Year Review 2016 and 2017 expectations

Written by Carl Walker

As we embark on a new calendar year, I take a look back at 2016 and give you my highs and lows from the year plus a preview of 2017 and what we could and would like to possibly see happen over the next twelve months. 2016 was a strange and busy year especially for football so lets dive straight in.

2016 – Highs

credit Peter Woodentop

Leicester City – Champions

Leicester City completed the Football Manager fairy-tale by being crowned champions of the Premier league for the first time in their history and they did so in style winning by a 10 point margin thanks to a capitulation from Tottenham Hotspur. After narrowly avoiding relegation the season before they defied the odds by going on to win the title and Leicester City became pretty much everyone’s favourite second team last year with some dazzling and dramatic performances, most notably a 1-0 win away at Tottenham in January and also beating Liverpool 2-0 at the King Power stadium in the same month and then a 3-1 win away from home against Manchester City in February made everyone sit up and take note.

Leicester brought in Claudio Ranieri at the beginning of the season, which raised a few eyebrows but this was for him also a fairy-tale. Cast aside by Chelsea when Roman Abramovich took charge, Ranieri bounced around Europe for eleven years, never winning a top flight domestic title until he revolutionised Leicester City. He built the success of a solid back five that rarely changed and some skillful and tricky wingers in Mahrez and Albrighton and Jamie Vardy turned into a goal machine to fire them to glory.

For me this achievement was greater than when Blackburn won the Premier League title, simply because Blackburn invested heavily in players like Shearer and Sutton and Leicester did it on a budget, with players that were cast aside by other clubs, all pulling together with a point to prove. I think everyone will agree that this was the ultimate fairy-tale story that will probably never be repeated again.

credit Ludovic Peron

Cristiano Ronaldo/Portugal

2016 really was the year of the underdog. Portugal somehow managed to navigate there way to the European Championships final against holders France in Paris and after extra time ended up winners. The Portugal squad that went to the championships was not the greatest we have seen in recent years but what they had was a wonderful team spirit, real organisation a very astute manager in Fernando Santos and of course their talisman in Cristiano Ronaldo.

Cristiano Ronaldo sacrifices himself massively in the tournament, not fully fit he knew his role would have to change. He was Portugal’s joint top scorer along with Nani. He dragged them back from the brink in the group stages and into the knockout rounds. The final was the stage that was made for Ronaldo, however he only lasted 25 minutes after being forced off with injury, however the man from Funchal would not sulk and shy away. He was pacing the touchline along with his manager Fernando Santos, encouraging his team mates along, kicking every ball with them. An extra time strike from Eder ensured that Portugal would return home as champions of Europe and they would all be remembered as national heroes.

2016 was also a significant year on a domestic level for Cristiano Ronaldo, helping fire Los Blanco’s to another Champions league success, the clubs eleventh title. 2016 was also significant for Cristiano on a personal level, with him winning his fourth Ballon d’Or with a sensational year and the statistics for club and country show this. 57 appearances , 55 goals and 17 assists. Ronaldo is just one Ballon d’Or behind Lionel Messi, who is the greatest? That is a debate for another day.

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Iceland

The Icelandic national team have had an unbelievable 2016. The journey itself started in 2014 for the qualifying for Euro 2016 where they finished second in the group, above Turkey and Holland and only narrowly behind the Czech Republic in group A, qualifying automatically for the tournament in France. They did the double over the Netherlands in qualifying along with wins over Turkey and Czech Republic. The group for the finals itself looked as though that was where the journey would end, Portugal, Austria and Hungary stood in their way.

Iceland would not be fazed and with two battling draws most notably against Portugal and a win over much fancied Austria saw them qualify for the knockout stages where they would go on to beat, and deservedly so, England and set up a quarter final tie with the hosts France which proved to be a step too far. A combination of organisation, gritty determination and hard work made Iceland one of the success stories of the tournament.

