The second season syndrome is an occurrence at every top league in the world. We’ve seen it happen to top players and to newly-promoted teams. It’s a downturn in fortune whereby if a team, or a player, has had a very successful first season in a league that’s new to them, the following season they will fail to impress or achieve the same heights - it’s commonly called the second season syndrome. Does it really exist?
It’s not a general rule at all, but it happens quite often and there are obviously numerous exceptions to the rule. However, this equation comes around due to opposing teams and players figuring out various ways to stopping these players, or teams, who’ve had success without being challenged.
For example, this season in the Premier League, we’ve seen it happen to Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez at Manchester United. He hasn’t had a bad season by any means so far, but he’s been nowhere near the ruthless form he showed in front of goal last season. Why is that? Second season syndrome. How did it happen? Defenders figured him out. His traditional quick runs into the box, which were his trademark and helped him get the bulk of his goals last season, have been minimized thanks to defenders and managers reading his game and blocking that aspect of his game out. Hernandez has now got to try and change his style of play to hit back his peak form. It’s not beyond him as he has the talent to do so, but even he recently testified to suffering from this “syndrome”.
There are many examples of teams which have suffered a similar fate, and in the Premier League there have been a bunch of examples but we’ll go for one that isn’t far off our memories: Hull City. In their Premier League debut season in 2008-2009, there was a time (in October 2008 I believe), when Hull were happily sitting in 3rd place in the league and quickly becoming everyone’s second team. They had style, they had guile and they had passion. Phil Brown had people hailing him as the next big thing in England. However, just as the season began to drag on, Hull’s men were reaching their final legs in the season. They managed to beat the drop and stayed up by being 1 point above the relegation places. It was considered a great feat. But that was their first season in the Premier League. What happened the following season? Second season syndrome came and bit them badly. Hull finished second from bottom and got relegated. We’ve seen the same thing happen to teams such as Bradford City, Ipswich Town, West Ham, Reading, Birmingham and a whole bunch of other clubs.
The true quality of players and teams is having the ability to consistently perform at a level which opponents struggle to deal with game after game, month after month, year after year. Being a one-trick pony can only help a team or player for so long, but then it fades. Having a variety of ways to get the better of what’s put in front of you is excellence and perfectionism in the making. Just like in any walk of life, “it’s a long way to the top” and it’s difficult to get there, but the hardest part is staying at the top.