Friday, December 24, 2010
ESPNsoccernet: December 26, 9:37 AM UK
Five stories that shook 2010
John Brewin, Senior Editor
• Togo team attacked by rebels, January 8
A quiet, almost calm start to a new year was shattered by the breaking news of tragic events from the African Nations Cup in Angola on January 8.
Early details were sketchy at best but this was soon the leading news story across the entire globe. The Togolese team, travelling by bus rather than by plane, had come under attack when driving through the province of Cabinda, having crossed over the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo. A group of Cabindan separatists had laid siege to the bus and its outliers and fired shots for 30 minutes. Panic-stricken players and officials had been forced to take cover under and behind seats. Striker Thomas Dossevi later described it as being "machine-gunned, like dogs" after the Angolan driver had been killed by the early salvos. Two other members of the party perished, the team's press officer and a member of the coaching team, while nine were seriously injured, including coach Hubert Velud, and two players, Kodjovi Obilale and Serge Akakpo.
From there, the recriminations began, with Togo withdrawing from the tournament and its organisers questioning why they had been travelling by bus, which was against all known advice. The African governing body, the CAF, soon disqualified Togo, and would later reject an attempt to rejoin the tournament. Togo would subsequently be banned from the next two Nations Cups, only for a wealth of worldwide pressure to lead the decision to be overturned. By then, Emmanuel Adebayor had announced his decision to retire from international football. With the entire planet primed for a June visit to South Africa's hosting of the World Cup finals, a series of distancing pronouncements were made. Thankfully, such scenes were not repeated, either in Angola or in South Africa.
• Terry sacked as England captain, February 5
This has been the year of the injunction, and "my learned friends" in the judiciary have been very busy indeed. It is a rare Friday afternoon when whispers of a lifting of an injunction do not reach our ears. Often it is a false alarm, though not without a riot of wild speculation. This one, though, was the real deal, though many of the precise details of who did what are still being legally disputed. It centred on the captain of both Chelsea and England.
Once Mr Justice Tugendhat had lifted a banning order on publication, the tabloid dogs were let loose and a sordid tale of extra-marital affairs escaped, with John Terry accused of squiring the girlfriend and "baby mother" of former team-mate, and one-time close pal, Wayne Bridge. Open season descended for a week, and Terry was eventually called to a meeting with Fabio Capello at Wembley. After a meeting that took barely ten minutes, Friday February 5 saw Terry relieved of his duties as his country's captain. Bridge would later refuse to play for his country, just as England began to run out of left backs.
A game of football was going to have to break out at some point, and the pair were reunited on February 27 when Manchester City travelled to face Chelsea. For once, the silly ritual of hand-shaking in lines before Premier League games gained a purpose, and all eyes were on the one-time drinking partners. Terry thrust out a hand, but a steely Bridge brushed by before playing one of the games of his life as City destroyed Chelsea 4-2. A point had been made and it was left to peace-loving Craig Bellamy to declare of Terry that "everybody in football knows what the guy is like".
• NESV announce final deal for Liverpool, October 15
If you discount the guffawing coming from the direction of Goodison Park, Tom Hicks and George Gillett's ownership of Liverpool FC was about as popular on Merseyside as a museum celebrating the achievements of Sir Alex Ferguson. The end, after three-and-a-half years of broken promises and bitter in-fighting, came when the day of reckoning arrived, or however else you choose to describe an unpaid £237 million loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).
The October date came and went, and RBS, which had placed airline exec Martin Broughton as chairman at Anfield, lined up a buyer in New England Sports Ventures (NESV), the owners of Boston Red Sox. "Yanks Out" said the banners at Anfield, yet more Yanks came in, though without the bluff promises of the previous incumbents. It closed a turbulent period at Liverpool, who had dispensed with the services of Rafael Benitez in June, after a season of failure on the pitch.
Hicks did not go down without a fight, first launching a writ in a Texan court to stop the deal and then later trying to claim $1 billion in damages. It was estimated that he and Gillett had lost £144 million between them, which exacted little sympathy, and it was now time for a new era at Anfield. Again.
• Rooney signs new five-year contract, October 22
"Once a blue, always a red" used to be a popular anthem at Old Trafford. Not any more, in the wake of a saga that at one time looked likely to blow Manchester United off course. Rooney had begun 2010 looking like the only genuine world-class English player, but he ends it as a man scratching for the form book, and still in disgrace in the opinion of many United followers.
The troubles began in March as he sustained an ankle injury at Bayern Munich, only to be rushed/rush himself back for the return leg. That was a vain mission and the downward spiral began. Next came a series of execrable performances in South Africa, before tabloid tales about an extra-marital affair with a "working girl" looked set to derail his marriage to Colleen.
But the tipping point came when news escaped of his intention to quit Old Trafford because of his supposed fears about the club's future direction and the standard of new recruits to play alongside him. A Rooney statement effected a bravura media performance from Sir Alex Ferguson, who had previously all but banned media relations, and opinion swung back the boss' way. Rooney's most likely destination looked none other than Manchester City, but the matter was turned on its head by the sudden signing of a new contract. The deal was said to make Rooney the best-paid footballer around, yet his reputation remains mud with many and his future is still the subject of heavy speculation. He is, at present, nowhere near the player of early 2010.
• Russia and Qatar win World Cup race, December 2
A 'qualified success' is probably a fitting description for the 2010 World Cup, a wintry affair for many of South Africa's visitors. Yet Sepp Blatter clearly enjoyed being a conquistador FIFA president, so perhaps we should not have been surprised with the eventual destinations of the 2018 and 2022 finals, though the story will not end with a voting process that took place in Zurich at the beginning of December.
The losers, including England, USA and Australia, were accused of sour grapes when they pleaded foul after promises of support from various members of the executive committee were followed by very few votes indeed.
Reports escaped that, ahead of the vote, Blatter had directed his colleagues to continue their pioneering and to also remember the beastly actions of an English media that had forced the suspension of two 'EXCO' members by exposing their willingness to accept bribes. That would suggest that England never had a chance in the first place, and the presentational efforts of David Beckham, David Cameron, Prince William and, er, Eddie Afekafe were all in vain.
Russia, its efforts bankrolled by Roman Abramovich, will host 2018. As one of the world's most expensive places to visit, that will hardly be a trip for the less well-heeled fan, but it is Qatar 2022 that is set to be controversial for years to come. How a tiny emirate ended up hosting the greatest show on earth is one thing; how footballers can play in temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius is proving to be another. Already, there is talk of a shifting of goalposts to a winter World Cup in January and February 2022.This is a development that may cause FIFA more trouble than they initially bargained for. The battle lines with club football are already being drawn.