2016 – Lows

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England

Where else to start but with the England national team. 2016 brought another tournament and expectation from the England faithful. After a perfect qualifying campaign, ten out of ten wins, there was renewed optimism surrounding the team heading to France. After a stuttering start against Russia, England over came a resilient Wales team and boringly drew the final group game to qualify as runners up and England were drawn against Iceland, a team that was playing in their first international tournament, surely the quarter finals beckoned?

That gritty determination mentioned earlier, along with passion and determination was enough for Iceland to dump out mighty England, and deservedly so. This was arguably the worst low of the year itself and the lowest and most humbling defeat for the national team in a recent history. Reports of players not wanting to be there and a lack of press engagement left an air of paranoia around the camp. Roy Hodgson was soon gone and the FA had a job role to fill.

Post tournament after the dust had settled, and big Sam Allardyce was installed as new England manager, he lasted just one game, a win though, before an undercover reported caught him out regarding FA rules and how to get around them for a nominal fee for his services. The story broke and he was subsequently sacked to the embarrassment of him self and the FA. No doubt a year to forget for English football.

credit Jimmy Baikovicius

Lionel Messi/Argentina

Once again for Argentina it was so close but no cigar as they were beaten on penalties by Chile in the Copa America final. They stormed to final winning every game, even beating Chile in the group stages, but in the final at the MetLife stadium it took penalties to separate the teams and it was Chile and Jorge Sampaoli who triumphed. This was the second time in two years Chile had won the title, and both times they overcame Argentina. Then in 2014 Argentina and Lionel Messi were also beaten by Germany in The World Cup final. In fact Argentina have appeared in five finals since 2004 in various competitions have been beaten in them all.

Argentina have had no shortage of great players in the past, and in the present too. Lionel Messi is simply a genius. The greatest player of his generation, and arguably the greatest player of all time, at club level Messi, like Ronaldo has won absolutely everything there is to win, eight domestic titles, four Champions League’s, four Copa del Rey’s and five Ballon d’Or’s the only thing missing from his glittering career is international honours. After being beaten by Chile in 2016, Messi among a few others announced they were to retire from International football with immediate effect, a decision which they have subsequently changed.

Lionel Messi will get another chance at International honours, realistically he has one more World Cup and Copa America to do so, however Argentina are currently struggling in qualifying, they sit 5th and would not qualify automatically. If Messi doesn’t win international honours it will haunt him for the rest of his life, and if he doesn’t does this put Cristiano Ronaldo slightly ahead of him? Again this is a discussion for another day.

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Johan Cruyff

March 24th 2016 will be a date that will be remembered for the passing of one of the true greats on the game. After a long battle with cancer, Johan Cruyff sadly passed away and the football world rightly paid tribute to this footballing legend. Johan Cruyff was a true football revolutionary and as a player inspired the watching world. Admired for his technical ability and dribbling, he was elegant on the ball and full of flair, he was so good that there is a skill named after him, the Cruyff turn.

Cruyff revolutionised football, as a manager he applied total football to his teams, following his 14 rules and it changed football as we know it. After revolutionising Ajax’s through the difference of formations with mobile, ball playing defenders and development through the youth system he moved onto Barcelona and its is Cruyff who’s original youth idea was adopted by Barcelona, La Masia was born, graduating players to the first team as we speak today.

During his time at Barcelona, he assembled the dream team with the likes of Koeman, Guardiola, Laudrup, Bakero, Begiristain, Romario and Stoichkov and Dominated domestically and in Europe. If you have not read his auto biography yet, I would suggest doing so. A phenomenal man, a true great taken.

2017 – What could we see?

England

Now that Gareth Southgate has been appointed, hopefully England can put a disappointing year behind them and concentrate on the football this year. Winning all qualifying games and any friendlies that are scheduled would get the national side back on track and heading towards Russia.

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Francesco Totti

Francesco Totti has tuned 40 last year but has no intention of stopping playing. The last of a dying breed in many respects as being a one club man, the club that he holds closest to his heart AS Roma. With a career spanning 22 years, the trophy cabinet, at least domestically, lies pretty bare. One Serie A title and two Coppa Italia’s does not reflect the players true value on the game. Totti has turned down big money moves in his career from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United to name a few and all because of the love for his club.

