2016 has been a hectic year in almost every way with football being no exception. Let’s look back on what was one of the most surprising years in footballing history.
You can’t talk about 2016 without talking about the biggest sporting upset in history. I know every football fan is sick of seeing it but Leicester City winning the Premier League at odds of 5,000-1 is a feat that has never been seen before and likely will never be seen again. Finishing 14th the previous season after avoiding relegation in the last few weeks everyone expected more of the same from Leicester but they ran away with the title in a season that will be talked about 100 years from now. The story of Jamie Vardy coming from non-league to recently being voted 8th in the Balon d’Or vote is one of the best footballing cinderella stories of all time and the emergence of N’Golo Kante in particular, was astonishing.
It is safe to say that Leicester City have changed the landscape of football and the mentality of football fans for years to come. It was just seven years ago that I watched Leicester draw 0-0 against an Oldham Athletic side that had 39-year-old striker Dean Windass in net for almost half the match. Now every football fan has the slightest belief that their club could be champions of England in just a few years. Before Leicester, it was seen as an impossibility for anyone other than the big 6 to get a top 4 place however now people know that their club can achieve the impossible even without the huge financial backing.
Unfortunately for Tottenham fans 2016 saw Arsenal finish above them for the 21st time in a row with Spurs’ collapse in the final few weeks of the season bringing about their biggest rivals finishing above them after a 5-1 loss to an already relegated Newcastle side.
Manchester United won the FA Cup for the first time in 12 years however manager Louis Van Gaal was sacked just days later and replaced by Jose Mourinho. Becoming Manchester Uniteds 4th manager in 4 years. Manchester United continued to make headlines all year breaking the World record transfer bringing in Paul Pogba and signing one of the biggest names in football; Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Pep Guardiola was announced as the new Manchester City manager in January and he got off to an amazing start winning his first 10 games in charge however they have been shaky as of late and currently sit in 3rd place. John Stones was City’s big money summer signing this year and he has come under a lot of criticism as his performances have been underwhelming, to say the least. Pep Guardiola however, did get City through the group stages of the Champions League and
Liverpool however, were one of the most entertaining teams of the year playing in high scoring matches and scoring some incredible goals in the process. New manager Jurgen Klopp has them firing on all cylinders at the moment and they look to be title contenders once again.
In Germany, France, Italy and Spain normal service was resumed as Bayern, PSG, Juventus, and Barcelona picked up their respective league titles once again. Juventus signed Gonzalo Higuain for an astonishing 75 million pounds, Bayern picked up Mats Hummels and Renato Sanches to add to their already incredible squad and Barcelona continued with more of the same with Messi, Neymar and Suarez having unreal seasons. Messi also made headlines in July by retiring from international football. This decision was very shortlived however as in the end he did not miss a single game for Argentina
A big story in Germany this year has been the ascension of RB Leipzig. The newly promoted side sit 2nd in the table. They have come from out of nowhere with a huge financial backing investing in talented young players rather than looking towards big names that are past their peak. Players like Emil Fosberg, Naby Keita, and Timo Werner have all impressed for this side. Can they continue their rise in 2017 and become rivals to Bayern for years to come?
2016 saw the rise of the Chinese league with massive names moving to east Asia for massive amounts of money. Ezequial Lavezzi became the highest paid player in the world earning over £400,000 a week, until being overtaken this week by Carlos Tevez who now earns a staggering £675,000 a week! Big name stars such as Hulk, Jackson Martinez and Oscar all made their way over to China for big bucks. It will be interesting to see in years to come if the Chinese league is the next global powerhouse or if this is just a flash in the pan and normal service will resume in a few years however if there are teams in that league willing to spend £60 million on a player like Oscar then I don’t see this trend stopping anytime soon.
