Scandal ripping at the heart of FIFA… Barcelona taking club football to new heights… New talent emerging to re-energise the game… Recognition for some of football’s brightest coaches…
The past 12 months have produced some fascinating storylines and memorable events. Here are World Soccer’s key personalities of 2011
The former World Player of the Year revived his career at Flamengo, having seemingly been on a downward spiral at Milan, where his partying took prominence over his playing. But a new, more disciplined Ronaldinho impressed in Rio de Janeiro, with his performances earning a recall to the Brazil national side and prompting discussion as to the possible role he can play at the 2014 World Cup. Still only 31, the dream is not over yet.
Scored the winning goal in the 2011 Copa America Final, having made a dramatic impact at Liverpool following his January 2011 transfer from Ajax. Suarez’s subsequent 8-match ban for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, ultimately ensured the Uruguayan ended the year mired in controversy.
The clear winner of the 2011 ESM Golden Shoe with 40 goals in La Liga last season. This term he passed the landmark of 100 goals for Madrid.
The veteran former Ajax, Barcelona and Liverpool forward, is the only player to have played international football in four different decades. In 2011 he won his first Finnish league title with HJK at the age of 40.
Another member of Uruguay’s Copa America squad, he was the star of Napoli’s emergence as a new force in Serie A.
The Colombian was a prolific goalscorer in Porto’s ground-breaking 2010-11 season. He scored 18 goals in the club’s Europa League campaign, including the only goal of the Final against Braga in Dublin, and shared a total of 63 with strike partner Hulk. His £34million move to Atletico Madrid was one of the biggest transfers of summer 2011.
The outstanding player in the Premier League this autumn, although his performances for City were not enough to win him a regular place in Spain’s starting XI.
The Argentinian goalkeeper saved three penalties against La Equidad in the shoot-out that secured the Colombian apertura title for his club.
In March, the French defender underwent emergency surgery after a tumour was discovered on his liver. By May, he had made a remarkable recovery, playing the full 90 minutes against Manchester United in the Champions League Final at Wembley. He finished the match wearing the captain’s armband and was the first Barca player to lift the trophy.
The veteran Spanish striker enjoyed an Indian summer in his career, winning the German Cup with Schalke and reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League. The two goals he scored against Internazionale in the quarter-finals took his total tally in UEFA competitions to 72, a new record.
The 36-year-old midfielder won his 178th cap in a 2-0 friendly defeat by Brazil in November, equalling the world appearance record set by Mexico’s Claudio Suarez and Saudi Arabia’s Mohamed Al Dayea.
Liechtenstein’s record cap holder and goalscorer made his 100th international appearance in August.
Neuchatel Xamax owner
The controversial Chechen businessman turned the Swiss Super League club into, according to one shareholder, “the laughing stock of Switzerland, even of Europe”. His despotic management methods led to the departure of five coaches in as many months, with many other staff also fired.
The Ecuadorian, who earned notoriety in 2002 when he officiated the World Cup finals match between South Korea and Italy in Daejeon, was jailed in the United States for heroin smuggling. In the 2002 game, which the Koreans won in controversial circumstances in extra time, Moreno sent off Italy’s Francesco Totti and wrongly disallowed an Italy goal for offside.
The 26-year-old Ghana international striker quit Premier League club Sunderland and instead agreed a lucrative deal with UAE club Al Ain, reportedly for four times his salary in England.
The former Australia defender announced his retirement from top-flight football after receiving an eight-match ban for an horrendous challenge on Melbourne Heart’s Adrian Zahra.
Flushed out of FIFA
FIFA honorary president
For almost four decades, the 95-year-old Brazilian has been a colossal figure in football politics, overseeing FIFA for 24 years as president before handing over to Sepp Blatter in 1998 and taking up an honorary position.
However, his resignation from the International Olympic Committee, officially on health grounds, two days before he was due to face an ethics investigation, was interpreted by many observers as an admission that he was guilty of receiving bribes from ISL, FIFA’s former marketing partner.
Unfortunately for Havelange, the ISL long-running scandal, which is set to produce further revelations in the coming weeks and months, will be his lasting legacy at FIFA.
