If 2012 was anything to go by, 2013 is going to be another amazing year in the football world.
Make no mistake about it. 2012 was a bumper year for world football, despite the best efforts of a small minority.
We had Manchester City's last-gasp Premier League win in May, Chelsea's amazing Champions League voyage and phenomenal win and Lionel Messi setting all kinds of new standards and records on the way.
Zambia won the African Cup of Nations. Spain—with their unmistakable Tiki-taka style—won the European Championships and became the first international team to win three major competitions in a row. Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho snatched the title from Barcelona's grasp.
Borussia Dortmund won the Bundesliga for the second time in a row, and Juventus went the entire season unbeaten in Serie A with nary a brown envelope in sight.
As far as players are concerned, Lionel Messi continued to shine in his battle with Cristiano Ronaldo—as does the Portuguese. Andrea Pirlo and Andres Iniesta both shone at Euro 2012 and in domestic action, and Gareth Bale seems to get better and better with every passing game.
And Michu became an overnight Premier League sensation after joining Swansea City. Before that, the Spaniard had spent nine years in the lower reaches of Spanish football and just one in La Liga.
With just a few of the best memories of 2012 in mind, we can look forward to 2013.
Here, Bleacher Report looks at 10 things football fans would love to see in 2013.
If there is one thing that fans hate about football, it is the lack of consistency in refereeing decisions.
Nobody likes to see a player unfairly punished while another gets away scot-free for an incident that could change an entire match. Diving, off-the-ball incidents, not-diving and being booked are all fouls that both should and should not have received cards. Many more such calls ruin the game.
Most importantly, it ruins the reputation of the sport we all love and shows the rule makers for what they are—antiques.
The way to fix all this is through retrospective refereeing or retrospective punishment as it is better known. As it stands, under the FA's rules in England, only incidents missed by the referee can by retrospectively looked at. This needs to change.
The road to retrospective refereeing coming into use in football is closer than many people think.
When looking for a solution for any incident either missed by the referee or over-punished by the referee, retrospective punishment will have the least amount of impact upon the game within the 90 minutes of play.
The general idea of this type of action is that a panel of experts will sit down after every match and analyse each and every incident during the game and act accordingly upon whether cards need to be given or rescinded.
It all sounds very simple, but both FIFA and UEFA have avoided the use of RP for decades even though it is the easiest and least obtrusive solution to implement.
Many football federations around the world have flirted with the idea of implementing RP, but none have done so—up until 2012.
MLS in America has become a pioneer in the field of tackling on-field incidents by setting up a Disciplinary Committee which reviews every single game.
After which, suspensions can be given, rescinded and in rare cases extended upon. Yellow cards can be beefed up to red if the panel deem them worthy, and of course, bookings can also be removed if the referee has made a mistake.
With the MLS basically putting it up to FIFA and showing that RP can work, it would be only good for the game if the likes of the Premier League or the Bundesliga would take up the mantle too.
But to do that would be to admit there is a problem.
In 2009, UEFA's Executive Committee unanimously approved the financial fair play concept.
The main idea behind the concept was to improve finances in football which had threatened to get out of complete control.
Their mandate according to UEFA.com reads as:
• To introduce more discipline and rationality in club football finances
• To decrease pressure on salaries and transfer fees and limit inflationary effect
• To encourage clubs to compete with (in) their revenues
• To encourage long-term investments in the youth sector and infrastructure
• To protect the long-term viability of European club football
• To ensure clubs settle their liabilities on a timely basis
There can be little doubt that, overall, UEFA's vision is good for the game.
All too often clubs are forced into extreme debt by owners trying to placate their team's fans. These un-disciplined owners spend far too much money on players and wages, and ultimately, when they walk away the club is left in a dire state.
This then has the knock-on effect of directly affecting employment and contract rights of players and other club employees.
Of course, the other side to the argument is that owners should be allowed to pump money into their club. It is theirs after all. Think Roman Abramovich spending some £2 billion since he bought Chelsea 10 years ago or Sheikh Mansour having spent over £1 billion at Manchester City since 2008.
UEFA's stance is that this acquired debt is still debt and will have to be paid back someday.
Hence the new financial rules.
In June 2012 UEFA set up the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) to oversee the application of the UEFA Club Licensing System and Financial Fair Play Regulations.
This body has been monitoring UEFA's members’ finances going back to 2010 with a view that should be breaking even by the end of the 2012-13 season.
UEFA will allow for a £36 million limit for losses over a two-year period that will begin in two seasons, but already clubs like Paris St Germain and Manchester City are spending above and beyond that total.
The rules will come fully into force in the 2014-15 season, and it will be more than interesting to see where UEFA and FIFA go from there.
Everyone loves to see goals.
However, the current offside law is a complete ass.
