Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Football Year 2011

Best Moment: Wayne Rooney's overhead kick against Manchester City to cement a derby win and Manchester United's nineteenth domestic title.

Best Team: Barcelona. Although their reign of terrifying beauty may come to an end sooner rather than later if the defense is not reinforced.

Most disappointing Team: The A-League's Adelaide United, despite bringing in quality during the offseason (Dario Vidosic), last week fired manager Rini Coolen after finding themselves near the table's lower reaches. His replacement is former boss John Kosmina, who will undoubtedly achieve results, but a team which had high expectations are unlikely to trouble Playoffs predictors this year.

Best Manager: Napoli manager Walter Mazzarri led the Partinopei to the Champions League behind the attacking triumvirate of Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and one Edinson Cavani. While only sitting in seventh position at the moment, he also masterminded qualification for the Champions League last sixteen from a very tricky group. Honorable mentions go to Juventus' Antonio Conte and Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini, who started the year amongst the favourites to be sacked. Mancini loses out as his team drew a tough Champions League group but should still have qualified for the second round.

Man of the year: Mario Balotelli, for his emergence as a figure both of awesome talent and application, but also for having a sense of fun so all-encompassing that he's gone from villain to hero in the course of six months. His resume this year includes throwing darts at youth team players, popping out for an iron and coming back with a Scalextric track, attempting a back-heel in a friendly against the LA Galaxy, nearly burning his home down when lighting fireworks in his bathroom and unveiling a T-shirt after scoring saying "Why always me"?

Signing of 2011: Even though he's unlikely to win any popularity contests and seems to attract headlines at the same rate as Balotelli, Luis Suarez scores goals more regularly than the guy he replaced, Fernando Torres. Runner-up goes to Manchester City's Sergio Aguero, who looks already to be the one of, if not the, best striker in the Premiership.

Unheralded Signing of 2011: Mauro Rosales of the Seattle Sounders was a magnificent pickup and headlined the MLS Team of the Year. Staying in North America, the Montreal Impact selecting Justin Mapp from Philadelphia in the Expansion Draft.

Worst Signing: It's harsh given his status as the reigning World Cup Most Valuable Player, but Inter Milan's acquisition of Diego Forlan - under the short and star-cross'd reign of manger Gian Piero Gasperini - to replace Samuel Eto'o was bemusing given his ineligibility to play for Inter in European competition.

Most stubborn resistance to commonsense: FIFA's refusal to countenance the use of technology - especially on the goal-line - belies the fact that journalists, players and administrators insist it's needed due to the increased speed of the game.

Goal of the Year: Benji de Ceulaer's strike for Lokeren against Brugge in the Belgian League was a combination of skill, touch and positioning.

Gaffe of the year: Theyab Awana's back-heel penalty for the UAE against Lebanon wasn't necessarily a gaffe per-se, but it did lead to his substitution for showboating only minutes after being introduced. The UAE youngster died in a road accident only two months later.

Poorest Managerial Fit: It has to be Gasperini, who replaced Leonardo, who superseded Rafael Benitez, who inherited the blue side of Milan from Jose Mourinho. Gasperini set the Nerazzuri up in a 3-4-3, while not having defenders mobile enough to pull it off.

Explosion of 2011: David Silva has always been known as a talent, but this year he emerged as perhaps one of the world's top three footballers. He is justifiably favourite for the English Footballer of the Year award and has kept big-money signing Samir Nasri out of the first team picture at Manchester's Etihad stadium.

Implosion of 2011: After surrendering to Stoke City 5-0 in the FA Cup semi-final at the end of last season, Bolton Wanderers have struggled badly as key players have been injured or badly out of touch and star centre-back Gary Cahill is counting down his days at the Reebok Stadium. The Trotters look like they'll need a lot of luck to escape relegation.

Villain of 2011: Could it be anyone else but Carlos Tevez? The world's most malcontent footballer attracts controversy like no other. After losing his starting place to the firing Edin Dzeko and Kun Aguero, he - allegedly - refused to enter a game and has hardly been seen since. Some big European clubs are interested in the diminutive Argentine, but aren't prepared to stump up the cash City would like.

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