As we get ready to bid farewell to 2016, it seems appropriate to sit back with a glass of festive cheer and think about the last twelve months. Forget for a moment about Brexit and Trump, and focus on the beautiful game, because as we all know football is far more important in the grand scheme of things anyhow.
Who will consider 2016 to have been a success, and who will be glad to see the back of it?
Leicester City FC, Claudio Ranieri and James Vardy.
Obviously. The 5000/1 shots provided one of the biggest upsets of all time when they claimed the Premier League title. Perhaps predictably, they have struggled this season to get anywhere close to their previous title-winning form, though they did manage to qualify from their group in the Champions League. Can the Foxes do the unthinkable and follow up their league triumph by lifting the biggest prize of them all? Almost certainly not, but they’re having fun along the way.
The green half of Edinburgh may have missed out on promotion to the Premiership, but they broke the oldest taboo in Scottish football by lifting the Scottish Cup following a wait of 114 years. Alan Stubbs assumed legendary status by leading the Leith club to success over Rangers in a fantastic Hampden final, and their last-minute winner provoked scenes of joy as thousands of Hibees took to the pitch to release decades of pent-up frustration. Oh, and wind up the departing Rangers players and fans into the bargain.
The Real Madrid superstar helped his side to lift yet another Champions League trophy, and followed that up by captaining Portugal to an unexpected European Championship success in France. The final itself was a disappointment for Ronaldo, who had to be substituted in floods of tears having sustained a knee injury early in the match, but he had the last laugh.
His year was topped off with a new contract at Madrid and a fourth Ballon d’ Or trophy. And for all his narcissism, self-absorption and blatant disregard for his fellow players mean he isn’t really loved across the football world, you know that he simply won’t lose any sleep over that.
Back in the day, we baulked at Roy Keane’s £50k per week wages, but we grudgingly acknowledged that as the captain and driving force behind a hugely successful Manchester United team he just about deserved his eye-watering salary. The same then went for the likes of Wayne Rooney and Gareth Bale. However, the astonishing amounts of money being pumped into the game in England now is such that average players in average teams can expect to take home the sort of money most ordinary folk could only dream of.
The Irishman has vastly improved Celtic in his short time at the helm, including qualification for the group stages of the Champions League, where they performed reasonably well. For all he denies it, chances are Rodgers will find himself back at a big club south of the border sooner rather than later.
Despite all the usual hype prior to the European Championships during the summer, the script ultimately remained the same, with distinctly uninspiring performances by Roy Hodgson’s men topped off with a humiliating exit at the hands of powerhouses Iceland. Hodgson was replaced by Sam Allardyce, but not for long. Just shy of 70 days in fact, thanks to Big Sam’s overwhelming desire to top up his £3m a year salary by advising unscrupulous people on how to get round the FA’s rules. Like everyone else who has a bad day at the office, Sam headed off to his villa in Spain for a few months to let the dust settle.
Despite landing his dream job at Old Trafford – sorry Chelsea fans, but you know it’s true – the manager formerly known as special has failed to seriously re-ignite Manchester United’s fortunes thus far, despite landing the likes of world record signing Paul Pogba. The odds remain against Mourinho steering United to a top four finish this season, and the Portuguese has resorted to his former sullen, defensive and petulant best lately. José’s former Midas touch appears to have been lost to the wilderness, perhaps never to return as the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jürgen Klopp and old adversary Arséne Wenger leave him trailing in their wake.
There was once a time when tackling was allowed in football. Some players made it an art form, but now too many of them are more intent on hitting the deck at the merest flick of a finger in a bid to gain advantage. At the other end of the spectrum, players such as Sergio Agüero and James Vardy appear to consider the ball an irrelevance when throwing themselves into tackles.
Once considered the man likely to lead the renaissance of the Scottish national side, the failure to qualify for the summer’s European Championships in France led many to question his appetite for the fray. That the team have made a poor start to the current world cup qualifying campaign has hardly helped, and the only positive you hear about Strachan these days is that, well, there’s nobody else available to do the job anyway. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
The beautiful game
The recent allegations of widespread abuse of young players has resulted in untold damage to football’s reputation. This isn’t going to go away any time soon, and ends the year on a very sour note as far as the game we all know and love is concerned.