It was the year tika-taka died, the Jose Mourinho melodrama grew more and more surreal and Bayern Munich emerged like a Mercedes powered phoenix from the ashes. Gareth Bale continued his evolution from ape-man to footballing legend, Paolo Di Canio insisted that he was a fascist not a racist while grabbing a couple of Jewish kids in a head lock and Borussia Dortmund became everyone’s second favorite football team.
So without any further procrastination here are the 2012-2013 Back Page Football End of Season Awards.
Team of the Season
There were some genuine underdog stories this year. Swansea and Wigan Athletic won the domestic cups in England to both claim the first ever silverware in their club’s respective history. Unfortunately, Wigan’s joy turned to misery three days later when they were relegated from the Premier League. Fourth tier Bradford City reached the League Cup final where they lost to the afore-mentioned Swansea and were back at Wembley in May to clinch the League Two playoff and cap off a fine campaign. Portugal’s Pacos De Ferreira provided the season’s most glorious fairytale by finishing third in the league and qualifying for the Champions League for the very first time. The ‘Beavers’ as they are affectionately known are located in a district of 8500 people and boast an average attendance of just 1500. Their stadium does not even meet UEFA criteria, so should they reach the Champions’ League group stages they will have to play their home matches at a neighboring ground. Remarkable!
Despite all that the true rule of the roost belonged to Europe’s elite with titles in Germany, England, Italy, Portugal, Turkey and the Netherlands claimed by the traditional powerhouses with ever widening point gaps. Standing above them all like Russel Crowe’s gladiator were this year’s winners, Bayern Munich, who slew the once mighty Barcelona, tamed the lion hearts of Dortmund, avenged the wrongs of previous years and seized the throne of every competition they entered. More impressively still they did it all without a chariot, Nubian slave or Roman god in sight.
Manager of the Season
Antonio Conte had another fine year steering Juventus to their second successive Scuddetto, while Tito Vilanova inspired Barcelona to reclaim their La Liga crown despite undergoing cancer treatment for a large swathe of the season. Jupp Heynekes banished memories of last season’s failures by guiding Bayern Munich to an unprecedented treble and also became the first manager in football history to twice lose his job after winning the European Cup. He might also be the best looking 68 year old in the world. But, after a staggering 1500 games, 13 league titles, two Champions Leagues, five FA Cups, four League Cups, one knighthood, a flying boot to David Beckham and a gazillion minutes of “Fergie Time” the award can only go to Sir Alex Ferguson who finally retired as Manchester United manager, but not before wresting back Premier League supremacy from ‘noisy neighbors’ Manchester City and a stonking 5-5 draw with West Bromwich Albion. It’s a shame then that fifty years from now he will only be remembered for chewing gum.
Player of the Season
Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben for his tour de force against Barcelona, his redemptive last gasp winner in the Champions League final, the fact that he actually did some tracking back and his shimmering bald palate. We’ll conveniently ignore the fact that he pretty much missed the first half of the season through injury and poor form.
Mention must be made of Lionel Messi who reinforced his legend by breaking Gerd Muller’s record for most goals in a calendar year after reaching 86 in 2012.
2011 winner Edinson Cavani also enjoyed another barnstorming campaign by netting 29 goals in 34 games for Napoli in Italy. With little thought of human and indeed animal rights fans of the Azurri built a cage in an effort to prevent his inevitable departure.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s incredible looping bicycle kick may have come in a friendly against a hapless England side, but it still wins this year’s award. The strike was a perfect composition of technique, spontaneity, vision and audacity. It was also his fourth of the night. Unfortunately, all people want to talk about is his nose.
Other belters include this incredible scorpion kick, a brilliant team effort by Benfica, Messi’s mazy dribble against Bilbao, one from the halfway line, and check out these Greek kids. What about this for keepy uppy.
Own goal of the Season
Back heeled goals are usually a cause of ecstasy and celebration, except that is when they fly into the back of your own net like this effort from Galatasary’s Sulkuk Ilan.
Utrecht’s Mike Van Der Hoorn scored another perfectly acceptable comedy own goal with this fumbling mishap against AZ Alkmaar.
Assist of the Season
Dani Alves’ impossible outside of the boot pass to Lionel Messi against PSG defied physics let alone belief. Now if only he could defend.
The imperious Francesco Totti’s delightful pirouetting back heel was a piece of skill so divine they named the new Pope after him.
The ‘if Ronnie Rosenthal and Sandra Redknapp ever had a child…’ Award for Miss of the Season
Ivory Coast striker Boti Demel fluffs an absolute sitter for Georgian team Zestafoni in their match against Merani Martviloi. Like a pinball with rabies the ball first strikes the post before ricocheting off Demel’s face and finally going wide.
Nothing however can match luckless Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven who contrived to miss three clear cut chances in a row against rivals PEC Zwolle. There are times in life when even the terms banjo and barn door are just not enough.
Signing of the Season
One name, two syllables – Michu. And Shaggy Rogers would be proud of that haircut, isn’t that right Scooby?
