It would be logical to review football on a season by season basis, but 2012 was just a bit special. As well as the European Championships, Africa Cup of Nations and Olympic Games, all the usual competitions provided thrilling moments.
Rather than document everything that took place, I have attempted to break down the last 12 months into a series of awards.
However, I will not focus on the more obvious categories, such as “most goals scored” (Lionel Messi, with 91) and “most prolific tweeter” (Joey Barton).
Overachievers of the year | Chelsea
When Roberto Di Matteo took charge in February the Blues were 3-1 down to Napoli heading into the second of leg of their Champions League tie. A majestic performance at Stamford Bridge saw Chelsea overcome the Italians before slaying Benfica, Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the unlikeliest of European triumphs.
Although it does not seem entirely absurd that a club bankrolled by billionaire Roman Abramovich managed to win a trophy, there were a number of factors that made it particularly unlikely.
The squad was widely derided as too old and lacking depth, while Di Matteo’s previous managerial foray had been ended in him being sacked by mid-table West Bromwich Albion.
The club was also burdened with misfiring £50million striker Fernando Torres, who regularly played with the demeanour of a drowned rat rather than the Champions League-winning, Euro 2012 top goalscorer he turned out to be.
Underachievers | Chelsea
Despite what went on in the Champions League, the Blues finished a lowly sixth in the Premier League. They ranked lower than a poor Arsenal side, struggling Tottenham Hotspur and the surprise package of the season, Newcastle United.
European qualification was only secured through their trophy win in May, and despite attracting the likes of Oscar and Eden Hazard with their oil money they failed to progress to the knockout stages, becoming the first defending champions to do this.
Under new manager Rafael Benítez, Chelsea remain some way behind Premier League leaders Manchester United, and while they may have won the FA Cup last season, it was against Liverpool and thus does not count.
Spaniard Santi Cazorla is the only reason Arsène Wenger remains in his job at The Emirates. Last year, the goals of Robin van Persie saw Arsenal through to the Champions League, instead of a mid-table finish.
He was then replaced by Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, who thus far appear unlikely to surpass the Dutchman’s tally of 30 goals between them. Cazorla, however, has been a breath of fresh air.
A bargain at £16million, Wenger must be credited for acquiring the diminutive playmaker. Much like Juan Mata and David Silva, he has provides a number of excellent assists and is able to find the target on occasions. Other honourable mentions in this category include van Persie, Michu and Sébastien Bassong.
Worst signing | Any player Mark Hughes brought to QPR
It is impossible to pick only one. José Bosingwa, Júlio César, Park ji-Sung, Esteban Granero: the list goes on. Bosingwa has proved his worth by refusing to sit on the bench and thus being fined £130,000, while neither César nor Green can be worth the money, and having both defies logic.
Although Granero does look decent on his day, the fee could have been better spent on other areas of the team. It appears as though the 25-year-old was signed simply because he played for Real Madrid, but then so did Thomas Gravesen and Julien Faubert.
Fans must be hoping that manager Harry Redknapp can make more astute acquisitions this month, otherwise the downfall of the rich and not so famous could become unavoidable.
Best managerial appointment | Steve Clarke
After taking charge of West Bromwich Albion following Roy Hodgson’s appointment as England coach, the former Chelsea assistant manager inherited a relatively average squad.
Given his lack of managerial experience, many tipped West Brom to be relegation candidates. However, the boss was able to acquire £18million striker Romelu Lukaku on loan courtesy of his Blues connections, and the Belgian has proved to be an inspired signing.
There are a number of other reasons for their success, namely players such as Shane Long, Chris Brunt and James Morrison, who helped the Baggies go on a fantastic run that saw them lie in the Champions League places until November. Despite tailing off slightly, West Brom are already more or less safe with 33 points.
Worst managerial appointment | Brendan Rodgers
Sideways is the best word to describe Brendan Rodgers’ reign so far at Liverpool. The Ulsterman presents himself as a saint holding all the secrets as to how football ought to be played.
Any individual claiming to have such a philosophy is unlikely to live up to the hype, particularly as the first stage of said philosophy seemed to be ensuring that his side had just one recognised forward.
During the first half of the season the Reds only beat Norwich City, Wigan Athletic, Reading, Southampton, West Ham United and Fulham.
This could hardly be described as setting the world on fire. The boss’ philosophy has not really worked thus far, he is simply being bailed out by the exceptional performances of Luis Suárez.
It would stand to reason that a higher calibre of manager would have been able to attract a higher calibre of player than, for example, Joe Allen. However, it seems that Rodgers is a particular fan of paying former club Swansea City astronomical fees for average footballers.
Best goal | Ramires
There were a number of great goals scored this year, not least the 91 netted by Messi. Radamel Falcao, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Peter Crouch and Papiss Cissé also chipped in with a few stunners. However, Ramires stole the show in Barcelona back in April.
To put the strike into context, it must be taken into account that the Blues were 2-0 down and had 10 men against the “greatest team in the world”.
Then, out of nowhere, the Brazilian burst down the right-hand side and delightfully chipped the ball over the helpless Victor Valdés.
It was one of those moments that almost did not feel “real” and was the catalyst for Chelsea’s comeback at the Nou Camp and ultimately their Champions League win.
Best assist | Christian Benteke
This may be a slightly pretentious category, but with all the fantastic playmakers around, sometimes a subtle assist can be as easy on the eye as a volley into the top corner.
The one that stood out was Christian Benteke’s assist for Andreas Weimann as Aston Villa beat Liverpool 3-1. A sublime backheel flick from the Belgian came towards the end of a flowing passing move.
