THE YEAR THAT WAS

The year of the "Mad Drog"

December 18, 2009
By Dominic Raynor
(Archive)

It's almost the end of yet another year and with Christmas just around the corner The Week That Was has gone all misty-eyed and decided to take a look back at some of the best and worst of 2009, in a The Year That Was special.

January - Rafa RantTM

GettyImagesRafa: The Liverpool boss let loose

During the opening month of the year, Cristiano Ronaldo crashed his £200,000 Ferrari the first time he sat behind the wheel, Ashley Cole was labelled "mentally immature" by none other than his wife Cheryl, Manchester City made a world record £100 million bid for Kaka, Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon was accused of vote rigging by Marca and quit the club, but it was Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez who ushered in 2009 in real style.

In what was later dubbed Rafa RantTM, the Reds boss temporarily took leave of his senses as he produced a pre-prepared dossier of allegations against Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and let rip at his arch rival.

Grizzled hacks were left open-mouthed during what was supposed to be a run of the mill pre-match press conference as Rafa accused Ferguson of receiving preferential treatment from the FA and "killing the referees". It didn't matter whether the allegations were true or false - they were accusations that had been levelled at Fergie before - but nobody else launched their attack armed with pre-prepared documents.

Benitez's baffling actions indicated he had lost the plot well before any serious mind games had even begun and the Spaniard's only provocation appeared to be that "Mister Ferguson has been talking too much about Liverpool".

Under the added pressure Benitez brought upon his Premier League leaders, they drew four and lost one of the next five matches as "Mr Ferguson" laughed his way to the title.

February - Big Phil bounced out of Blues

It maybe the shortest month in the year but February's 28 days were packed full of incident, particularly for Premier League managers. Newcastle United boss Joe Kinear was rushed to hospital with a heart scare after just four months at the crisis club, failed manager Tony Adams was given the boot at Portsmouth and Chelsea's supposed saviour Luiz Felipe Scolari felt the furry toe of Roman Abramovich's valenki as he was booted out of Stamford Bridge.

For some reason the Blues' Russian owner deemed that the last 16 of the Champions League and a place in the top four of the Premier League was not enough to keep Scolari in a job; the final straw came after a 0-0 draw at home to Hull City on February 7 and so Chelsea sacked the man who had won the World Cup with Brazil and reached the final of the European Championships with Portugal.

And who did Roman bring in to replace Scolari? Russian national team coach and bezzy mate Guus Hiddink. No deal had been struck before ousting Scolari just six months into the job, of course.

An understandably bitter Scolari lifted the lid on Chelsea in an interview with France Football claiming he had been the victim of the players' substantial egos, the lack of form of Florent Malouda and the club's failure to sign fellow Brazilian Robinho; ending up with 2008 Golden Bin winner Ricardo Quaresma instead.

March - iPod innovation

March is a month often prefixed with the word "madness" and it certainly lived up to that billing as Juventus' normally mild-mannered manager Claudio Ranieri shrugged off his nice guy image to tear a strip off "spoilt child" David Trezeguet and Wigan owner Dave Whelan claimed his Newcastle counterpart Mike Ashley "lacked class". But it was also the month Manchester United goalkeeper Ben Foster used his iPod to help the Red Devils win the Carling Cup.

After 120 goalless minutes at Wembley, Tottenham and United went into a penalty shoot-out. While Sir Alex Ferguson decided which players were going to take the penalties, Foster viewed a video of where Spurs' spot-kick specialists liked to place their shots on his iPod.

The novel approach worked a treat as Foster saved Jamie O'Hara's penalty before David Bentley fired wide, allowing Anderson to step up and win the cup for United.

"It is a new innovation for us," the keeper said. "I have never seen anything like it." Unfortunately for Foster we have not seen anything like the same form from him since and he has slipped down the pecking order at Old Trafford.

April - Foolish Pepe flips his lid

Other than Toon legend Alan Shearer aptly agreeing to manage Newcastle United on April Fools' Day, the month is best remembered for verbal attacks and fisticuffs. Chelsea star Frank Lampard phoned up LBC Radio to berate the DJ in a live tirade, Brazilian coach Pedro Santilli planted an uppercut on the chin of referee Flavio Rodrigues de Souza and most spectacular of all Real Madrid defender Pepe completely flipped his lid.

Just days before Real's 3-2 Primera Liga win over Getafe the centre-back had said that he wanted to write his name in the history books of the illustrious club; but earning infamy by kicking and punching two opposing players is probably not what he had in mind.

The Portuguese international was shown a straight red card for kicking midfielder Javier Casquero as he lay on the ground and in the ensuing melee he punched another player, Juan Albin, in the face. According the referee's report, Pepe then trudged off the pitch and blurted "you are all sons of whores" towards the fourth official. Well, if you're going to get sent-off you might as well do it in style.

