The “even if Lionel Messi wasn’t the best player of 2012 as a whole, Andres Iniesta didn’t quite do enough and we’re not giving an award to that preening prick Cristiano bloody Ronaldo” player-of-the-year award: LIONEL MESSI.
If Cristiano Ronaldo feels hard done to by missing out on the World Player of the Year award again this year, it will, of course, partly be because he feels that hard done by EVERY year. And he’s even admitted he’d vote for himself. I’m reminded of a When Saturday Comes cover, when Ronaldo made his first impact for Manchester United, with an impressive cameo role hyped to the hills. The speech bubble attached to Ronaldo’s cover picture read “Blimey, all I did was trap the ball.” Yet one suspects such humility was beyond him even then.
In 2012, however, Ronaldo starred as Real Madrid convincingly beat Barcelona to the La Liga title. On at least one occasion he dragged his colleagues to vital results as Barca began to close the early season gap. And he starred in the Nou Camp victory which finally crushed said Catalan revival. Ronaldo also had a fine Euro 2012 tournament, something Messi has yet to replicate in World Cups and Copa Americas. Messi is beginning to lay waste to his reputation as an international under-achiever, with three recent international hat-tricks – including a stunning treble against Brazil’s strong Olympic squad in June. But it could be argued forcefully that Messi’s international team-mates are better than Ronaldo’s. So, it’s Messi again. The only question raised by his surpassing of Gerd Muller’s ‘goals in a year’ record was “how bad were Bundesliga defences in 1972?” (Muller got to 85 goals in six fewer games than Messi). And Ronaldo is a preening prick, while Messi thanks God and Iniesta (one person in some Catalan eyes) before succumbing to self-satisfaction after scoring. So there. And while we are on the Iberian peninsula…
The “Barcelona are a liberal’s wet dream team, Real Madrid are ‘Franco’s team’, so let’s pretend last season’s Spanish title race never happened” team-of-the-year award: REAL MADRID.
The contrasting La Liga fortunes of the two Spanish giants since September makes this award much less clear-cut, especially as Barca ended 2012 with Mark McGhee’s stunt double as manager and still remain unbeaten in domestic competition. But Barca were everybody’s “best team on the planet” even while Real Madrid were convincing Spanish champions. Everyone I heard was surprised that Real Madrid were racing ahead of Barca in the league. Both sides suffered unexpected Champions League semi-final defeats to unpopular opposition…but at least Real Madrid took Bayern Munich to penalties, while Barca threw away an aggregate lead against ten men, one of whom was Jose Bosingwa.
But again, Barca just appeared humbler and nicer, while playing a more pleasing looking brand of football. Never mind that Barca have Mascherano, Busquets and the perma-diving Alexis Sanchez. They also have Xavi, Iniesta and the little fellow with the fractionally long shirt-sleeves. And while Real have Ozil and Alonso, they also have Pepe, Di Maria, Ramos, Pepe, Benzema, Pepe. And CBR. AND Jose Bloody Mourinho. So it is with some relief that Real Madrid now need snookers in La Liga, while nobody, yet, has faith in second-placed Atletico Madrid’s ability to maintain their title challenge, especially if Radamel Falcao gets injured or, worse, joins Chelsea.
The “anyone can spend money, let’s see Roberto Mancini win a title with Port Vale manager Micky Adams’ budget” manager-of-the-year award: PORT VALE MANAGER MICKY ADAMS.
It is entirely appropriate that Port Vale should end 2012 leading League Two. Manager Micky Adams has stuck with Vale through, frankly, thin and thin during his second spell there, And he is now reaping the rewards for his patience. I’ve not always been an Adams fan. He brought what could only be described as a brutal Fulham side to play my team Kingstonian in what was a pre-season ‘friendly’ in name only, back in about 1995. His treatment by Fulham was worthy of sympathy, though. And when he appeared on my radar again at Port Vale, he was worthy of more sympathy still. His yelp of disbelief towards the end of last year when a BBC interviewer told him some Vale fans were questioning his commitment to the club was as genuine a reaction as you could hear in these media-trained days.