The former teacher was the all-powerful leader of the North, Central American and Caribbean region, proudly boasting of the block of 35 votes he could deliver in FIFA presidential elections, until events caught up with him in 2011. He quit all his football posts before he could be punished by FIFA in the wake of the Caribbean Football Union scandal.
Mohamed Bin Hammam
Ex-Asian Football Confederation president
The Qatari was banned from all football activity by the FIFA ethics committee following the bribery scandal that engulfed his campaign to unseat Sepp Blatter as president. Members of the Caribbean Football Union were offered bribes of $40,000 (£25,000) following a meeting with Bin Hammam in Trinidad.
A year ago Bin Hammam was celebrating after he had masterminded Qatar’s unlikely success in winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup. Twelve months later, his reputation is in tatters.
Brazilian FA president
The former son-in-law of Joao Havelange ended the year mired in controversy. He faced allegations that he was the recipient of bribes from FIFA’s former marketing partner ISL. He stepped down as president of the 2014 World Cup organising committee and was under increasing pressure to relinquish his membership of the FIFA executive committee.
A former midfielder with the French club, he saw his favoured brand of attacking football deliver their first league championship since 1954.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Years of observing games from the bench at Manchester United paid dividends for the rookie coach, who won the championship with former club Molde in his first season back in Norway.
Charismatic young coach whose modern approach and attention to detail brought Bundesliga title success with a talented young squad. Recently signed a contract extension but is the favourite to succeed Joachim Low as Germany’s national boss.
In the year before he turned 70, the Scot won his 12th league crown with United and celebrated 25 years in charge at Old Trafford. The championship was the club’s 19th, setting a new English record.
The Italian coached Japan to Asian Cup success less than a year after taking charge of the national side.
The former Juve midfielder had not previously coached in Serie A – having steered Bari and Siena to Serie B titles in 2009 and 2011 respectively – but he returned to Turin to steer his old club to the top of the table.
The 34-year-old protégé of Bobby Robson and Jose Mourinho enjoyed a remarkable first season at Porto, winning a Portuguese league, cup and Europa League treble, prompting Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to pay the £12million release clause in his contract.
Unlucky for some
Lasted just five months as coach of the Russian league side based in Chechnya. He left with the team bottom of the league and with controversial owner Ramzan Kadyrov complaining that the former Holland forward had been “thinking about bars and discotheques” and not football.
Juan Jose Lopez
The former River Plate midfielder oversaw the team’s relegation to the second tier for the first time in the club’s history.
The bespectacled former trainee teacher was in charge of Schalke for six months (from March
to September), having quit Hoffenheim in January in protest at the sale of Luiz Gustavo to Bayern Munich. He earned plaudits for his honesty after stepping down as Schalke boss, citing stress and mental exhaustion.
A World Cup winner as a player in 1986, he paid the price for Argentina’s unsuccessful Copa America campaign in which the host nation lost on penalties to Uruguay in the quarter-finals. He was fired 12 months after succeeding Diego Maradona.
Gian Piero Gasperini
Sacked by Inter in September after just three months in charge of the 2010 European champions. His continued preference for playing with a back three proved disastrous and the club turned to Claudio Ranieri.
Won the Premier League and FA Cup double in his first season, but the following term he still became the sixth manager to leave Stamford Bridge since Roman Abramovich bought the club.
A year on from guiding Uruguay to the World Cup semi-finals in South Africa, Tabarez guided “La Celeste” to a record-breaking 15th Copa America title and the country’s first success in the competition for 16 years.
The man known as “El Maestro” (the teacher) demonstrated the benefits of long-term planning. The former coach of Milan and Cagliari has been boss of Uruguay’s national side since 2006 – his second spell in charge, having also coached them at the 1990 World Cup.
His achievements were recognised by World Soccer readers, who voted him a close second to Pep Guardiola in the ballot for Manager of the Year.
World Manager of the Year
In Frank Rijkaard’s final season in charge, Barcelona finished third in La Liga, 18 points behind Real Madrid. Worse still, they were forced into handing their rivals a humiliating guard of honour because the clasico fell the week after Madrid clinched the title. They had, in the words of Rafa Marquez, let themselves go. They needed a change.
