Tuesday, January 4, 2011

World Football: Heroes of 2010

The highs and lows of 2010 have been extreme to put it mildly. From gun toting separatists in Africa last January to an Octopus called Paul in June and possibly the greatest team of all time in November, 2010 has been a year to remember, or forget depending upon which team you follow.

Here, we look at some of the heroes of the last 12 months. Some stories have been covered by every media outlet under the sun and some have just slipped past their mighty radars.

However, each and every one is just as important as each other as they thread a careful weave through the labyrinthine tapestry that is the footballing year of 2010.

January’s Hero: Andres Iniesta

Most people on the list are there because of instances in 2010’s calendar year, not Andres Iniesta though.
Nine months on from Iniesta firing Barcelona into the Champions League final with a late winner against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge we have what is now known in the Catalan capital as “The Iniesta Generation.”

To put it mildly, Iniesta’s goal seemed to the main catalyst for a month of “celebrating.” The strike on May 2 was the first magical moment of a month that will last in many a Barca fans dreams…

They then went on to win La Liga and the Champions League.

While little Lionel Messi may have been the inspiration behind an incredible season, it would seem that Iniesta has become the inspiration for something entirely different…

A survey in the Catalan capital has revealed that birth rates are currently experiencing a 45 percent increase.
And strangely enough, it was around nine months since those monumental games took place…

February’s Hero: Glen Whelan

The vibrations from Ryan Shawcross’ bone juddering tackle on Aaron Ramsey still linger. Indeed, the promising midfielder has only just returned to action in a loan move to Nottingham Forest and as we stand it remains unclear as to whether he will get back into the Arsenal team in the near future.

On the night in question, Shawcross dived in recklessly and prematurely ended the Welsh youngster’s season. It was obvious to everyone watching that Ramsey was in some distress, some of his team mates namely captain Cesc Fabregas and the experienced Sol Campbell just roared at the referee, some even vomited, some just became involved in handbags type pushing with Stoke players.

The only man on the pitch to keep his cool during the entire maelstrom that followed was Stoke’s Glen Whelan.

The Irish midfielder immediately went over to Ramsey and comforted him while the medical team ran on.
It made a big impact on the budding Arsenal star as he singled Whelan out for special praise a few days later.

March’s Hero: Gergely Rudolf

Gergely Rudolf recently signed a four year deal with Genoa after leaving Debrechen on a free transfer. The highly rated 25-year-old striker was scouted by many teams from major leagues and could have gone for a lucrative transfer fee that his club could barely afford to do without.

April’s Hero: Jose Mourinho

April was the month that “the interpreter” came back to haunt his old club.
Over the two legs of their Champions League Semi Final tie against Barcelona, Inter Milan and Jose Mourinho showed that organisation and superb defence can and will out shine flamboyant superstars if given half a chance.

Inter raced into a 3-1 lead after the first leg in Milan with a supreme performance where they attacked and defended at precisely the right moments throughout the match. Then in the return leg in Barcelona they were cruelly reduced to ten men when Thiago Motta was wrongly adjudged to have elbowed Segi Busquets.
The resulting ten men behind the ball was a lesson in defending for the ages.

In the end it was a night where the right team went through but the aftermath of the game left a distinctly bad taste in the mouth.

May’s Hero: Shane Duffy

The 18-year-old Everton centre half was playing for an Irish developmental side when he clashed with the opposing goalkeeper following a corner.

Unbeknownst to anyone watching, Duffy had severely lacerated his kidney and was mere moments away from death. The FAI’s team surgeon came on expecting to treat the player for being winded but noticed that his blood pressure was dangerously low and immediately called an ambulance.

Duffy had lost over half of his body’s blood through the injury.

Following a number of operations, Duffy was expected to be out of action for over a year as his body recovered and few thought that he would ever return to the game.

However, the prodigious defender played a friendly for Everton against Sligo Rovers in August, just three months after incurring an injury that few people ever fully recover from.

The incident was described as “a freak injury and one we might never see in another 100 years of medicine…”

June’s Hero: Diego Maradona

You either loved him or you hated him but there is little doubt that Argentina were one of the great, if not only, entertaining teams of the early stages of the World Cup in South Africa.

Be he running over reporters that he did not see or cursing at television interviewers the entire football world tuned in to see Diego self destruct.

Instead, Argentina were good. They entertained and Maradona kicked every ball on the side line like he was playing the very match himself.

