season's Copa del Rey.

One of the sides floundering below Bilbao are Espanyol, who are currently 19th, four points from safety. To make matters worse for the 2007 UEFA Cup runners-up, city rivals Barcelona have been in exceptional form throughout the campaign, and the gap between the two seems wider than ever.

France has its fair share of historic names who long since been out of the limelight. A case in point is Stade Reims, who contested European Cup finals against Real Madrid in 1956 and 1959, but are now hovering perilously above the relegation zone in Ligue 2. Populating the lower reaches of Ligue 1 this term are three other clubs with fine pedigrees. Le Havre, the oldest club in the land, have a deserved reputation for producing talented youngsters but are floundering at the bottom of the table and look set for demotion to Ligue 2.

Two places above them lie St Etienne, one of the most successful sides in French football and one of its best-supported clubs. However, the cauldron-like atmosphere at the Geoffroy Guichard has not been enough to help Les Verts cement their position in recent years, with relegation battles and the exodus of talented players becoming the norm.

And just two places further up the table stand Nantes, eight-time champions between 1965 and 2001 and nine-time runners-up in that glorious period, one that gave rise to the term 'the Nantes style'. After being relegated in 2007, Les Canaris won promotion at the first time of asking last season only to struggle once more this term.

San Lorenzo yearning for old glory
Across the Atlantic, several members of South America's old guard have seen their status undermined in recent times. In 1981 San Lorenzo became the first of Argentina's five big clubs to be relegated, not that the club's directors had much cause for complaint in the end. El Ciclón's loyal fans responded to the crisis by snapping up record numbers of tickets as the team won promotion at the first time of asking in a record-breaking season.

Brazilian heavyweights Corinthians, who lifted the FIFA Club World Cup in 2000, learned the lessons of their spell in Serie B last season, wisely recruiting the recovering Ronaldo and returning with a bang to the Brasileirao.

One powerhouse heading in the opposite direction were Dunga's former club Vasco de Gama. The descent to Serie B proved too much for one suicidal Vasco supporter, who was so dismayed by his side's performance that he threatened to jump from the stadium roof. Thankfully, the forlorn fan was persuaded to come down, giving him the chance to see if his under-performing heroes can make it back at the first attempt.