And you felt for Adams this summer when, having finally dispensed with the board that had run Vale into administration by February, the emergence of Lancastrian businessman Keith Ryder as preferred bidder proved another false dawn. Hamstrung to near incapacity by the administrator’s inability to finalise a deal for the club, Adams used what little money Ryder had made available to fashion a play-off challenging squad by the time new owner Paul Wildes finally began a new era at the club. And now they top the League Two tree. Vale is, for now at least, one of football’s few good stories in 2012. Adams is one of the very best chapters of that story.
The “Ah, the English Premier League is the greatest in the world. We’ll make loads of money, we’ll make a killing on merchandise back home, we’ll… eh?… relegation? What’s that?” owners-of-the-year award: JOINT AND SEVERAL.
Whilst it is fashionable and easy to highlight the foreign misconceptions about the EPL, it is also unavoidable. Yet this award could have gone to the most English of the lot. When I started typing this section, Carson Yeung and his “associates” were winning. Their attempts at both running and selling the club have been risible. And their choice of new owner would appear to be anyone who can overpay for Blues by about £20m, so that they can get at least half their money back. This limits them to any investor within Hong Kong ex-policeman and current club boss Peter Pannu’s circle of acquaintances, who are as liable to fall for the EPL hype as Yeung. Or there’s Gianni Paladini and his myzzztery conzzzortium. The Solihull-based, still-stereotypically-sounding Italian ex-football agent says he has signed a multitude of documents confirming his takeover, yet he hasn’t… er… taken over. That he is the most credible bid on Blues’ proverbial table bodes ill indeed.
Still, Birmingham are saved in this category and might yet be saved from a Championship relegation battle, by the latest episode in the Blackburn Rovers soap opera, the script for which might be rejected as too melodramatic and fanciful by the makers of Home and Away. The Raos, now represented in this country by the never-knowingly-credible Shebby Singh, sacked Henning Berg as manager after 57 days, having taken 57 years to be rid of the malleable and over-promoted Steve Kean. And their criteria for selecting a replacement might be no better thought through than “get someone with hair.” Mark Hughes was an obvious name in the frame. But would the Raos be daft enough to appoint someone whose transfer policy is clearly influenced by agents… ah, hang on.
But football club ownership failings aren’t about nationality. Calamities such as Port Vale and Coventry were all-too-domestically inspired. And Leeds United were divested of old financial legacies and saved from financial ruin by the Geneva-based Forward Sports Fund, before being sold to a bearded Englishman, since when the losses have started to mount again. If only Ken Bates (for it was he) had left Leeds in the previous owners’ hands. The Sporting Intelligence website recently polled its readers on their best and worst owners of the year – the results of which are eagerly awaited (by me, anyway). But, for the umpteenth consecutive year, I can only narrow the field for the latter award down to “several,” all equally responsible for football’s continuing fall from grace.
The “If Mark Lawrenson says ‘by the way’ after one more half-arsed attempt to be amusing/clever/controversial/
So it finally happened. The on-screen laziness of the BBC’s Messrs Hansen, Shearer, Lawrenson, Savage etc finally resulted in ITV becoming a ‘better’ football broadcaster. The gap between them closed to inches during Euro 2012, thanks to ITV’s more imaginative selection of pundits. Jamie Carragher may only be remembered for a terrifying rendition of the words “tackling back.” But Roberto Martinez provided genuinely interesting perspectives… in fractionally better English. However, ITV made the overtaking manoeuvre in a manner wholly in keeping with modern football’s ethos… they bought the BBC’s best talent.
The move for Lee Dixon was the clincher. Dixon has long-provided the recent ex-players’ informed perspective, which SKY’s Gary Neville has subsequently made even more famous (clearly right-back is the best place from which to receive a footballing education). And his move to ITV, after the transfers of Adrian Chiles and Gordon Strachan, has offset the effect of giving Peter Reid air-time. Meanwhile, the BBC’s Gabby Logan recently asked Robbie Savage and Garth Crooks to comment on a matchday protest by Arsenal fans. “Dunno” they shrugged, before Savage asked: “What are they complaining about, Arsenal have got money in the bank?” The licence fee never felt more expensive.