It was not only impressive in terms of technique, but also because Benteke has looked rather clumsy at times, and as a result many did not believe him to be capable of such delicate skill.
Heart-warming moment | Everton’s tribute to the 96
After 23 years what everyone knew turned out to be true, namely that the police did blame Liverpool fans to cover their own failings.
This revelation sparked countless tributes across the country, but perhaps the most poignant came from the club’s bitter rivals Everton.
Before their game against Newcastle United, two children walked out hand-in-hand, one wearing an Everton strip and the other a Liverpool kit, to a soundtrack of “He Ain’t Heavy… He’s My Brother”.
There could not have been a more fitting tribute and it showed the game in a very good light. Naturally The Hollies’ hit became the Christmas number one.
In doing so, vital funds were raised for the families of the 96 Hillsborough victims who are taking legal action as they close in on the justice they have craved and deserved for so long.
Worst media interview | Brian McDermott
Reading manager Brian McDermott, having done such a fantastic job to get the Royals into the Premier League, has been borderline hopeless ever since.
After Gareth Barry controversially scored a late winner for champions Manchester City against his side, McDermott claimed the goal had “ruined his Christmas”. While this guilt trip on referee Mike Dean might have worked coming from a five-year-old, it was a ridiculous statement by a fully grown man.
The 51-year-old has run out of ideas with a poor Reading squad and it is surprising that he has not yet been given the boot. On the plus side, ruining Christmas for McDermott was perhaps the most productive thing done by the pointless Barry for years.
Best pundit | Gary Neville
Listening to the older Neville brother eulogise about football is an absolute pleasure. He brought a smile to many faces with his orgasmic reaction to the last-minute goal scored by Torres against Barcelona, but his tactical analysis stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Just when the weekend of football seems to be over, Neville appears on Monday Night Football full of insight and with a refreshing neutrality that would not be expected from an individual who was so previously dedicated to the cause of Manchester United.
Worst pundit | Dietmar Hamann
It would be too easy to pick out Mark Lawrenson, with his terrible and ill-thought-out predictions, but Dietmar Hamann never appears to get anything right either.
He regularly states the obvious, via Twitter, and has a bias towards Liverpool almost of ESPN proportions when covering the Anfield club. Hamann was a decent player in his time, but a failed coaching career suggests that he would be better off on the sofa at home.
“Wow” moment | Zlatan Ibrahimović scoring against England
Although not, as it was claimed the next morning, “the best goal ever”, the internal monologue at the time of every observer – “He’s not, is he? Oh yeah, he’s tried it. Bloody hell, it’s gone in” – was particularly enjoyable.
Of course, it was an open goal, so for those of a fussier disposition, search YouTube for an even more audacious overhead kick from Mauro Bressan.
Best comeback | Fabrice Muamba
Fabrice Muamba trumped all comers this year, even Arsenal’s spectacular resurgence against Reading and the Citizens’ euphoric fightback against QPR.
This is a man whose heart stopped for 78 minutes, but remains with us.
Naturally it is disappointing that Muamba has been told he cannot play football again, but the fact that his charity work will probably surpass all he might have achieved in football may be of some consolation.
Dark horse | Andrea Pirlo
The Italian could have been a nominee for comeback of the year, except he never really went away. Watching Andrea Pirlo dictate the play for Italy at Euro 2012 was a joy and a privilege.
Ultimately, he was disappointed in the final as the Azzurri were destroyed by a marvellous Spain side. It is a credit to Pirlo that he is perhaps the only Italian that might have been included in the “greatest international team of all time”.
His performance last summer will probably be best remembered, in this country, for the “panenka” penalty: as an England fan it is always painful to lose in a spot-kick competition, but this delightful finish by Pirlo soothed the agony ever so slightly.
Best final | Brazil v Mexico
The Olympic final may be a left-field choice, but perhaps not so when it is considered just how many drab finals supporters had to sit through in 2012.
Nobody cared for the Carling Cup and the same can almost be said of the FA Cup; the Champions League final was a defensive affair and the last game of Euro 2012 was far too one-sided.
Brazil against Mexico was exciting because it destroyed the narrative and ripped the script into tiny little pieces, but was still overlooked because of the endless stream of sporting triumphs this summer.
An outfit boasting a plethora of stars such as Neymar, Leandro Damião and Thiago Silva, all of whom are expected to dazzle at their home World Cup in 2014, came to London.
However, Mexico found themselves 2-0 up as the game entered its final stages. Brazil pulled a goal back before Oscar missed a sitter to level the scores. It was supposed to be the golden opportunity for the Brazilians to win their first Olympic gold medal in football, but Mexico emerged victorious.
Biggest achievement | Zambia winning the Africa Cup of Nations
Minnows Zambia overcame the giants of Côte d’Ivoire 8-7 on penalties following a 0-0 draw in February’s final. Managed by former Cambridge United boss Hervé Renard, the Copper Bullets heroically made it all the way with a team of players nobody had heard of.
This was all the more admirable considering that the tournament took place in Gabon, a country where less than 20 years ago a plane carrying the Zambian national team crashed, killing everyone on board.
The current squad sought inspiration from this and stole the hearts of all in Africa. The scenes of jubilation as they celebrated their triumph were incredible.
Perhaps the greatest sight of all was Renard carrying Joseph Musonda, who had been injured earlier in the game, onto the pitch so that he could join his team-mates as they revelled in their outstanding achievement.
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