In the end his wild exuberance was overcome and cruelly exposed by German tactics but up until that stage they were almost everybody’s favourite team.

July’s Hero: Andres Iniesta

Two mentions in one year and neither for his phenomenal exploits on the football pitch!
Andres Iniesta gets a second mention in the 2010 hero list for his beautiful gesture following his World Cup winning goal.

On scoring, he wheeled away and took off his shirt revealing a message to the friends and family of Daniel Jarque, “Dani Jarque is always with us.”

Jarque, Iniesta’s best friend, died in August 2009 of Sudden Death Syndrome while training with Espanyol in Italy.

The goal was a just ending to a match that was almost destroyed by Holland’s shameful tactics and it was fitting that it was scored by Iniesta.

Augusts’ Hero: Craig Bellamy

The much maligned Welsh striker has had his fair share of ups and downs in football but even he must have been shocked at the speed he was drummed out at Manchester City at.

Particularly when you consider that he was easily the Citizen’s most influential player in the 2009/10 season.
City refused to do business with clubs that wanted him (Spurs, Villa, and Everton) and so poor Craig found himself being loaned out to Championship side Cardiff City.

On his first press conference for Dave Jones side, every journalist waited with baited breath to hear the fireworks go off.

But a very dignified Bellamy chose his words carefully and said that he understood what City had done and that his time at the club was an enjoyable one and that he had no ill feeling towards Roberto Mancini.

September’s Hero: The Champions League

The Cup with the big ears returned with a bang in September and washed away all those bad memories of the World Cup in one fell swoop.

Attacking football was the name of the day as teams actually went out to beat each other, unlike in South Africa.

During the first round of games in the World Cup group stages in South Africa, only 25 goals were scored across 16 matches.

Compare this to the Champions League this week, where an astonishing 44 goals were scored across 16 games.

Overall, there were 145 goals scored in the entire World Cup of 64 matches, an average of 2.26 goals per game.

The Champions League average sits at 2.75 goals per game at the moment, only half a goal per game in the difference.

But in terms of entertainment, enjoyment, and sheer enterprise, the club competition outstrips its senior counterpart in every way.

October’s Hero: Gareth Bale

Another Welshman and another flyer. The Tottenham Hotspur left sided midfielder has had an incredible 2010.

He only broke into the Spurs first XI in January because Benoit Assou-Ekotto was suspended and since then he hasn’t looked back.

His superb season probably hit its highest point in October when he scored a fantastic hat trick against Inter Milan at the San Siro in what was certainly one of the best individual performances of the calendar year.

He followed that impressive performance up two weeks later at White Hart Lane as the Champions League’s most exciting team literally tore Inter Milan apart.

November’s Hero: Barcelona

Pep Guardiola’s current Barcelona side are now what many people are calling the greatest team of all time.
Most certainly there has never been a team that play as attractive a brand of football.
November was an incredible month for football lovers everywhere, but particularly Barcelona football lovers.
The month didn’t start in the greatest of fashion as La Blaugrana eked out a 1-1 draw away to FC Copenhagen in the Champions League, but from there they did not look back.

Over the next 22 days they beat: Getafe 3-1 (a), Cueta 5-1 (h), Villareal 3-1 (h), Almeria 8-0 (a), Panathinikos 3-0 (a) before they destroyed their long time rivals Real Madrid 5-0 at the Nou Camp in what many feel is the greatest team performance of all time.

December’s Hero: Juan Roman Riquelme

At one stage in his career, Juan Roman Riquelme was regarded by many as the world’s best midfielder. Every team of stature in the game either tracked him or offered him riches beyond imagination to tempt him away from his beloved Villareal.

Now, at 32, the playmaker known as “the Lazy Magician” has returned to his homeland to play for Boca Juniors.

Since 2007 he has easily been the standout player in South America, guiding Boca to the Copa Libertadores in 2007, the Argentinian Primera Division Title in 2008, and the Recopa Sudamerica in 2008. He has also claimed individual honours during the same period so it came as no surprise to see big European sides begin to hover around Riquelme as 2009 drew to an end.

To fend off obvious bids for afar, Boca made Riquelme one of their highest paid players and gave him a new four year deal worth $5 million.

Then Riquelme got injured.

This season he only played one and a half games in the Apetura as he was out injured and in a show of good faith to Boca Juniors he refused to accept payment while he was out injured.

A nice touch from one of the games great professionals.