When former Barca midfielder Guardiola was chosen as Rijkaard’s successor, there were some who were fearful. Sure, he had been successful in charge of the B team, but he had no experience. The Catalan press were crying out for a bigger-name coach – Jose Mourinho, to be precise. So when Guardiola’s side lost and drew their first two league games, the pressure built.
But some were sure. As Xavi told World Soccer: “Pep is incredible. When they signed him I said: ‘Madre mia, we’re going to be flying.’ I swear it. He’s pesado [heavy-going, hard working]. He’s a perfectionist. He demands so much from himself. And that pressure that he puts on himself, those demands are contagious.”
Guardiola showed toughness, forcing Deco, Ronaldinho and, eventually, Samuel Eto’o out. He changed the approach to training. Andres Iniesta and Xavi recall reporting for pre-season hardly believing their eyes; they had not seen sessions so intense. Guardiola demanded discipline. Zlatan Ibrahimovic moans in his recent autobiography that Barca’s players were a “sect” with blind faith in their coach, schoolboys who did what teacher said. Guardiola would take that as a compliment.
There was a new stress too: on positioning, on intelligence, on movement. Tactically, the analysis is astonishingly precise. Before every game, Guardiola locks himself in a small, dark office and goes over the videos of his rivals. And during that time there is a moment “when I just know”.
The evidence suggests that largely he does indeed know. Guardiola has always known for all the style, identity and the plaudits for the way in which Barcelona play, his team had to win. He is fond of repeating that if they were unsuccessful the eulogies would cease and battle commence. So far, though, they have been almost ridiculously successful. In Guardiola’s first season he won the treble, last term it was La Liga and the Champions League – for the second time in three seasons.
He has won the league every year. In total he has won 12 of a possible 15 trophies. These are the most successful years in Barcelona’s history and they owe much of it to Guardiola.
Team of the Year
Spanish and European champions
The profile of Sandro Rosell has never been higher. Speaking from his lofty perch as president of the Champions League and La Liga winners, he is demanding that all Europe’s mainstream leagues slash their memberships from 20 clubs to 16 “in the near future” as part of a scheme to rebalance European club competition.
The clubs, says Rosell, who is also vice- president of the European Club Association (ECA), want a cut in national team dates to facilitate an expansion of the Champions League. Each country would double its representation. Thus England, Spain and Germany would go from four clubs to eight, Italy from three to six, and so on.
Rosell even envisages a “worst-case scenario” by which clubs break away to create their own league, revealing: “We want a bigger Champions League, but to increase doesn’t necessarily mean to do it with UEFA. We want to have the Champions League under the UEFA umbrella, but we want UEFA to hear our demands.
“ECA is asking for more revenues, governance, transparency, insurance, etc, because this is what we think is fair. If UEFA and ECA reach an agreement then that’s good for both parties. But we would like to increase the Champions League – and if not, then ECA is entitled to organise their own champions’ competition by themselves.”
A key factor in enlarging the Champions League would be cutting both the national team dates and easing fixture pressure within domestic competition.
Rosell says: “Reducing from 20 to 16 clubs will not be easy, but we really think it has to happen to give more space and air to our players. But the freed-up dates are not for the federations but for the clubs to organise friendly games or to increase the European competitions.
“We would like to have [this] Champions League with more teams which means that one day Barcelona can play Manchester United in the quarter-finals on a Saturday or Sunday, for instance. This is what we are looking for. We will not liberate dates for the national teams at all. They have too many dates already and have to reduce them [because] the clubs pay the players and the national associations use the players without paying the clubs.”
Rosell has come a long way from his childhood days as a ball boy at Camp Nou, but perhaps it’s his lifelong relationship with Barcelona which leaves him open to accusations of tunnel vision.
He recalls: “For many kids in Catalonia, becoming a member of Barcelona is part of our culture and we live with it all our lives. It’s much more than a club. It’s part of our personal story, our daily lives. I became a member like my father and grandfather; now my daughters are members. I became a member at eight, my father became general manager and I became a ballboy for my heroes: Hugo Sotil, Johan Cruyff, Charly Rexach, Juan Manuel.”
He says Barcelona will never play on Saturday lunchtimes for the sake of the Asian market because “this is a time for the family to sit down together for lunch”.