On the downside, the €30 million defender was handed a 10-game ban by the Spanish FA and could only watch from the sidelines as arch-rivals Barcelona took the title.

May - Mad Drog can't stop Barca

GettyImagesDidier Drogba clashed with Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo during last season's Champions League

There were plenty of booze-fuelled antics, not least from a trouserless Nicklas Bendtner, that could have sustained us through the month of May but Barcelona's supremacy on the pitch was matched by their domination of the sports pages as they "cheated" Chelsea and humbled Manchester United en-route to winning the UEFA Champions League.

In the semi-finals of Europe's most prestigious competition, Chelsea's "anti-football" held Barca to a 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou and while Xavi and co whined endlessly about being treated unfairly by the match referee they need not have worried. In the return leg, Norwegian ref Tom Henning Ovrebo unbelievably turned down three clear penalty decisions for Chelsea and Barca scored with their only shot at Stamford Bridge to go through 1-1 on away goals.

It was certainly a tragedy for Chelsea and Didier Drogba, later dubbed "Mad Drog" by the press, summed it up when he stormed onto the pitch and shouted "It's a f****** disgrace" into a live TV camera.

Despite the pandemonium, the result did provide the world with the final they wanted to see: Manchester United v Barcelona, Cristiano Ronaldo v Lionel Messi. In the end it was a hugely one-sided affair with Spanish club cruising to a 2-0 victory to be crowned champions of Europe.

June - Galacticos parte dos

Whilst England striker Michael Owen was reduced to hopefully touting his services around Europe in a promotional brochure and Manchester City's gazillionaire owners were desperately trying attract anybody of note to their nouvelle-riche club, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez constructed a new team of galacticos in a single week.

Perez began his opulent recruitment drive with a bang. He decided he didn't need 93 Bugatti Veyrons and instead spent the eye-watering sum of €93.9 million (£80 millon) on World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo.

Days later, €67.2 million (£56 million) Brazilian playmaker Kaka was unveiled at the Bernabeu in front of 50,000 fans and when French hot-shot Karim Benzema signed for €35 million (£29.7 million), Perez's fantasy team was almost complete. The Real chief had splurged over €220 million and sent the transfer market into a spin.

Bayern Munich general manager Uli Hoeness responded by slapping a huge price tag on rumoured target Franck Ribery and Inter Milan chief Massimo Moratti said: "If it is true that Bayern Munich have placed a €70 million (£77 million) tag on Ribery, then I will need to ask a minimum of €90 million (for Zlatan Ibrahimovic)."

July - Owen has the last laugh

In July, it wasn't the British summer that left Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson more red faced than usual but the infamous "Welcome to Manchester" billboard that heralded the transfer of former Red Devils badge-kisser Carlos Tevez to Manchester City.

Maybe with his thoughts still clouded with fury at being teased by his nouvelle-riche neighbours, Ferguson seemed to take leave of his senses and signed fallen England icon Michael Owen. The move shocked almost everybody in football, including the striker himself, who was expecting to be put out to graze in less salubrious surroundings.

A few more eyebrows were raised when Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samuel Eto'o swapped clubs. Ibra joined Barcelona from Inter Milan, while Eto'o headed to Italy with €45 million in a padded envelope marked "Please don't open until Christmas".

The deal caught the attention of the world because of the names involved, and it didn't take long for the badge kissing to begin from Zlatan, while Eto'o was forced to field questions about his desire to play under Jose Mourinho, who he'd had a bit of a bust-up with a few years back while manager of Chelsea.

August - Bavarian Beerfest

Franck Ribery and Daniel van Buyten
GettyImagesFranck Ribery (L) and Daniel van Buyten wear traditional Bavarian costumes for Bayern's sponsors

With the football season only due start half-way through August there was still plenty of time to kill for idle players; "sic rapper" and part-time Liverpool footballer Ryan Babel brought us his latest song 'Surinamers Eat Chicken', Cristiano Ronaldo had his legs valued at £90 million and Kaka was rescued by Estonian police after being spotted wandering around Tallinn.

When the action eventually kicked off, Bayern Munich had to endure their worst start to the Bundesliga for 43 seasons, but quickly won back the hearts and minds of their fans by giving away more than 7,000 litres of beer prior their match against German champions VfL Wolfsburg at the end of August.

The freebie was part of a sponsorship deal with a Bavarian brewery and the same accord required the players and coach Louis van Gaal to dress up in traditional Bavarian costume, including lederhosen, for a photo shoot. The brewery's promotion produced some brilliant snaps, as this one of a particularly unhappy Franck Ribery and Daniel van Buyten illustrates.