In 2017, if this is to be his final swansong, it would be fitting for Totti to go out with a bang, winning a trophy would be a fitting end to this one club mans career. Serie A is looking like the Juventus bore fest will continue however they are only 4 points behind but realistically either a Coppa Italia or Europa League win would suffice for the King of Rome’s farewell.

Huddersfield Town 

David Wagner has transformed Huddersfield Town into genuine promotion candidates to the Premier League and I for one would absolutely love the team from West Yorkshire to join the party. I was briefly living in Huddersfield during my university days and it is a fantastic place to live, it would be a story similar to that of Bournemouth’s if they could make it happen. Wagner is from the same school as Jurgen Klopp and the high intensity gegenpressing game has seen Huddersfield occupy 4th place at the mid point of the season.

What is even more remarkable is the fact that Huddersfield’s budget is no where near as much as some of the heavyweights in that division such as Aston Villa, Newcastle, Brighton and Leeds United but they have beaten Newcastle, Norwich and Leeds away from home and drawn away with Aston Villa. Shrewd moves in the loan market have kept the clubs finances in check and the John Smiths stadium has become a fortress and Huddersfield’s high intensity has paid off in the past few fixtures with several late goals to secure vital wins.

Huddersfield is the definitely the peoples club and with Premier League looking a bit light on representatives from Yorkshire hopefully Huddersfield Town can answer the call in 2017.

Ligue 1 – Monaco/Nice

The French top division has become ridiculously boring and predictable since 2001. Lyon won the league title seven years in a row and after a brief spell of individual winners and subsequently PSG bought by Qatari owners who then ploughed massive amounts of investment into the club has seen the Paris side win Ligue 1 for the past four seasons. Last season the title was rapped up by March as PSG were around 3o points clear. It’s becoming quite boring for the neutral as myself, like so many others probably have BT Sport and enjoy watching European football.

This season however, their is renewed optimism for the neutral as PSG, now with no Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or Laurent Blanc at the helm find themselves in third place and five points off top. Monaco and Nice sit second and first respectively. Unai Emery has come in and is struggling in his first six months in charge and from a neutrals point of view, it would be fantastic if someone other than PSG could claim the crown this season.

Monaco under the stewardship of Leonardo Jardim have a steel about them at the back with big powerful players through the spine of the team Kamil Glik, Fabinho and Tiemoue Bakayoko combined with silky smooth creative players like Joao Moutinho, Bernardo Silva and Valere Germain and upfront have, when on form, one of the best around in Falcao.

Nice have been the surprise package this season, a very young team sprinkled with some experienced players such as Dante and Younes Belhanda and there new talisman Mario Balotelli has seen OGC Nice rise to the top in French football. Balotelli has become pivotal for them in such a short space of time, after a torrid couple of seasons on Merseyside with Liverpool, Balotelli is looking to re launch his career and would certainly help by claiming the crown with Nice this season.

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Arsene Wenger

In the summer of 2017 Arsene Wenger’s current contract expires and personally I believe it is now time for him to move on. I have the upmost respect and admiration for Arsene, the longevity that he has managed is only surpassed by the great Sir Alex Ferguson who lasted 27 years at Manchester United. Arsene’s first ten years were fantastic, regularly competitive and winning League Title and FA cups along the way. The last ten or so have been less emphatic. Finishing fourth on a regular basis and no Premier League trophy, coupled with successive Champions League exits has seen a section of the supporters calling for Wenger out.

It just seems to me as though his reputation is slowly becoming tarnished and Arsenal’s failures both on the pitch and in the transfer market have not helped. Arsenal currently sit 5th in the Premier League, eight points adrift of rampant Chelsea and with a second round tie against Bayern Munich next month you wouldn’t bet on Arsenal finishing empty handed. Who should replace him if he goes? I have a few suggestions http://alloutfootball.co.uk/arsene-wenger-whos-next-arsenal/

What was your highlight of 2016? What are you looking for in 2017? Let us know in the comments below!