Radamel Falcao’s ruthless first-half hat-trick in the Super Cup absolutely scorched the pants of European Champions Chelsea and confirmed his status as one of the world’s deadliest marksman.
Romp of the Season
Bayern Munich’s domination of this year’s Bundesliga was as absolute as love, existence, the ‘ground of being’, a tyrant’s rule over his subjects, Newtonian time and space and the wretched guilt that follows from eating a doner kebab.
While media attention fixated on events like the downfall of Roberto Mancini or Jose Mourinho’s very public divorce with Real Madrid, Ajax manager Frank De Boer was quietly leading Ajax to their third successive Eredivisie title.
Readers of Spanish daily Marca got it just about right when they voted for Luka Modric and Alex Song as their flops of the season. For all his troubles the latter still won a championship medal. The Croat on the other hand managed just a single goal in 19 appearances and only appeared on the pitch for a total of 717 minutes. Perhaps North London is not such a bad place after all.
The David Brent Award for Shambolic Mismanagement
Blackburn Rovers managed to create a one-club-managerial-merry-go-round by getting through six managers in a single season with Gary Bowyer twice taking over as caretaker. In the process they became the first club in the history of football to be able to claim that they’ve had more managers than we’ve had hot dinners. They also have failed Asia football pundit Shebby Singh as their ‘Global Advisor’. Enough said really.
Scoop of the Year
Just hours after the British press were sent into a frenzy by comments made by Pep Guardiola at FIFA’s Ballon D’or that he would like to manage in England, Sky Sports Italia broke the news that the former Barcelona manager would be taking up the reins at Bayern Munich. This was proceeded by a swell of editorials that Guardiola had made the natural and obvious choice. Talk about egg on face. Sky Italia were also the first to report Rademal Falcao’s transfer from Atletico Madrid to Monaco.
Jurgen Klopp. He’s got a goofy smile, he wears retro glasses, gives brilliant post match interviews, exudes child like excitement, manages one of the best teams in the world and even makes cameos in rap videos. What’s not to like?
The Count Dracula Award for Enjoying a Bit of a Nibble
Clearly still feeling a peckish from his pre-match pasta meal, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez decided that the best way to assuage the hunger pangs would be to take a bite out of Chelsea defender Stanislav Ivanovic’s arm when the two clubs met at Anfield in April. Unsurprisingly, his Hannibal Lectresque antics earned the South American Bugs bunny lookalike a ten match ban from the English FA. Even Zimbabwean president, warlord and all-round bad guy, Robert Mugabe, weighed in on the controversy by declaring that Suarez had behaved in a highly unprofessional manner. Some commentators tried to diffuse the situation by suggestion that acts of cannibalism were actually a gesture of love and affection in the striker’s native Uruguay.
The Mystic Meg Award for Foreseeing the Wrong Future
At the end of last season QPR avoided relegation from the Premier League by a solitary point leading manager Mark Hughes to promise that the club will never be “in this situation again in my time here.” Cue the following season and Hughesy was sacked after just twelve games with QPR bottom of the Premier League having gained just four points from their opening 12 fixtures. At least Nostradamus will be able to rest easy in his grave.
The Jean Van Der Velde Award for Biggest Choke
With three weeks of the season to go, Benfica were top of the Portuguese Primeira Liga and in the finals of the Europa League and the domestic cup. 21 days later all they had to show for it was three runners up medals and a whole city of pissed off fans. Now let’s just hope they don’t choke on their tears or get beaten up for that matter.
The Arab Spring Award for Most Memorable Protest
Botev Vratsa manager Antoni Zdravkov was so incensed when one of his players was sent off that snatched the referees cards and tore them up in protest. The Occupy Wall Street hippies could learn a thing or two from this fella.
Hipsters of the Year
Hispters throughout Europe burned their Athletic Bilbao shirts, turned their backs on S. C. Braga and jumped on the nearest esoteric bandwagon their oversized plastic framed glasses could fix their gaze on. This year’s answer to gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and snazzy high top trainers were Real Sociedad who claimed a surprise Champions League berth with a stunning blend of possession football and speedy counterattacks. It is reported that next year La Real plan to ply their trade in long board shorts and write depressing poetry about self inadequacies in their spare time. Now that is ‘totally deck’.
Athletic Blibao bid adios to their home of 100 years, San Mames, with a miserable 1-0 defeat against Levante – probably not the way that they envisaged their goodbye. Le Catedral as it is otherwise known is the only stadium to host matches since the inception of La Liga in 1929 and will always be remembered as one of Spain’s most atmospheric and friendliest stadiums.
David Beckham also called time on his illustrious career as celebrity and part-time footballer after two decades at the very top levels of the game. Le Spice boy as he was referred to by the French played his last professional match in PSG’s 3-1 victory against Brest and left the pitch in a blaze of tears when he was substituted in the 82nd minute. Bowing out with a league winner’s medal in a fourth different country eased the pain of having to agonize over what to do now with his £165 million fortune.