As for the match itself, new signing Arjen Robben, who was poached from Real Madrid for £22 million, marked his Bayern Munich debut with two goals in a convincing 3-0 win.

September - Adebayor driven by shoe fetish

September was the month of wrath. Some dodgy dealings in acquiring Gael Kakuta meant Chelsea felt FIFA's fury as they were handed a two-window transfer ban, Maradona felt the long arm of the law when he had his diamond earrings seized at fat camp and Arsenal were "reunited" with Emmanuel Adebayor in a 4-2 defeat.

Not only did the Manchester City striker run the length of the pitch to taunt the travelling fans who had jeered his every touch, but he also managed to rake his studs down the face of former colleague Robin van Persie.

It later emerged that the driving issue behind the duo's beef was an unhealthy obsession with shoes. Following last term's final match against Stoke City, the Togo striker apparently rushed into the Arsenal dressing room, bagged all of the player's boots - including a pair Van Persie had planned to give to friends - and shipped them off to Africa to help some local clubs.

It also seems that shoes were the spark for Adebayor's famous flair up with Nicklas Bendtner. "There was a rule at Arsenal where no one is allowed to come into the dressing room with trainers or house shoes on. I cannot understand why Nicklas came every day with his shoes on," Adebayor explained. "He never took them off and things started from there. I cannot accept that. Even if that happened tomorrow at City, I would fight with somebody."

October - Maradona tells critics to suck it

The depths of autumn are not usually associated with beach balls but Liverpool fans will forever remember October 17 when one such inflatable scored the winning goal in a 1-0 defeat at Sunderland. It was also the month that former France international Christophe Dugarry claimed Les Blues coach Raymond Domenech had done "everything wrong" and another beleaguered national team boss, Diego Maradona, told the press to suck his d**k.

With Argentina on the brink of failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, the under fire Albicelestes legend celebrated a last-gasp win over Peru with an exuberant belly slide in the Buenos Aries rain. An attritional 1-0 win in Montevideo three days later was enough to save Maradona's madcap Argentina from the ignominy of a play-off.

However, Maradona's flirtation with disaster proved to be a far from humbling experience for the 48-year-old, who was quick to attack his critics. "Those of you who didn't believe in me can suck my d**k and keep on sucking," Maradona fumed.

November - Henry hands France World Cup place

A video of hard-tackling, rabbit-punching, hair-pulling sensation Elizabeth Lambert may have earned her a reputation as the hardwoman of football and Robin van Persie may have had a go at stealing the headlines with his horse placenta injury treatment, but November clearly belonged to Thierry Henry's hand.

During extra-time in France's World Cup play-off with the Republic of Ireland, the Barcelona striker deliberately handled the ball - not once, but twice - before squaring it to William Gallas to win the game and then had the audacity to console the Irish players after the match.

Egged on by the outrage of the Irish public the FAI asked FIFA to replay the game and when that request was rejected they requested to be let into the World Cup as an extra team. Safe in the knowledge that there would be no replay, Henry made a bid to salvage his reputation and claimed the only fair thing to do was to play the match again.

Former Les Bleus star Eric Cantona best summed up the whole affair when he said: "What shocked me most wasn't the handball, honestly. What shocked me most was that at the end of the match, in front of the television cameras, this player (Henry) went and sat down next to an Irish player to console him, even though he'd screwed them three minutes earlier. If I'd been Irish, he wouldn't have lasted three seconds."

December - Lehmann takes the piss

There was no Christmas cheer for Bidone d'Oro (Golden Bin) winner Felipe Melo, nor in the Stoke City dressing room when a naked Tony Pulis reportedly headbutted James Beattie but crackpot German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was brimming with Yule-tide spirit (or should that be spirits) in December and treated us to a string of crazy antics.

Lehmann's career is strewn with controversial incidents - his confrontation with a Hannover ball boy, throwing an opponent's boot on the roof of his net, the diving competition with Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, an on-going war of words with fellow German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn - and, during Stuttgart's 3-1 Champions League win over Unirea Uziceni, he really took the piss.

The 40-year-old decided to take a leak by the side of the pitch, behind the advertising hoardings, whilst the play was up the other end and then rushed back into his goal. "I was as nervous as never before," the former Arsenal keeper explained.

But that wasn't all the keeper had to offer. A few days later Lehmann managed to injured his knee in an incident that got him sent off and cost his struggling Bundesliga side three points in a match against Mainz. Then, upon leaving the Bruchweg Stadion Lehamnn plucked the glasses off the head of a supporter and only gave them back when the fan begged for their return.

It's a great way to sign off a strange year.