In a season that felt like it started 4 years ago, we had some absolutely horrible occurrences and some heartwarming stories. Here are my picks for each and every one of them, starting with the bad so we can end on a more hopeful note.
1. The World Cup being sold to Qatar. Say what you will about the football that was played, which I will get to in a few minutes, but the fact that football’s biggest event was corrupted by a regime responsible for thousands of human rights issues highlights FIFA’s corruption and disregard for the sport and its fans. The discourse around the World Cup was dominated by hypocrisy, with FIFA trying their hardest to cover up the humanitarian crisis caused by the tournament amongst the country’s migrant workers, whilst the holier than thou Qatar representatives were taking pictures of an influencer’s backside after slamming her in the papers for being inappropriate.
2. The horrible racial abuse received by players this season. In occurrences that seem as common as red cards nowadays, players like Vinicius and Romelu Lukaku were on the receiving end of absolutely horrible fan behavior and somehow still got punished for it. With the incompetence of the leagues and the governing bodies being acutely highlighted their meek excuses are that the players got riled up and had to be sent off. Somehow you shouldn’t get riled up when you are abused in the most horrendous form, maybe the players should try thanking the fans who abused them.
3. The Messi and Ronaldo era coming to an end. This is of course part of a larger trend of footballing legends either hanging up their boots or moving to uncompetitive leagues for one last paycheck. Sergio Busquets leaving Barcelona, Zlatan Ibrahimovic retiring and Karim Benzema joining Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia are just a few examples of this golden generation of players coming to an end.
4. Manchester City winning the Champions League. Of course, I am not trying to take anything away from Pep Guardiola and the players who are fully deserving of the title, I am simply trying to put context to this win. The huge elephant in the room still remains regarding the legacy of this club and what it stands for. It proves once and for all that the sport has lost all its semblance of merit and hard work and values money above all else. Any despotic state that wishes to promote its country where women are second-class citizens can buy up a small team, bend the rules and win everything.
5. The Champions League format change. Whilst the format change will only come into effect in future seasons, the ultimate decision was made this season. In response to the Super League and the increasing greed and entitlement of clubs that think it is their god-given right to win every title every season the meek UEFA has acquiesced to a format that will increase the gulf between the top 5 leagues and the rest of Europe. With the sourness of this first part, let us look to the future and how this most beautiful of sports can become better for all of us.
1. Lionel Messi winning the World Cup. This is written from the point of view of a non-Messi fan, but you cannot deny that the story that Argentina wrote for themselves in Qatar is a beautiful one. Undeniably one of the best players of all time, Messi has banished the ghosts of past failures to finally guide his nation to the most coveted international trophy of them all, in a wonderful swansong to his stellar career.
2. Blackpool’s Jake Daniels comes out as gay, becoming the first UK men’s soccer player to come out as gay in nearly 32 years. Some of you might disagree with this one, but it is a momentous happening and will pave the way to true inclusivity in the sport. A far cry from the fake useless campaigns done by FIFA who then sell their tournaments to regimes that criminalize the very same thing FIFA is campaigning for.
3. Asian and African football performing well at the World Cup. The pluckiness of Australia, South Korea reaching the Round of 16 and of course, Japan winning Mrs. Congeniality have been amazingly entertaining. Couple that with Morocco’s dream run to the semifinals alongside perennial overperformers Croatia and the big boys of international football have their work cut out in the future.
4. Luciano Spalletti getting his steering wheel back aka Napoli winning the Scudetto. Napoli lost club legends Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens alongside defensive stalwart Kalidou Koulibaly and somehow came out stronger faster and smarter to snatch a surprise Serie A win. This bodes well for Serie A, where Juve’s dominance nearly wiped the league from people’s consciences, proving that there’s still some life left in the most tumultuous of the top 5 leagues.
5. Genuine title races in three of Europe’s top 5 leagues. Arsenal, Lens, and Borussia Dortmund ultimately came second best in their respective leagues, but the fact that they competed with the juggernauts that are Man City, PSG and Bayern has made for some very enjoyable watching. Lens deserve a very special mention from the three, since their budget can only be described as something even thinner than a shoestring, compared to the financial might of PSG.
By: Eduard Holdis / @He_Ftbl
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / @GabFoligno / DeFodi Images