Least Auspicious Send Off
England’s former wonder kid Michael Owen finally called time on doing not much at all when he finally retired from being a retired footballer. Injuries and a love of gambling effectively ended his career some time ago with memories of his mesmerizing goal against Argentina nothing more than a sepia-tinted blur. Apparently he now wants to be jockey which may not be as preposterous a prospect as it sounds – Owen is definitely short enough and has years of practice sitting down on the job.
The Sepp Blatter Award for Political Correctness
Goes to…the one and only Sepp Blatter himself. “You are always speaking at home, now you can speak here” said the floundering FIFA president during the appointment of the governing body’s first female member of the executive committee, Lydia Nsekera. Once the ceremony was over Blatter reportedly threw a duster in Nsekera’s face and told her to clean his office.
We have three deserving winners in this category.
First up is Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi who at the beginning of January described Mario Balotelli as a “bad apple” who he would “never accept as being a part of our changing room.” Three weeks later and Balotelli was an AC Milan player.
Secondly, the ever loquacious Harry Redknapp launched a scathing attack on wages at QPR soon after taking charge of the club. Asked about possible transfer activity Redknapp replied, “I don’t want to spend their money, to be honest with you” before adding, “you shouldn’t be paying massive wages when you’ve got a stadium that holds 18,000.” Wise words indeed. Come the January transfer window and the hoops spent £22 million and gave Christopher Samba £100,000 a week pay package.
Finally Dynamo Kyiv vice-president Oleksiy Semenenko was forced to deny reports of manager Yuri Semin’s exit in September. “It’s just not true. Maybe it will happen in two minutes, maybe in half a year, but let’s be clear: Semin is our coach.” Exactly two minutes later Semin was shown the door.
The ‘Happiness is escaping from a Russian gulag to find that not all your loved ones have been dispatched by the KGB’ Award.
And sadness is trousering EUR 9,000,000 per year, playing for the most successful club side in the world and being the proud owner of a slew of sports cars…at least according to Christiano Ronaldo. Pretty depressing really.
Will Smith does his best Diana Ross impression. As if starring in Wild Wild West wasn’t enough.
The ‘some of my best friends are coloureds and pakis’ Award for Racism
It was not a good year at all for race relations. Fans of perennial Russian xenophobes Zenit St. Petersburg wrote an open letter to the club lamenting the fact that black players were being “forced down Zenit’s throat.” With no holding back they went on to add that gay players were “unworthy of our great city.” They seem like a pleasant enough bunch. Elsewhere, England’s Danny Rose was subjected to constant monkey chants during an England U21 match with Serbia and down in south west London the ever classy Chelsea fans boo’s Anton Ferdinand for beingthe alleged victim of racial slurs,
It was in Italy though where the problem was at its worst. First Lazio supporters were found guilty of racist chants during their Europe League clash with Tottenham Hotspur. AC Milan’s friendly against Pro Patria had to be abandoned after Mario Balotelli and his team mates walked off after suffering racist abuse alongside Kevin-Prince Boateng. Balotelli was the subject of abuse again in May during Milan’s home fixture with Roma in May. Even his own club seemed to have issues with his skin colour. The club’s vice-president Paolo Berlusconi was at the centre of controversy after referring to the Italian international as a “little n*****”.
The David Lloyd George Award for Welsh Wizardry
Yes he may be a little overweight and probably won’t be threatening the likes of Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes and Gareth Bale in the pantheon of Welsh football greats, but 50 year old Andrew Cassidy certainly has more freestyle skills than all of them combined. Just look at him go.
The Season’s Best Quotes
He’s placed his faith in him Roberto Mancini but it’s a circus and every time I’ve been to a circus there have always been some clowns.
Gary Nevilles take on Mario Balotelli.
I’m disappointed. You can always turn round a bad start if you have smart players, but three-quarters of mine are morons, so that won’t work.
Montpellier owner Louis Nicollin attempts to boost morale.
My career is not over. After travelling so many kilometres, I simply needed a tyre change.
Inter talisman Javier Zanetti swats aside suggestion that he will have to retire from football after tearing his Achilles tendon.
It was the perfect performance, Zlatan against children.
How fellow Swedish international Tobias Sana chose to describe Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s devastation of England.
It’s true I don’t know that much about Ligue 1, but Ligue 1 knows who I am.
Zlatan lets everyone know who the boss is in France.
When I joined Villa I didn’t know where they played. I thought they were a London club!
Christian Benteke endears himself to his new club.
I need to see a doctor! It was absolutely crazy! I can’t explain what happened on the pitch, yet I was a witness to it! Everybody was close to a heart attack at the end!
Jurgen Klopp on Dortmund’s thrilling last gasp victory over Malaga in the Champions League.
Perhaps I shouldn’t say it, but I’m maybe a little too intelligent to be a footballer.
Joey Barton takes a leaf out of Sam Allardyce’s book of modesty.
The uneducated Joey Barton is fascinating for the degree of his stupidity, his ego and his megalomania!
Mikael Silvestre begs to differ.