2013 was always going to be a dull year in the world of football.
The lack of a major international tournament surely meant that 2013 would be a transitional year, a chance to take stock before Brazil in 2014, the calm before the storm?
Well, what do we know?
2013 was the year that Spanish ‘tiki-taka’ finally met its match. The balance of power in European football moved north with its economy, as plans for an El Classico Champions League final fell victim to a German onslaught.
In fairytale fashion everyone’s favourite second team, Jurgen Klopp’s free-flowing Borussia Dortmund, dumped out the galactic might of Madrid, ending the reign of a certain Jose Mourinho in the process.
More alarming though, was the collapse of Barcelona’s seemingly perfect midfield roundabout; the greatest team of this generation ripped to shreds by the ruthless efficiency of Bayern Munchen.
To add insult to 7-0 aggregate injury, one of the founding fathers, Pep Guardiola, decided the grass was greener in the forests of Bavaria, before Neymar popped up to bite the hand that would soon feed him, inspiring Brazil to Confederations Cup victory over Spain.
Munich’s dominance seemingly confirmed that reliance on individual brilliance was a thing of the past. Messrs Cristiano and Zlatan quickly set about dispelling that theory.
In 2013 Cristiano Ronaldo struck 69 times in 60 appearances for club and country, whilst Zlatan’s figures this term are already up at a goal a game- 32 in 32. Rarely in footballing history had a match been billed as a clash of two egos in the same manner as Portugal’s play-off meeting with Sweden.
Unsurprisingly, a goal scoring duopoly ensued, with six strikes shared 4-2 in favour of Ronaldo’s Portugal. Throw in the efforts of Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez (more on them later) at Tottenham and Liverpool respectively and perhaps 2013 was the year for individuality after all.
It also proved to be the year of the underdog.
In May, Wigan Athletic won first the hearts and then the sympathy of a nation, with their FA Cup win over the oil millions of Manchester City, quickly put in perspective by their subsequent relegation from the top flight just three days later.
Even earlier in the year it had been Bradford City’s phenomenal League Cup run that had warmed the cockles, although unlike Wigan they returned north from Wembley without silverware.
The minnows of the international game were also involed in inspirational, but ultimately unfruitful escapades. Tahiti’s sole goal against Nigeria in the afore mentioned Confederations Cup sparked euphoria despite it’s actual irrelevance whilst another tiny island nation, Iceland, came excruciatingly close to World Cup qualification via the play-offs.
The break from football over the summer gave clubs the chance to closely examine UEFA’s new ‘Financial Fair Play’ rules…and then promptly stick two fingers up at them.
Monaco and PSG prepared for French civil war by adding £50million pound strikers Radamel Falcao and Edison Cavani to their respective arsenals. In contrast Spanish giants of Barcelona and Madrid preferred to turn away from mainland Europe to strengthen their armadas, as Neymar and Gareth Bale became La Liga’s latest imports, the latter reportedly for a world record fee.
Even Arsenal got involved on the free-spending frenzy, splashing out for Mesut Ozil after their attempts to baffle Liverpool by inventing Luis Suarez’s release clause failed. North London rivals Tottenham were left with similar amounts of egg on their face after Brazilian artist Willian snubbed them for the more attractive Russian up the road.
Though it was Manchester United though who had perhaps the most embarrassing window, their business acumen demonstrated emphatically by the fake agents who turned up in Bilbao to negotiate a deal for Ander Herrera, having already astutely decided to delay signing Marouane Fellaini until his release clause had expired.
No year in football would be complete without a few gaffs for the standard Christmas DVD narrated by a bang average former pro. David Luiz has been busy ensuring he gets a section to himself, although top spot will surely go to Brentford’s Marcello Trotta, the loanee from Fulham who insisted on taking a last minute penalty to send The Bees into the Championship, only to smash the bar in true Ruud van Nistlerooy style.
Off the field the exponential growth of the Twittersphere has opened up a whole new market for those interested in careers in putting your foot in it. Sebastian Bassong’s ‘#cleansh*t’ error was a personal highlight, but he was soon outdone by Lord Alan Sugar who’s ‘1-1 at Newcastle’ outburst was a cock-up of simply exquisite proportions.
And finally, the year of farewells. For anyone born in the late 80’s or early 90’s an entire generation of childhood footballing legends hung up their boots.
Names which had become synonymous with European football such as Michael Ballack and Mark van Bommel appeared on team sheets for the final time. Paul Scholes, Michael Owen and of course David Beckham said emotional goodbyes having defined an era of English international football in their primes.
Not even Becks though made as telling a contribution to the English game as Sir Alex Ferguson. For over a quarter of a century Fergie prowled the technical area at Old Trafford chewing gum, harassing officials but, more importantly, winning trophies by the bucket load.
And so to 2014. A title race closer than ever? A World Cup in the most fanatic football nation on earth? Balotelli on Twitter? Bound to be a cracker…
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