The “I know he’s a managerial legend but imagine how he’d feel if you asked him why he looked so ruddy-faced on occasions” arrogant-sod-of-the-year award: ALEX FERGUSON.
Alex Ferguson, Manchester United’s manager, appears to believe he can say what he likes about who he likes within football and have it reported as clever “mind games.” And he’s right. Diatribes from Ferguson happen so often that I am little surprised at having to update these paragraphs constantly, since starting to type them last weekend. Ranting and raving, Ferguson has spent the week insulting others within the game, impugning the honesty and integrity of players, fellow managers and match officials alike. And he is often so ‘angry’ when doing so that he slurs his words.
Under Ferguson’s spotlight was the Swansea/Manchester United referee Michael Oliver was subjected to the ageist claptrap “he is a young referee, but really, what a performance” after what was actually quite a good performance, given that he had to deal with downright harassment from Ferguson AND his on-field representative, the perma-whingeing Ryan Giggs… and had to make a snap decision over the supposed attempted manslaughter of United striker Robin Van Persie. Now, Swansea’s Ashley Williams deserved his booking for what was recklessly petulant behaviour. But Ferguson’s branding of Williams as a “disgrace” was borderline-defamatory. Was Van Persie really “lucky to be alive” after being whacked on the back of the head at close quarters by a football? No. Keep in mind, too, former United player Roy Keane’s 2001 assault on Manchester City’s Alf-Inge Haaland whenever you hear Ferguson describe Williams’ actions as “the worst thing” he’d ever seen on a football field.
The “It’s a great opportunity to meet up with… Jose Mourinho… I’ll need to order some good wine” ‘let’s ignore what that really means’ award: MEDIA TOLERANCE OF FERGUSON’S BOORISH BEHAVIOUR.
As luck would have it, Christmas week produced even finer examples of what Ferguson can get away with around a football field than his shameful public Boxing Day ravings and the equally-shameful inactivity of media observers and football authorities alike. Not content with his match-day behaviour against Newcastle, Ferguson was still rattling off the insults last Friday. Toon boss Alan Pardew was a “hypocrite” for criticising Ferguson despite “making a joke” of pushing fourth official Peter Kirkup in August – a dishonest version of an incident for which Pardew was immediately, publicly sorry… unlike Ferguson… and for which he was punished… unlike Ferguson. And Ferguson calling Newcastle “a wee club in the north-east” was the sound of the playground. I was surprised not to learn that Ferguson’s dad was bigger than Pardew’s.
Over time, Ferguson has regularly produced these rants. Snide comments about football ‘colleagues’ date back almost to black-and-white telly. People forget that Kevin Keegan’s (in)famous “I’d love it if we could beat them” rant, in…ulp…1996, was in response to Ferguson accusing Leeds players of cheating by trying less hard against Keegan’s Newcastle than they had at Old Trafford. Less headline-grabbing perhaps, but equally insidious, is his constant berating of referee’s assistants and fourth officials. Ferguson’s treatment of referee’s assistant Jake Collin, during the Newcastle game, merited dismissal. And if referee Mike Dean has his ‘reasons’ for ‘overlooking’ Ferguson’s behaviour in his match report, his lack of visible support for his colleague seems shameful.
Daring to criticise, the Independent newspaper’s Sam Wallace wrote, correctly: “When he pursues referees like he did yesterday, Ferguson looks like a bully and it does nothing to dispel the sense that, at Old Trafford in particular, he puts officials in an impossible position.” Despite this being obvious to even casual observers, Ferguson’s ‘bullying’ is allowed to continue…and to work. The FA’s subsequent use of Dean’s amnesia to avoid acting against Ferguson (over incidents half the country saw before nightfall) seems cowardly. Rafael Benitez was, mostly, right, in his (in)famous “fact” rant against Ferguson in 2009. Ferguson has long and regularly impugned the honesty of match officials while media observers report with a perplexing mix of amusement and admiration.
