Liverpool, Lionel Messi, Barcelona, fans, more
It was good, a year. Football was disrupted more than ever since World War II when a pandemic rocked the sport’s shaky economic foundations. The European Championship has been postponed. We lost Diego Maradona and a number of other lights. And chances are fans in most parts of the world won’t fully fill stadiums until the summer, if not later.
But football happened anyway. And some had better years than others. Usually in a play like this we would declare winners and losers, but everyone is a winner if they survive this bad year and there are no losers.
Plus, Marcus Rashford is the biggest winner of all. In addition to becoming one of the best strikers in the world, the Manchester United striker twice ashamed the UK government for expanding its free meal programs for school children and became the face of the fight against child hunger. But that had little to do with the game itself.
So here are the 10 from Yahoo Soccer winner and also-rans of 2020 for things that actually related to football.
Gainer: Bayern Munich
At the beginning of the year, FC Bayern was in a crisis. It looked old and fed up and had dropped to seventh place in its campaign for the eighth title in a row in the Bundesliga. By August 23, Bayern had not lost in 30 games in a row under the new coach Hansi Flick, won the second Champions League Bundesliga DFB Cup treble in its history and rejuvenated its team. With the beginning of the new year, FC Bayern is firmly back in its place and looks to the coming years of dominance.
Also over: The sport as a whole
It was no big secret that most football clubs lived near the financial precipice. As the competition became more and more expensive, the teams took greater risks and spent more and more of their income on transfer fees and salaries. When the income on matchday suddenly evaporated for months due to the pandemic, the financial shock was so great that a large number of clubs were existentially threatened. Even the richest teams, like Barcelona, have had to ask players to forego or postpone their salary while laying off staff or taking leave. The income lost this year is counted in billions rather than millions, and the effects will continue.
For a while there was talk of canceling the 2019-20 season altogether, although the Reds had more or less sewn the Premier League title into place for months. They were anything but mathematical masters. And now it looked like a one-off pandemic could rob them of their first title in three decades. But the season was restarted and although the record pace slowed, Liverpool still scored one of the highest points ever.
Also gone: the fans
In Dribs and Drabs, fans have returned to stadiums around the world. A couple of thousand here. A couple of hundred there. In some countries they had to be re-locked as cases rose in the fall. Even if some of them are back, it’s not the same. We got used to seeing empty stadiums, empty stands covered with tarpaulin or filled with cutouts or uncomfortable CGI fans. It will take a long time. And that is at the expense of the people who love the game and above all want to see it in person. Football is diminished both as an experience and as a TV product without them.
Winner: Jose Mourinho
When the once special Mourinho took over Tottenham Hotspur in November 2019, he was viewed as a post-prime manager joining a team in slow decline. But by the summer he had lifted Spurs from 12th to 6th place despite a series of catastrophic injuries to his star striker. Mourinho’s fame was renewed in an Amazon documentary, and this season Tottenham even flirted with the title fight, including a 6-1 win over the last club to sack Mourinho at Manchester United in 2018.
Also ran: Lionel Messi
After two decades with the club that promoted him, the greatest player in the world was ready for a new challenge. He must have done a lot for Barcelona. And he believed he was free even if there was a year left on his contract. After all, he had an out clause after the season. After Barca’s humiliating 8-2 elimination by Bayern in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, he exercised it. Ah but the clause expired at the end of May and it was now August, Barca said, forcing Messi to stay even though it might have been against the spirit of his contract. He decided against a costly and lengthy litigation. But the whole thing left a bad taste in his mouth as he saw the lingering chaos of the club over the last few years of his career.
Yeah, OK, sure, the US men only played four times a year. But have you remained undefeated? And that’s not the point anyway. The point is, a number of national teams continued to climb the ladder in European club play. Sergiño Dest received a transfer from Ajax to Barcelona. Weston McKennie escaped Schalke for Juventus. Gio Reyna broke into the first team at Borussia Dortmund. Christian Pulisic consolidated his place at Chelsea and got the No. 10 jersey. Tyler Adams reached the semi-finals of the Champions League with RB Leipzig. All of this benefits the national team.
Also run: Barcelona
The 2019-20 season was the club’s first season since 2007-08 that it didn’t win any trophies at all The aforementioned 8-2 defeat against Bayern. From then on it only got worse. Messi wanted out. Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu was ousted. The club turned out to be broke. And the squad is irreparably broken. It’s no wonder that Barca appear to have already been eliminated from the title race under new manager Ronald Koeman, who was selling expensive veterans but not getting the money to replace them.
Gainer: Christine Sinclair
It was the beginning of the year, January 29, but Sinclair scored their 184th and 185th international goals in an Olympic qualifier against Saint Kitts and Nevis that day. That is what the American Abby Wambach and her world record for international goals – for women – bound and exceeded and Men. Sinclair needed 35 more games than Wambach, but then the Canadian striker never had anything close to the same sideline and team dominance.
Also run: Arsenal
In short, there was a revival under the new manager Mikel Arteta. Eighth place in 2019-20, however, was still the worst since 1994-95. The Gunners may have won the FA Cup, but they were shamefully removed from the Europa League in the round of 16. And eighth place would feel pretty good right now, with Arsenal taking 15th place with a team that can’t defend, attacking, or really doing whatever you’d expect from a Premier League juggernaut.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a columnist at Emox News and a lecturer in sports communications at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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