The offside rule to you and me, or Law 11 of the FA's Rules and Governance, causes mass confusion in the stands, on television and with referees.
It is open to personal interpretation because the referee is the official who decides if a player is active or not.
The FIFA Law on Offside states:
It is not an offence in itself to be in an offside position.
A player is in an offside position if:
- He/she is nearer to his opponents' goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent
A player is not in an offside position if:
- He/she is in his own half of the field of play or
- He/she is level with the second-last opponent or
- He/she is level with the last two opponents
A player in an offside position is only penalised if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:
- Interfering with play or
- Interfering with an opponent or
- Gaining an advantage by being in that position
There is no offside offence if a player receives the ball directly from:
- A goal kick
- A throw-in
- A corner kick
Infringements and sanctions
In the event of an offside offence, the referee awards an indirect free kick to the opposing team to be taken from the place where the infringement occurred (see Law 13 - Position of free kick).
As the incident involving Jonny Evans and Demba Ba clearly shows, Ba was "gaining an advantage by being in that position," and he was directly "interfering with play" because Evan had to cover him as a defender.
The referee's assistant rules that the goal should have been disallowed, but the referee overruled him.
This kind of incident happens regularly, if not to the same extent as the Evans situation.
The ruling once stated that if a player interfered with play he was offside. By being on the pitch, the player was automatically interfering with play and was therefore offside.
This modern change and interpretation of the ruling was brought in so as not to catch out dozy wingers who were outwitted by the opposing full-back, who organises the defensive line.
In that way the modern interpretation is right. Why should a good goal be disallowed for a player being offside 30 yards away? It simply should not. But if a goal is allowed when the ball crossed an offside player in front of the goalkeeper, it should be disallowed.
The ruling needs to be examined and made more transparent.
Defending is an art form as important as scoring goals in football and needs to be protected as much as strikers from tackles from behind.
In this instance the tackle from behind is coming directly from FIFA.
Gerard Deulofeu is the most exciting prospect La Masia has produced since Lionel Messi.
Deulofeu has been with Barca since he was nine and has become one of the most watched and hotly anticipated kids on the planet since a 17-year-old Pele burst onto the stage in Sweden in 1958.
Very much in the mould of a cross between his Argentinian club-mate and Cristiano Ronaldo, Deulofeu is an incredibly gifted player who caresses the ball like a lover.
His first touch is exquisite, his vision superb, his pace and dribbling skills are simply incredible and he has a powerful shot from either foot.
He is already being hunted by the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and a host of other top European clubs as his star begins to shine.
His downfall could be his lack of maturity, and he will have to grow up quick if he is to break into the first-team squad.
If he can overcome this apparent lack of maturity, he could form an incredible partnership with Messi up front. Given time, he even has the potential to replace the world’s greatest player.
There is no doubt about it; Gareth Bale is the hottest player in the world outside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
The supremely skillful Welshman is currently setting the Premier League on fire and is now widely regarded as the best and most powerful athlete in England, if not beyond.
At Tottenham Hotspur since 2007 and contracted until 2016, Bale will cost a pretty penny to pry away from Daniel Levy and Andre Villas-Boas.
The only realistic way he will stay with Spurs is if they become title challengers within the next season or so. To do that Spurs will need to sign at least three to four top-class players. This could potentially cost somewhere in the region of between £50 million and £100 million.
While they build their new stadium, that looks distinctly unlikely to happen.
At the moment Bale is valued at around £40 million by Spurs.
Realistically, there are only five possible destinations for him when you rule out a prolonged stay in Russia for the lad.
The six suitors are: Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Paris St Germain, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Given his past dealings, Levy would have no problem extorting huge monies from Premier League rivals. However, understanding where Spurs are and where they want to go in the future, I would expect Levy to sell Bale to either of the Spanish giants with the possibility of a player or two in exchange.
The potential of Bale hooking up with Barca or Madrid is tantalising for any football fan. At Barca he would be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Dani Alves.
At Madrid he would line up beside Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Karim Benzema and Mesut Özil amongst others.
In the end, the deal to take Bale to La Liga could hinge on where he would end up playing.
Looking at the two teams, it seems obvious that at Madrid Bale would play on the left side of midfield while at Barca it looks very likely that he would feature at left-back.
Either way, Bale moving to Spain would be likely to build the same interest in that particular league as when Gazza signed for Lazio or when David Beckham signed for Real Madrid.
One thing is for sure. The potential of a partnership involving Bale with either Messi or Ronaldo is the stuff of dreams for any fan.
Lionel Messi has been the best player in the world for the best part of the last five years. Now at 25, he literally has the world at his feet.
As 2012 rolls into 2013, we have just witnessed one of the greatest sporting feats ever seen in a footballing calendar year: Messi's World Record 91 goals.
As a player he simply has no rival in the world at the moment and probably won't for another decade.