Unless I’m mistaken, his comment about the number of penalties awarded to Manchester City (“if we got that number there’d be an inquiry in the House of Commons”) translated as “if referees cheated for us…” and was even reported, without comment, as increasing “the pressure on referee Martin Atkinson.” The concept of “Fergie time” also stems from words easily translated as accusations of cheating – while the four minutes stoppage time at the end of Spurs’ recent visit to Old Trafford was branded “an insult to the game” for no obvious reason other than not being enough time for United to equalise. No-one can explain what switches off journalists’ news sense when Ferguson embarks on another occasionally-slurred tirade (check his post-Newcastle BBC interview for details).
And I wouldn’t think ill of any referee who, when confronted by a raging Ferguson, got in HIS face and shouted: “Sod off, you old ****k, or I’ll send you to the stands.” After all, he would be unlikely to include the incident in his match report, so the FA could, it seems, do FA about it. “Keeping the attention away from his under-performing players” is one of many excuses for Ferguson’s abusive behaviour, shamefully regurgitated on Boxing Night’s Match of the Day. And the abuse certainly delivers on that score. But time has long passed for any “excuses.” Ferguson needs to be treated as any other manager in such situations. His managerial brilliance is NO excuse.
The “money obviously didn’t change hands because that sort of thing never happens… especially in the Olympics…” refereeing performance of the year award: CHRISTINA W PEDERSON.
“That could have gone the other way.” BBC commentator Guy Mowbray sensed something was up after about half-an-hour in an otherwise thrilling Olympic women’s football semi-final (see below). It wasn’t a major decision – they were to come. But when the Americans were very mistakenly awarded a corner, it was the latest in a line of decisions which had gone against the Canadians since TWO free-kick awards in the very first minute. This “pattern” continued. The States were awarded a second-half penalty for deliberate handball after Canada were refused one for “accidental” handball – decisions which Pedersen got completely arse-about-face. Canada’s goalkeeper Erin MacLeod was penalised for breaking the “six-second rule” – a law so infrequently used in recent years, that I’d assumed it had actually been repealed (when did you last see a keeper penalised for this?).
And the usually “physical” Abby Wambach was even more “physical” than usual – a referee on their game would surely have dismissed her long before the 120 minutes were up. “I said accidental… only Wambach knows,” Mowbray noted of Wambach’s assault on Sophie Schmidt who, purely co-incidentally, was Canada’s busiest midfielder. Only Wambach may have known. Many observers would have had an idea. Pedersen blew the final whistle as Canada restarted the game after America went 4-3 ahead. This made for such a dramatic end that even the sceptical Mowbray failed to notice that three minutes and 25 seconds of a “minimum” four minutes’ stoppage-time had elapsed. Much subsequent attention focused on Pedersen’s technically correct application of the six-second rule. But it is significant that Pedersen’s defenders (a) ignored every other “unusual” decision and (b) largely consisted of American media outlets. Oh… and her Dad.
The “despite the referee’s performance” game-of-the-year award: USA v CANADA WOMEN’S OLYMPIC SEMI-FINAL.
When the BBC’s Jake Humphrey called this game the best there was likely to be at Old Trafford this year and possibly for many years, he was not wrong. And even though I’d be tempted to name this the ‘game of the year’ just to offset the criticism of its referee, it was the clear winner, anyway. All it lacked was victory for the popular underdogs. And so good were Canada that describing them as “plucky” would do them an extreme disservice. Thrice they lead, thrice they were hauled back. But there’s as much credit to be given for Canada re-taking the lead twice than there is for the Americans to come back three times.
The football was energetic and brilliant, the drama and excitement unparalleled in the year, and possibly in the rest of the Olympics, too – if you take a neutral rather than British view, and remember that so many British victories were more convincing than dramatic. And the finish was legendary, if a minute early (above). As I wrote then, it was a game contested with the fervour of one for which the prize for the losers was a one o’clock kick-off on a Thursday afternoon in Coventry. I think Humphrey caught the spirit and the quality of the occasion rather better.
And finally… the only “award” that really matters: JUSTICE FOR THE 96.
The rest, after all, was only football.
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