This patrician approach sits oddly with Rosell’s tough negotiation for the multi-zillion Qatar Foundation sponsorship and his expectations about how the rest of Europe’s leagues and clubs will change their ways to suit his vision.
The plan, he says, is “to be seen by everybody as not only the best club on the field but also in social, solidarity cultural and real estate matters; to have the best arena in the world, the best youth academy…and to project the very best of human values”.
Politicians and powerbrokers
The 75-year-old endured the most difficult 12 months in the history of the world governing body. He began the year under fire for the controversial decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and ended it with calls for his resignation following explosive comments about racism in a TV interview. In between, he was re-elected to the presidency unopposed after a bribery scandal forced his challenger, Mohamed Bin Hammam, to pull out of the race. Blatter now faces the task of re-inventing himself as an anti-corruption crusader, even though stories continue to emerge of corruption taking place on his watch at FIFA.
CONCACAF general secretary
The larger-than-life American stepped down from his role at CONCACAF in the aftermath of the scandal that forced the resignation of Jack Warner as FIFA vice-president and CONCACAF president.
Blazer reported members of the Caribbean Football Union to FIFA for accepting bribes from Bin Hammam at a meeting facilitated by Warner. In retaliation, documents were leaked to the media which showed Blazer had been paid millions of dollars in commission for deals negotiated on behalf of CONCACAF.
Bayern Munich vice-president
The former West Germany striker, now president of the European Club Association, stepped up his campaign for clubs to receive a greater share of the spoils from FIFA and UEFA competitions.
Manchester City owner
Middle Eastern money has poured into carefully targeted European clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Malaga. But nowhere has its influence been felt so strongly yet as at Manchester City. Sheikh Mansour, a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, has spent more than half a billion pounds on transfer fees and salaries since buying the Premier League club in September 2008. In return for his investment, City were the only unbeaten side in the English top flight going into December. Despite the impending introduction of UEFA’s Financial Fairplay regulations, there appears to be no let-up in City’s spending plans.
The head of European football’s governing body continued with his plans to implement Financial Fairplay on the game and remained the most high-profile critic of video technology. The 56-year-old was re-elected unopposed for a second term and has been widely mentioned as the likely successor to Sepp Blatter in 2015. However, the Frenchman refuses to be drawn on the issue and doubts remain over his long-term ambitions.
Anzhi Makhachkala owner
The Russian billionaire purchased Anzhi in January and lavished cash on his new investment. Roberto Carlos and Samuel Eto’o – the latter’s salary believed to be £6.5million a year – were the biggest names signed as part of a transfer strategy designed to raise the profile of the club based in the southern region of Dagestan, which has been troubled by civil war and unrest in recent years.
The veteran striker, nicknamed El Loco, called time on his career one year on from his appearance for Argentina at the World Cup finals in South Africa. He had been recalled to the national side after more than a decade away from the international scene, having famously missed three penalties in one match at the 1999 Copa America.
The Brazilian World Cup winner and former World Player of the year called it a day in February after the physical demands at the top level became too much for him at the age of 34. “I’ve been defeated by my own body,” said the player who suffered a serious knee injury in November 1999 from which he never fully recovered. He has now accepted a request from beleaguered Brazil FA boss Ricardo Teixeira to accept a position on Brazil’s 2014 World Cup organising committee and will act as a figurehead for his country’s World Cup preparations.
Italy’s 2010 World Cup-winning captain quit in June at the age of 37, while 12 months into a two-year deal with Al Ahli in Dubai, saying: “I’m very sad. Football is everything for me in my life.”
A record crowd of 64,410 turned out to see the former USA national team goalkeeper play his last home game in Major League Soccer for Seattle against San Jose Earthquakes. Keller won 102 caps and also played in Europe for Millwall, Leicester City, Rayo Vallecano, Tottenham Hotspur, Borussia Monchengladbach and Fulham.
The next generation
Although Santos were never in contention for the 2011 national championship – their priorities being elsewhere in the build-up to December’s Club World Cup in Japan – Neymar swept the board in the Brazilian end-of-season awards handed out by the country’s media.
The teenager, who turns 20 in February, picked up Brazilian player of the year awards from Placar magazine and CBF/Globo TV. He was also voted the best player in the 2011 Libertadores Cup.
