DEC 31 — As 2012 draws to an end, it’s time to reflect on an eventful 12 months of football. I’ve picked out my five most enduring memories from the year gone by — feel free to add your own at the bottom.
Happy New Year and see you in 2013!
1. Amazing Aguero
If Manchester City fans arrived at the Etihad Stadium on May 13 expecting an easy three points against Queen’s Park Rangers to secure the title, they were in for a nasty shock.
Everything looked straightforward at half-time with Pablo Zabaleta’s goal giving City an interval lead. But then they were shocked by strikes from Djibril Cisse and Jamie Mackie, and Manchester United were given renewed hope of snatching the title.
With time running out Edin Dzeko nodded home an equaliser, but that wouldn’t be enough — only victory would do for City.
And so came Aguero’s moment — the flash of inspiration that made his multi-million ringgit transfer from Atletico Madrid all worthwhile. A dribble, a faint, a shot... and City were champions amidst marvellous scenes of Manchester mayhem.
2. Me, me, me Mourinho
Real Madrid enjoyed a magnificent, record-breaking, title-winning season to end Barcelona’s run of consecutive league triumphs.
Jose Mourinho’s side registered the highest number of points, goals and wins ever recorded in La Liga history, and deservedly sealed the long-awaited title with two games to spare, thanks to a 3-0 win at Athletic Bilbao.
When the final whistle blew to confirm Madrid as champions, the television cameras naturally zoomed in on the victorious manager Mourinho, looking to capture the moment of his joyous glory.
Instead, what they — and the viewer at home — got from Mourinho was a self-centred response that told us a great a great deal about the mentality and motivation of one of the modern game’s most talented but divisive managers.
Gesticulating towards the camera, Mourinho raised seven fingers and provocatively waved them around, denoting the seven domestic titles he has won with Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Madrid.
Mourinho’s record is absolutely outstanding, and he is clearly a phenomenally successful manager; but it was revealing that in the moment of one of his greatest triumphs, his first thought was himself.
Rather than congratulating his players or saluting the travelling Madrid fans, his immediate, instinctive reaction was one of self-aggrandisement. It appeared that, in his mind, this wasn’t about Real Madrid winning a trophy — it was about Jose Mourinho winning a trophy.
That’s quite a contrast to the planet’s greatest player, Lionel Messi (see highlight 5) and illustrates why Mourinho will, I believe, ultimately be remembered as a negative figure rather than an extraordinarily successful coach.
3. Domineering Drogba
Chelsea became one of the most — if not the most — fortunate Champions League winners in the history of the competition when they prevailed on penalties over Bayern Munich in the final after being outplayed both by Bayern and by Barcelona over both legs of the semi-final.
One Chelsea player, however, fully merited his medal (and no, I’m not talking about John Terry): in those three games at the end of the tournament, Didier Drogba was simply awesome.
First the Ivory Coast star scored the only goal to give the Blues a 1-0 lead from the first leg over Barca, and then he delivered a magnificently selfless all-round display to help his team progress in the unforgettable return tie at the Nou Camp, performing defensive heroics following Terry’s early dismissal and single-handedly carrying the fight forward whenever possible.
But his greatest display was reserved for the final, where Chelsea were comprehensively outplayed by Bayern and seemed to be heading to a deserved defeat until Drogba popped up with a stupendous towering header for an unlikely late equaliser.
It would have been a great shame if Drogba’s only blip — needlessly conceding a penalty in extra time — had led to Chelsea’s defeat, so the footballing gods did the right thing when they ensured Arjen Robben’s poor effort was saved by Petr Cech.
That cleared the way for a penalty shoot-out, and the defining moment of Drogba’s outstanding career as he rolled home the trophy-winning spot-kick.
Chelsea did not deserve to win the Champions League in 2012 — but Didier Drogba did.
4. Sublime Spain
After the injustice of Chelsea’s Champions League win, it was nice to see the European Championship trophy being lifted Spain to show that the right team sometimes does win.
Spain were by far the best team on display in Poland and Ukraine, with a delightfully positive, passing-heavy style of play based on the technical wizardry of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Co.
Talk of Spain being “boring” was ludicrous — the only boring teams were their bewildered opponents, who knew they’d be torn apart if they even tried to attack Vicente Del Bosque’s brilliant team and therefore spent the entire game with (at least) 10 men behind the ball. But Spain always found a way through.
The crowning moment of Spain’s glorious campaign came with their second goal in the 4-0 final thrashing of Italy. After playing their way out of defence, Xavi released Jordi Alba with a sumptuous pass and the left back galloped forward to confidently shoot past Gigi Buffon. Brilliant goal; brilliant team; richly deserved trophy.
5. Magical Messi
In the years to come this will be remembered as Lionel Messi’s era, and 2012 will be remembered as Messi’s year — even though he didn’t win any major trophies — after the Argentine broke Gerd Muller’s record for goals in a calendar year.
I moved to Barcelona earlier this year and have therefore been privileged enough to witness 13 of his 91 goals this year in person at the Nou Camp (and yes, I’ve counted them). And aside from his obvious brilliance as a footballer, as far as I’m concerned the greatest thing about Messi is his humility.
When he scored the goal that broke Muller’s record, for example, his instant reaction was not to run to the nearest camera in a display of self-centred self-adoration: instead, he headed straight to his teammate Andres Iniesta to thank him for the pass that created the goal.
And that’s what makes Messi so different from Mourinho. Both of them possess a rare degree of talent and dedication to their craft — the word genius is not too strong. But while Mourinho’s primary motivation appears to be naked self-interest, Messi’s is a pure love of the game.
That’s why we should cherish him, and that’s why I’m looking forward to seeing him in 2013.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.