The Six Defining Moments of 2013

Nick Miller@NickMiller79Featured ColumnistDecember 27, 2013

The Six Defining Moments of 2013

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    So, 2013 comes to an end and it's been quite a year.

    Records have been broken, batons have been passed on, eras have ended and superstars have been born.

    One of the greatest managers of our generation retired, two of the biggest stars in the world clashed, one great club beat another, the world transfer record was broken and one man continued to cause great outrage.

    So, what are the six defining moments of the last 12 months? Here is our selection.

Ronaldo vs. Zlatan

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    Football is about 75 percent hype these days, so it's sometimes difficult to work out what is genuinely special and what is just fluff.

    Even by these hype standards, the World Cup qualifying play-off between Portugal and Sweden was built up to a ridiculous amount.

    Indeed, it wasn't even hyped as a game between two teams but simply two players. The other 20 players may as well have been somewhere else for this was Ronaldo vs. Zlatan.

    A consequence of this constant state of hype is that we're now immune to it and instinctively dismissive of it. None of these games could ever live up to the hype.

    Except this one.

    The final score was 3-2, the two men having scored all five goals, with an extraordinary hat-trick by Ronaldo sending Portugal to Brazil.

    Ronaldo was helped out by a couple of sublime passes, but the night was really about these two men and them only.

Real Madrid Buy Gareth Bale

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    For a while, it looked like Gareth Bale wouldn't leave Tottenham.

    He seemed to have a good relationship with Andre Villas-Boas. He was the centrepiece of a hugely promising team. He had a young child, despite the efforts of his agents who seemed to spend much of the summer casually on the phone to Madrid-based radio stations. He also might've stayed another year.

    But then again, when Real Madrid set their mind on someone, they generally get him. The lure of both the size of the club and the size of the wage must be difficult to resist—and resist it Bale could not.

    The world-record transfer was extraordinary, even by Real's standards. Of course, they didn't need Bale, but Real Madrid very rarely need any of the players they spend the biggest bucks on.

    But this felt like a face-saving exercise for Florentino Perez. They had so clearly been chasing their man for much of the summer. They—and perhaps more importantly he—would look like failures if they didn't get him. And get him they eventually did.

Sir Alex Ferguson Retires

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    For an entire generation of football fans, Alex Ferguson has always been there.

    Partly because he said he was going to retire in 2001 and changed his mind, and partly because he kept winning trophies until the last, but it somehow seemed that he would never leave.

    That was why it was such a shock when he announced his retirement. And it speaks to Ferguson's standing that it was a surprise that a 71-year-old finally said he'd had enough.

    It ended an era for not only Manchester United but for British football. He brought Manchester United to the top of the English game at exactly the right time, as the transformation of football from a creaking, unfashionable sport to a cultural and financial behemoth coincided with their success, in turn transforming them into a monster.

    It also made sure that United fans are just like the rest of us now. Ferguson wasn't perfect, but whatever mistakes he made, you could be pretty sure that he would clean up those mistakes in fairly short order.

Bayern Thrash Barcelona

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    A changing of the guard? Perhaps, but at the time of writing, Barcelona are still top of La Liga and they're not doing too badly.

    Since Bayern had reached two of the previous three Champions League finals, it was hardly the announcement of a previously unknown upstart at the top of the European tree. 

    It was, however, a massacre. An extraordinary destruction by a team at the peak of their powers over perhaps the greatest club of this, and perhaps any generation, on their way to a remarkable treble.

    Bayern beat Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate in the Champions League semi-final, but it was perhaps not the overall scoreline that was most extraordinary in itself but the relentlessness of Bayern.

    Many teams would have been content with a 4-0 home win in the first game, but rather than ease off, Jupp Heynckes' side pressed their boot even more firmly on to Barca's throat in the return, scoring three more on their way to the final and, of course, the title.

Luis Suarez Bites Branislav Ivanovic

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    One thing that was missed after Luis Suarez tried to take a chunk out of Branislav Ivanovic arm is how weird the whole thing was.

    There was vitriol, there was condemnation, there was the 10-game ban, but not enough people stopped and just said: "Who bites someone? Seriously, who the hell bites someone?"

    The answer, of course, was Suarez who had form for that sort of thing. Indeed, he was serving the dregs of a ban for just such a toothy adventure when he signed for Liverpool, having sunk those prominent gnashers into Otman Bakkal while playing for Ajax.

    The ban then led into a summer of speculation of £40,000,001 bids, pseudo transfer requests, badly translated interviews from the Uruguayan press and accurately translated interviews in the British press.

    Indeed, you could argue that the ban, which saw Suarez miss the first six games of this season, partly explains his brilliant form.

    Suarez is six games less tired than the rest of the Premier League, which isn't the main reason for him tearing massive holes in any defence that tries to stop him, but it helps. The (phoney) sense of injustice may have inspired him, too.

The Finale of the Championship

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    It's more fun beyond the Premier League. People tend to take themselves a little less seriously down there. Perhaps that's why we tend to get such remarkable conclusions.

    The final day of the Championship season is a case in point. Half of the division seemed still to be in contention for promotion as the season came to a close, with most of them occupying at least a play-off spot at some point or another.

    On the final day, Hull were in pole position for automatic promotion, needing just a win at home against champions Cardiff, with Watford waiting should they slip up. And slip up they did, drawing 2-2 after Nick Proschwitz missed a late penalty, but a calamitous afternoon at Vicarage Road meant they went up anyway.

    Watford keeper Manuel Almunia was injured in the warm-up before their game with Leeds. This meant Jonathan Bond had to step in and take his place, only for Bond himself to get injured, meaning youngster Jack Bonham had to take his place.

    With tragic inevitability, Bonham's errors contributed to Leeds winning 2-1. But even though they missed out on automatic promotion, Watford still had the play-offs.

    There they faced Leicester and in the very final minutes, Leicester won a penalty and, well, just watch for yourself what happened next.

    The play-off final against Crystal Palace was something of an anti-climax, but after all that, it hardly mattered.