In the Champions League, Real Madrid won La Unadecima coming out on top against bitter rivals Atletico Madrid again on penalties this time round. Sergio Ramos scored in his 2nd CL final and Simeone’s men once again felt heartbreak against the worst team they could wish to lose against. You have to feel for Atleti fans losing a derby is bad enough in the league but to do it twice in 3 years in the biggest games in your clubs history on penalties and with an equaliser in the last minute first time round. Real however, will be jubilant as Zinedine Zidane celebrated his first season in charge winning the biggest competition he could have. Euro 2016 was underwhelming, to say the least. Definitely the worst international tournament I have seen in my lifetime. The new format of the 4 best 3rd place teams going through led to one of the lowest scoring group stages of all time in terms of goals per game as teams were settling for draws as they knew that as long as they won 1 game they should get through to the next round.
The knockout stages brought about the most embarrassing moment I have ever had as a football fan as England were knocked out by minnows Iceland. Minnows is an understatement when it comes to describing Iceland. They have around 40,000 men in the country aged 18-35 who could possibly play for the football team. Compared to England having over 12 million. How can a country with the greatest football league in the world lose to a country that doesn’t have a professional club? This result lead to the resignation of Roy Hodgson. Later in the year his replacement Sam Allardyce was sacked after just 1 game in charge of England after corruption allegations were put against him. He was replaced by Gareth Southgate who will now hopefully lead England into the next World Cup.
Wales were the surprise package of the Euros reaching the Semi-Finals in their first international tournament for almost 60 years. Beating one of the favorites for the tournament Belgium 3-1 in the process. Gareth Bale cemented his place as a global superstar as his performances were the key to Wales making it as far as they did.
Eventually, Wales were knocked out by eventual winners Portugal. Portugal are the worst champions of an international competition I have ever seen going throughout an entire tournament only winning a single game in normal time drawing all three group games and every knockout game bar the semis going to extra time. In any previous tournament, Portugal would have been eliminated in the group stages as they finished 3rd on only 3 points. scraping past Croatia and Poland, beating Wales and then shocking France in the final. In the final an unlikely hero emerged as Eder a man who is usually lambasted for being a terrible striker smashed home the winning goal to bring Portugal their first ever international triumph. Did they deserve it? No, but they won it and I can assure you no Portugal fan will care about how they won it.
A tournament that was not underwhelming however, was the Copa America Centenario. Celebrating 100 years of the Copa America North and South American teams would both participate in this tournament.
The final was a repeat of the 2015 tournament with Chile triumphing over Argentina on penalties after a 0-0 draw. The tournament however, produced a lot of goals and a lot of drubbings which North American teams were on the wrong end of. Chile thrashed Mexico 7-0 and Argentina took the USA to the cleaners in a 4-0 win. There were also some very shocking results such as Brazil being eliminated from the group stages in controversial circumstances after a handball that was not called. In their defence, Brazil did have a lot more focus on the Olympic football event that was held on home soil which they ended up winning.
In November the world of football was stunned by the Chapecoense air crash which tragically saw 71 people lose their lives. The entire football world was united by this event with teams all around the world pledging donations and offering players on loan for free.
Unfortunately, 2016 was a year that saw us lose one of the best players the world had ever seen. Johan Cruyff was undoubtedly the best player to have never won a World Cup coming close in both 1974 and 1978 with the Netherlands. An amazing career with both Ajax and Barcelona, Cruyff was a player way ahead of his time and his legacy lives on to this day with kids playing in the park all trying Cruyff turns without necessarily knowing which player they are trying to emulate. Johan Cruyff was the epitome of the Dutch “Total Football.” of the 1970s and he will be missed by the world of football.
2016 End Of Year awards:
The first annual end of year awards.
Goalkeeper Of The Year: David De Gea
Defender Of The Year: Pepe
Midfielder Of The Year: Luka Modric
Forward Of The Year: Lionel Messi
Player of the Year: Lionel Messi
Matt Le Tissier Award For Goal Of The Year: Kevin-Prince Boateng for this
Surprise Star Of The Year: Jamie Vardy
Breakthrough Player Of The Year: Marcus Rashford
Young Player Of The Year (Under 23): Jan Oblak
Team of the year: Leicester City
Manager Of The Year: Claudio Ranieri
Match Of The Year: Liverpool 4-3 Borussia Dortmund
Funniest Moment Of The Year: Louis Van Gaal’s dive against Arsenal
Greatest Moment Of The Year: Andrea Bocelli and Leicester’s coronation