Thursday, December 23, 2010

The football year, 2010

Best Moment: The final moments of the World Cup quarter-final between Uruguay & Ghana. The entire sequence, including Suarez's deliberate handball, Gyan's penalty miss and then his successful taking of the first penalty in the shootout was drama of the highest quality.

Best Team: It comes either from Spain or Barcelona, no matter what Inter Milan and their Champions' League medals say. My pick is Barcelona simply because the style of football they've produced consistently over the past twelve months has been a cut above almost anything we've seen before. Their dismantling of Real Madrid earlier this month was both beautiful and awe-inspiring.

Worst Team: Not so much "worst" as "worst performance from what should have been a good team". This award goes to Italy for their poor World Cup. Even England's desolate form looked good when compared against the reigning world champs and new manager Cesare Prandelli inherited not winners, but a team in need of rebuilding.

Best Manager: Usually the best managers are those which manage the best teams. There are few exceptions here as Pep Guardiola, Vicente Del Bosque and Jose Mourinho all have adequate claims. I'm going to opt however for Ian "Olly" Holloway from Blackpool who's overseen their transformation from Championship relegation candidates to mid-table Premiership sporting a squad made up of also-rans and journeymen.

Best Game: Without question the match in which Barcelona destroyed Real only a few weeks ago. There's a good chance that the best team in Europe waltzed over the second best with nary a second thought. Honourable mention: The Ghana/Uruguay World Cup Quarter-Final.

Player of 2010: Again, surely must come from Spain. Wayne Rooney or Diego Milito could have been in this race given they both started the year on fire but struggled with injury and form since the 2010 Champions' League. As for the best player of 2010, you could pick any of Andres Iniesta, Xavi or Lionel Messi. It's your pick, and I won't complain about any of 'em. Honourable mentions: Diego Forlan and Thomas Muller both had outstanding World Cups.

Signing of 2010: Rafael Van der Vaart has been a revelation since signing on for Tottenham in the Premiership. Another Dutch master who didn't fit at the Bernabeu who then has flourished after being sold.

Worst Signing: It could well be Antonio Cassano, who's recently moved from Sampdoria to AC Milan. Honourable mention: Javier Mascherano's transfer to Barcelona seemed to be Los Catalans aiming for names, rather than skill-sets. With both these signings however, time will tell.

Person who most lived up to his imaginary middle name: Sepp Blatter. I can't write what I really think of his autocratic style of government at FIFA. Honourable mention: John Terry

Most stubborn resistance to commonsense: That Arsene Wenger is yet to replace his strictly-average goalkeeping platoon of Lukas Fabianski and Manuel Almunia is what keeps his rival managers happy and giggling.

Second-most stubborn resistance to commonsense: FIFA's refusal to abide any signs of progress, especially regarding Goal-line technology.

Goal of the Year: Glentoran's Matt Burrows, amidst a veritable snowstorm of contenders.

Un-goal of the Year: Khalfan Fahad's side-foot for Qatar against Uzbekistan in the 2010 Asian Games earned him instant notoriety and (probably) the worst miss of 2010.

Craziest statement: Blatter's gaffe concerning homosexuals "refraining" last week was an extremely poorly-judged piece of social commentary masquerading as a joke. Honourable mentions: Most other statements issued by Sepp Blatter; Mario Balotelli saying that only Lionel Messi was a better player than him, Steven Gerrard calling Joe Cole "better than Messi".

Poorest Managerial Fit: Roy Hodgson at Liverpool. He's a remarkably talented manager but already the seeds of his dismissal have been sown. Honourable mention: Rafael Benitez's horrible stint in charge of Inter Milan.

Harshest EPL sacking: Although Sam Allardyce may have other ideas, there's no question Chris Hughton has been the hardest-done-by manager in the Premiership this year.

Most obvious money-grabbing tactic of 2010: Wayne Rooney's five-day turnaround in October where he went from demanding a transfer to signing the richest Man U contract ever. With those actions, he went from fan favourite to pariah, and rightly so. Honourable mention: Blatter's acceptance and backing of the Qatari bid for the 2022 World Cup.

Explosion of 2010: Gareth Bale's emergence as a world-class left winger, where he's taken apart several outstanding defences throughout the course of the year. Honourable mention: Antonio Cassano's tirade at Sampdoria president Riccardo Garrone.

Implosion of 2010: France's World Cup squad became more and more farcical as the tournament progressed. It was incredibly amusing, especially given that Nicolas Anelka was at the hub, a man who it's very difficult to like. Honourable mention: football owners, left and right, whose teams were simply not set up to cope with the global economic downturn, eg. Sacha Gaydamak's reign at Portsmouth.

Hero of 2010: Owen Coyle has transformed Bolton from relegation candidates to real possibilities for Europe with much the same squad as predecessor Gary Megson, all with an affable and approachable attitude and a pleasing style of game - the kind of man you'd want to have a beer with. Honourable mention: Jose Mourinho (!) for masterminding Inter's Champions' League triumph over Barca.

Villain of 2010: (tie) John Terry and Luis Suarez. John Terry for his off-field exploits (allegedly) with Wayne Bridge's ex; Suarez could be considered either hero or villain for his actions during the World Cup quarter final, but after recently biting an opponent and earning a seven-match ban sees him firmly planted in the villain category. Honourable mention: Roy Hodgson, who's worshiped by Fulham fans and ridiculed by Liverpudlians.

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