Not only did Neymar end the year with a clutch of awards, he also enhanced his bank balance by signing a new contract with Santos.
The new deal ties the youngster to the club until 2015 and guarantees him a 50 per cent pay rise, reportedly rewarding him to the tune of £600,000 every month. This salary is being heavily subsidised by a state sponsorship deal involving the Post Office and Bank of Brazil, with Santos believed to be paying only a fifth of his wages.
The new contract has raised hopes that Neymar will now stay in Brazil with Santos until the 2014 World Cup. However, Real Madrid and Barcelona both remain hopeful that they can persuade him and his family to move to Europe before then.
European fans will get the chance to see Neymar in the summer, irrespective of whether a transfer is arranged. Brazil’s Olympic side is likely to be built around his considerable talents and that will give David Beckham – if he makes the Great Britain squad – some competition as the star attraction of the London 2012 football tournament.
The Belgium midfielder was the star of his club side’s Ligue 1 triumph. Lille are resigned to losing the 20-year-old to a major European power in the summer, but will expect a fat fee for a player who is under contract until 2015.
The Bundesliga champions have placed a £30million price tag on the prodigious talent. With Arsenal seemingly prepared to go most of the way (£25m) a bidding war may result for the 19-year-old midfielder who is expected to have an important role in Germany’s Euro 2012 squad.
The 22-year-old midfielder has been linked with an imminent switch to Bayern Munich. Along with Gotze, the youngster is another selection option for Germany coach Joachim Low.
Paulo Henrique Ganso
The fuss over Neymar has deflected attention from the progress of Santos team-mate Ganso. The 22-year-old playmaker has been compared to the late Socrates, who said Ganso was the greatest talent to come out of Brazil in the past decade. Injuries have probably delayed a move to Europe, but Milan lead several clubs still keen.
The 20-year-old midfielder made his England debut in November with a strong performance that gave manager Fabio Capello a potential selection headache ahead of next summer’s Euro 2012, when Jack Wilshere and Steven Gerrard are expected to be fit again.
The most talented Danish player since Michael Laudrup helped Ajax to the Dutch title, he played a key role in Denmark’s successful Euro 2012 qualification. A lucrative move to Spain or England beckons for the 19-year-old midfielder.
After Xavi (aged 30), Iniesta (27), and Cesc Fabregas (24), the brilliant 20-year-old Barcelona midfielder, star of Spain’s 2010 Euro Under-21 championship triumph, is expected to lead the next generation for club and country.
Burnley manager and member of England staff at 1962 World Cup, aged 82.
Hungary forward, 1967 European Footballer of the Year, aged 70.
UAE international famous for scoring a back-heel penalty, aged 21 (car crash).
Dutch coach, inventor of the Coerver Method coaching technique, aged 86.
All-time top goalscorer for home-town club Atletico Madrid, aged 83.
Arsenal director and key shareholder, aged 66.
Soviet Union forward, joint-top scorer at 1962 World Cup and 1960 European Championship, aged 76.
Croatian who won numerous domestic leagues across Europe, earning a reputation as a master tactician, aged 77.
German TV mogul, aged 84.
Red Star Belgrade’s all-time top scorer, aged 80.
Bolton Wanderers and England forward, nicknamed the “Lion of Vienna”, aged 85.
Costa Rica international, aged 25 (car crash).
Japan defender who played at 2002 World Cup, aged 34 (cardiac arrest).
Winger and member of Feyenoord’s 1970 European Cup-winning side, aged 73.
Czechoslavakia defender, 1962 World Cup losing finalist, aged 79.
Defender with Bradford City, Wolves, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur, aged 36.
Captain of 1982 Brazil World Cup side, aged 57.
Last surviving member of the legendary River Plate team of the 1940s, aged 93.
Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers and Wales midfielder, who later managed Sheffield United and Wales, aged 42.
Jan Van Beveren
PSV Eindhoven and Holland international goalkeeper, aged 63.
Former Scottish FA secretary, aged 82.
South Korean goalkeeper implicated in a domestic match-fixing scandal, aged 24 (suicide).
* This article originally featured in the January 2012 issue of World Soccer.