Another year of football passes and we certainly weren’t deprived of noteworthy events in 12 months that showcased both the beautiful and ugly sides of the game.
This is the year in football, 2018.
Claude finally got his message across. “It’s time to go.” After 22 years, Arsene Wenger announced his decision to leave Arsenal at the end of the season on April 20th.
Three Premier Leagues, seven FA Cups, seven Community Shields and one invincible season. But enough was enough, said the fan base, after the Gunners had been on a steady decline for the past few seasons.
Unai Emery was the man to take over and he arrived in North London on May 23rd. A decent show so far, but some familiar frailties persist.
Manchester City had the Premier League title wrapped up on April 15th, but celebrated Gabriel Jesus’ 94th minute winner against Southampton on May 13th as if it were another Sergio Agueroooo moment.
It was, but for different reasons. That goal was their 106th in the Premier League. A record. It secured their 32nd league win of the season. Another record. It was their 16th away win. Another record. It won them their 100th point of the campaign. Another record. The list goes on.
Real Madrid also won the Champions League on May 26th, beating Liverpool 3-1 to claim their third consecutive European title, their 13th overall.
That game had it all. Mohamed Salah left the pitch in tears after Sergio Ramos injured his shoulder in the first half. Loris Karius committed two fatal errors — gifting Los Blancos two goals — while Gareth Bale scored a phenomenal overhead kick with his fourth touch of the game after coming off the bench.
Manager Zinedine Zidane surprisingly stepped down only a week later.
The Lopetegui saga
From Spain to Real Madrid to unemployment. This was the story of Julen Lopetegui’s year.
Appointed Spain manager in July 2016, Lopetegui headed into his first major tournament with high hopes, undefeated in his 20 games in charge.
But he never made it to the World Cup. On June 13th — two days before the start — Lopetegui was unceremoniously sacked, with the team already in Russia.
Why? Well, the day before, he was announced as Real Madrid’s new manager, beginning after the tournament’s conclusion.
Spain ultimately crashed out of the World Cup in the last-16, while Lopetegui was sacked — again — from Real Madrid after a damning 5-1 defeat to Clasico rivals Barcelona in October.
Not the best year for Lopetegui and Spanish football.
The eternal summer
The sun was shining, beer was flowing and political chatter had been put to the side as England’s World Cup campaign dominated both front and back page headlines.
Gareth Southgate’s side reached the semi-final for the first time since Italia ’90. Limbs everywhere. Summer was eternal. Harry Kane won the Golden Boot and the Three Lions won a penalty shootout for the first time ever in a World Cup.
Football felt like it was coming home, but England ultimately lost to Croatia in extra time of their semi-final.
The World Cup, generally, was fantastic and full of shocks. Germany crashed out at the group stage, Spain and Argentina in the last-16, while the hosts reached the quarter-finals.
France were eventual winners — their first world title since 1998 — beating Croatia 4-2 in the final.
An Italian transfer record
Bale wasn’t the only Real Madrid player to score an overhead kick in 2017/18. Cristiano Ronaldo, too, netted a spectacular goal in Real’s Champions League quarter-final clash with Juventus, leaving the home fans at the Allianz Stadium on their feet applauding.
Who would have guessed that Ronaldo would end up in Turin over the summer? The Old Lady decided to part with £99.2 million to bring the 33-year-old to the club on July 11th.
Thank you, Vichai
‘Champions of England, you made us sing that,’ reverberated throughout the city of Leicester and fans across the country united to honour the late Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
The Leicester chairman was one of five to die in a helicopter crash outside the King Power stadium on October 27th, moments after taking off, as per his routine following home games.
In loving memory of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. pic.twitter.com/kFui3vSo3r
— Leicester City (@LCFC) November 10, 2018
Vichai, 60, bought the club in 2010, taking them from the Championship to 5000-1 Premier League winners just six years later, and he was hugely popular in the local community, regularly involved in charity work. His impact was immense.
Heartfelt tributes were left outside the King Power from players and fans alike and a memorial statue has been commissioned.
