So December 21st came and went, the earth didn’t fold in on itself and the world didn’t end, though if you are an Aston Villa fan, one could be forgiven for thinking that way. But for the rest of us the planet has stubbornly continued to spin and instead of humanity’s untimely doom we look forward to another year of football – hopefully as full of surprises, ecstatic triumphs and memorable moments as its predecessor. And so, in no particular order –
5. Lionel Messi surpasses Gerard Muller
Messi finishes 2012 with a remarkable haul of 91 goals, in the process breaking the 40-year-old record of Gerd Muller who in 1972 scored 85 goals in the calendar year. What can you say about Messi that hasn’t already been repeated infinitely by thousands of misty eyed fans and pundits? This is yet another boundary smashed by the young Argentinean; one which will surely add another stumbling block to the path of Cristiano Ronaldo as he keeps chasing his Barcelona rival for the as yet elusive title of the best player in the world.
4. Manchester City become noisier neighbours
Despite the fact that they had hundreds of millions sunk into the club since their wealthy Arab owners took over, silverware was still proving somewhat elusive for the blue half of Manchester, particularly the Premier League crown which would, amongst other things, force their rivals at Old Trafford to finally reset their infamous banner, counting the years since City last won a trophy. The 2011 FA Cup triumph was only the beginning and City battled hard to take the throne from United, and due to a combination of resilience, a remarkable collapse from the red half of Manchester and some serious last day drama courtesy of a late winner from Sergio Aguero against QPR, the trophy which had eluded the club since 1968 was finally back in their hands.
3. Fabrice Muamba unites football
Everyone’s heart went out to the former Bolton player when he suffered cardiac arrest and collapsed during the first half of a cup tie against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Bolton’s club doctor later revealed the severity of the situation; Muamba’s heart having stopped for 78 minutes. But two weeks later, pictures emerged of the player sitting up in hospital smiling. Though all Muamba wanted to do was get back on the pitch and start playing again, it wasn’t to be and on the 15th of August 2012 he announced he was retiring from the game, based on the advice of his medical staff. What we can all remember, however, is the reaction from fans and players alike all around the world; an immediate and immense outpouring of concern for the player which united football on a truly global scale.
2. Abramovich’s dream comes true
2012 was a year for big wins under somewhat surprising conditions, as Manchester City proved in early May and Chelsea highlighted not too long after. The latter stage of the blues’ journey to the Champions League final was quite impressive; beating Barcelona is no easy feat and Chelsea formed a wall around their goal as solid as concrete. Skip forward to the Allianz Arena on the 19th of May 2012 and their opponents were an impressive Bayern Munich side, on home turf, in the Champions League final. Bayern had control for much of the match and it appeared as if it was going to be just another one of those days for the blues, Muller taking the lead in the 83rd minute. Against the run of play, Didier Drogba scored just five minutes later, taking the game first into extra time, then to penalties, where all of Bayern’s hard work was undone, missing two key penalties and handing the initiative back to Chelsea as Drogba, taking his final touch for Chelsea, sent Manuel Neuer the wrong way to finally seal Roman Abramovich’s dreams of European glory.
1. Glory for the Bhoys
It’s not really surprising that Barcelona feature, in one way or another, three times in this list. But once again (sorry Barcelona) it is to highlight the impressive nature of any team which manages to beat their particular brand of flowing football. Mankind loves nothing better than an underdog. It’s why countless films are full of lesser people rising up and overcoming the odds stacked against them, why on shows like Survivor those who seem unlikely to win often receive a lion’s share of the support. These are people we can relate to, people like us, on our level, and we love them for trying for a share of the spoils. Football is no different. Which is why, when Celtic faced off against Barcelona, so many of us were silently or not so silently willing the Bhoys on. The stage had been set perfectly. Their first meeting with the Catalans in October had ended in a 2-1 defeat; Celtic had played with fire and heart, having taken the lead in the 18th minute through Samaras, though an equaliser on the stroke of half time and a late, late goal from Jordi Alba broke Scottish hearts. And in early November they faced Barcelona once more, a day after celebrating their 125th anniversary, and still hurting from a defeat in which they gave so much and took so little. The result, now, is emblazoned in history. But for a 91st minute Messi goal which briefly threatened another bitter disappointment, Celtic were 1-0 up and looking quite equal to arguably the greatest club team in the world, taking everything which was being thrown at them with verve and aplomb, and looking every bit as threatening each time they took their chance to break. And then, from a Fraser Forster kickout, that next bit of European magic happened, as Xavi missed his attempt at putting the ball back in Celtic’s half, as 18-year-old Tony Watt latched on to the ball and fired his way into the back of Victor Valdes’ net and Celtic’s history books. The stuff of legend.
*As with any football list there will be much arguing over what was and wasn’t included and why in particular this list is so very wrong. Please not this is a list rather than the list. Though 100 per cent correct all the same.