In a world that lacks the same level of talent football it has had in previous eras, Messi stands out as a player of supreme ability, a genius if you will.
The 5'6" maestro is simply mesmeric to watch.
Rarely is the ball allowed to leave his incredible sphere of influence. When he is in control of the ball, it might as well be glued to his foot.
Like many of the greatest players before him, Lionel Messi is a player who excites fans and causes alarm in defenders at the same rate to such an extent that whole teams and managers go out of their way to neutralise the prodigy.
Despite that fact, they couldn't stop him scoring 91 goals in 2012.
Now as we look to the New Year, we also have to look at the significance of 2014.
In 2014, Messi will be 27 and leading Argentina into World Cup battle in Brazil. If you think he is frightening now, he will be at the peak of his powers in 2014.
In that respect, 2013 will be hugely important for the, star and you wouldn't rule out a 92-goal year just yet.
Everyone loves to hate Jose Mourinho, and every football fan loves Pep Guardiola for the philosophy and style he helped impose upon Barcelona.
Who wouldn't want to see the rivals clash again? I know I would.
Given the current circumstances at Barcelona and Real Madrid, it looks very unlikely that the pair will renew their rivalry there.
And given the interest shown in both managers by clubs in the Premier League, it looks likely that their battle will renew and continue on English soil.
Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal seem the likeliest of destinations for either of the pair with each club offering differing advantages.
Manchester United obviously offers history, distinction and tradition.
Manchester City offers the chance at building a new empire.
Chelsea will give the manager all the riches he craves.
And Arsenal will offer a tradition of building from within.
Each has their own unique story, and each has its own unique virtues and problems.
Wherever the pair end up, my feeling is that Guardiola will go to United while Mourinho may choose City. One of the greatest footballing rivalries will begin afresh.
Which league is best?
It's an age old question, and I believe I have the answer.
Let's be honest here. The World Club Cup is a useless competition. Teams basically travel half-way around the world for a couple of meaningless friendlies.
The answer to spicing it up is simple.
Take each top-tier domestic league and pick an All-Star team from them to compete against the others.
For example, Roberto Mancini won the Premier League with Manchester City last term and would therefore become the Premier League XI's manager.
A squad of 23 EPL players would be picked by a panel, and Mancini and Co. would then go to battle against a La Liga XI, Bundesliga XI, Serie A XI and possibly a Brazilian XI with one or two others.
This, of course, would be fantasy heaven for many football fans, and given the success of the Pro Bowl in the NFL, it really is a wonder that it has never been tried before.
Here's my All-Star Premier League XI for the season so far in case any of you were wondering.
The two best footballing teams in the world at the moment are Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund.
Both play differing styles and tactics but have similar philosophies at heart. Most importantly, Barca and Dortmund are incredibly pleasing to the eye, football wise.
Having seen each team progress through the Champions League group stage playing the best football in the competition, all we can now do is hope that they avoid each other and make it to Wembley in May.
If they do, it could be the greatest exhibition of football in an equal competition ever seen in a final.
While many of Europe's top leagues enjoy a winter break, the Premier League does not.
If anything, the league in good ol' Blighty goes into overdrive and plays more matches over the Christmas period than one could shake a stick at.
This is all good and well for the EPL's coffers as each game is a virtual sellout.
However, and while the fans contribute to this in a more than willing way, something should be done to give something back to the fans.
Instead of being asked to travel up and down the length and breadth of the country over the holiday period, teams should play closer to home.
This obviously opens up the potential for a Boxing Day/Derby Day, but it would seem unlikely that the EPL would put a load of derbies on one day.
However, some could not be avoided if done fairly.
At present the Premier League is spread around England like this:
- Two clubs in the Tyne and Wear area (Newcastle, Sunderland)
- Three clubs in the Greater Manchester area (Man United, Man City, Wigan)
- Two clubs in Liverpool (Liverpool, Everton)
- Six clubs in London (QPR, Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham, Fulham)
- Two clubs in the Midlands (West Brom, Aston Villa)
- Two clubs from Berkshire/Hampshire (Reading, Southampton)
- Three clubs from Staffordshire/Wales/Norfolk (Stoke, Swansea, Norwich)
When you look at the clubs involved, six are based around each other in Liverpool, Manchester and Stoke. Two are beside each other in Newcastle. Six are London based. Two clubs reside beside each other in Berkshire and Hampshire while another two reside in Birmingham. That leaves Swansea and Norwich City as the odd men out.
The fixture computer could easily arrange a festive fixture list that would see the fans travel as little as possible during the most important family holiday of the year.
It would be nice for the fans if the Premier League actually looked at this and took them into account for once.
Who wouldn't want to see Barcelona take on Stoke City on a cold Wednesday night?
And no, that photo is not photoshopped. It's just my premonition of what might actually happen!