Der Spiegel reveal all
After nearly a decade, Der Spiegel revealed a story that could shake the sport to its core. Ronaldo had been accused of rape.
Kathryn Mayorga, 34, accused the five-time Ballon d’Or winner of raping her in a penthouse suite in Palms Casino Resort, Las Vegas, in June 2009.
Mayorga, from Nevada, was initially paid to keep quiet, but she went public for the first time nearly a decade later in September, claiming the non-disclosure agreement she had signed was void.
In November, as part of a series of leaked documents, Der Spiegel also revealed secret plans for the creation of a breakaway European Super League consisting of 11 elite clubs.
— SPIEGEL ONLINE English (@SPIEGEL_English) November 5, 2018
They continued to rock the footballing world with allegations that Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain had been breaching Financial Fair Play regulations. And current FIFA president — UEFA general secretary in 2014 — Gianni Infantino had been helping them.
The final to end all finals
Billed as the ‘final to end all finals,’ the excitement and anxiety were palpable when River Plate and Boca Juniors — Buenos Aires’, Argentina’s and, arguably, South America’s biggest rivals — met in the final of the Copa Libertadores.
A two-legged affair across November — the last of its kind before becoming a one-off in a neutral venue — the first meeting on November 11th ended 2-2.
Then it really kicked off. En route to El Monumental on November 24th, Boca’s bus was attacked and players were hospitalised.
It was delayed multiple times on the night, then pushed back to November 25th. Fans packed the stands, Boca appealed and CONMEBOL announced it was to be played on December 9th outside of Argentina.
The Copa Libertadores final — named after the region’s liberators from Spanish colonial rule — was played in Madrid, Spain. Ironic. It ended 3-1 to River after extra time.
The end of an era?
Ten years of the Ballon d’Or changing hands exclusively between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi passed, but their era of individual award-winning dominance has seemingly ended.
Arise Luka Modric. Voted the worst signing in La Liga by Marca readers in 2012, the Real Madrid and Croatia midfielder is finally getting the recognition his brilliance deserves.
Modric won the World Cup Golden Ball this summer, and added a Ballon d’Or to his burgeoning collection on December 3rd. Ronaldo finished second and Messi… fifth.
Still some way to go
On the same night, women’s football took another step forwards, but also demonstrated just how far is still to go in terms of true equality within the game.
Ada Hegerberg, the 23-year-old Norwegian phenom, added another trophy to her collection. The striker has won four Ligue 1 titles, three Coupe de France trophies and three Champions Leagues with Lyon.
She’s scored 237 goals in 233 career games and was named UEFA Best Women’s Player in Europe 2016 and BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year 2017.
On December 3rd, Hegerberg became the first winner of the Women’s Ballon d’Or. But Martin Sorveig, the evening’s host, decided to ask her whether she “knew how to twerk.”
Following this, Raheem Sterling was allegedly racially abused during Manchester City’s 2-0 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on December 8th.
Similarly, Kalidou Koulibaly suffered racial abuse during Napoli’s 1-0 defeat at Inter Milan on December 26th.
Napoli fans united in support of their centre back, while Sterling took to Instagram to criticise sections of the media, arguing that newspapers “fuel racism” by their portrayal of young black footballers.
The last of Jose Mourinho in England
Whatever your feelings for Jose Mourinho, we’ve probably seen the last of him in English football.
Talk of third-season syndrome dominated the build up to the Premier League over the summer and — like one of Harry Potter’s self-fulfilling prophecy — Mourinho was relieved of his Manchester United duties on December 18th.
The Red Devils had won seven league games from 17 and were 19 points behind the leaders. A 3-1 defeat to Liverpool proved the final straw.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over on an interim basis — accidentally announced by the Norwegian Prime Minister the evening prior to the club’s official release — set to return to Molde at the end of the season.
Paul Pogba is finally free, it would seem, and Solskjaer is three for three. Happy days.
Featured photograph/Public Domain Pictures/Karen Arnold