World Football: Heroes and Villains Of 2010
The highs and lows of 2010 have been extreme to put it mildly. From gun toting separatists in Africa last January to an Octopus called Paul in June and possibly the greatest team of all time in November, 2010 has been a year to remember, or forget depending upon which team you follow.
Here, we look at some of the heroes and villains of the last 12 months. Some stories have been covered by every media outlet under the sun and some have just slipped past their mighty radars.
However, each is just as important as each other as they thread a careful weave through the labyrinthine tapestry that is the footballing year of 2010.
January's Hero: Andres Iniesta
Most people on the list are there because of instances in 2010's calendar year, not Andres Iniesta though.
Nine months on from Iniesta firing Barcelona into the Champions League final with a late winner against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, we have what is now known in the Catalan capital as "The Iniesta Generation."
To put it mildly, Iniesta's goal seemed to the main catalyst for a month of "celebrating." The strike on May 2 was the first magical moment of a month that will last in many a Barca fan's dreams...
They then went on to win La Liga and the Champions League.
While little Lionel Messi may have been the inspiration behind an incredible season, it would seem that Iniesta has become the inspiration for something entirely different...
A survey in the Catalan capital has revealed that birth rates are currently experiencing a 45 percent increase.
And strangely enough, it was around nine months since those monumental games took place...
January's Villain: CAF
The football year kicked off in the worst way possible when, just two days before the African Cup of Nations commenced, the Togo team bus was attacked by extreme separatists in Angola.
With two members of their delegation murdered in the ambush, Togo, under the guidance of their government, understandably, decided to pull out of the tournament.
However, the CAF (Confederation of African Football) looked upon this move poorly and duly decided to fine the Togo FA $50,000 and ban them from playing in the next two ACN competitions.
February's Hero: Glen Whelan
The vibrations from Ryan Shawcross' bone-juddering tackle on Aaron Ramsey still linger.
Indeed, the promising midfielder has only just returned to action in a loan move to Nottingham Forest and as we stand it remains unclear as to whether he will get back into the Arsenal team in the near future.
On the night in question, Shawcross dived in recklessly and prematurely ended the Welsh youngster's season.
It was obvious to everyone watching that Ramsey was in some distress, some of his team mates namely captain Cesc Fabregas and the experienced Sol Campbell just roared at the referee, some even vomited, some just became involved in handbags-type pushing with Stoke players.
The only man on the pitch to keep his cool during the entire maelstrom that followed was Stoke's Glen Whelan.
The Irish midfielder immediately went over to Ramsey and comforted him while the medical team ran on.
It made a big impact on the budding Arsenal star, as he singled Whelan out for special praise a few days later.
February's Villain: Harrods
With Roy Hodgson's Fulham going great guns in Europe (I know it seems so long ago...) they welcomed Shaktar Donetsk to Craven Cottage.
The then-current Europa League holders decided to do a little bit of shopping before the match. As Mohammad Al-Fayed owns Fulham and the world famous department store Harrods, Shaktar's players, some of the highest paid in Europe, wanted to go to spend some of their well-earned moolah.
They hadn't counted on Harrods security, though, who refused entry to the entire Eastern European delegation because they looked "too big and suspicious."
The players, all clad in tracksuits, tried to explain who they were but to no avail, so they spent their money elsewhere...
March's Hero: Gergely Rudolf
Gergey Rudolf recently signed a four-year deal with Genoa after leaving Debrechen on a free transfer.
The highly rated 25-year-old striker was scouted by many teams from major leagues and could have gone for a lucrative transfer fee that his club could barely afford to do without.
In recognition of the club's finances, Rudolf decided to play for the last three months of his contract for free, thus saving his club a couple of hundred thousand Euros.
March's Villain: San Luca
It has been a rough old year for Italian football. A flagging league, racial tension at matches, and San Luca added to the whole messy pile.
Sixteen players from Italian amateur side San Luca were suspended for two matches after they wore black armbands to mourn the death of Antonio Pelle, a local mafia boss...
April's Hero: Jose Mourinho
April was the month that "the interpreter" came back to haunt his old club.
Over the two legs of their Champions League Semi Final tie against Barcelona, Inter Milan and Jose Mourinho showed that organisation and superb defence can and will outshine flamboyant superstars if given half a chance.
Inter raced into a 3-1 lead after the first leg in Milan with a supreme performance where they attacked and defended at precisely the right moments throughout the match.
Then in the return leg in Barcelona, they were cruelly reduced to 10 men when Thiago Motta was wrongly adjudged to have elbowed Segi Busquets.
The resulting 10 men behind the ball was a lesson in defending for the ages.
In the end, it was a night where the right team went through, but the aftermath of the game left a distinctly bad taste in the mouth.
April's Villain: Sir Alex Ferguson
The great manager Sir Alex Ferguson put all of his eggs in one basket in April when he gambled Manchester United's entire season on Wayne Rooney's injured ankle.
Rooney was in obvious distress from the very first moment he took to the pitch in the return Champions League Quarter Final against Bayern Munich.
Had Ferguson rested Rooney, who knows what the rest of 2010 would have given us?
The ramifications from that night in early April ran on through the rest of United's season as they drifted off Chelsea's pace, through England's World Cup in South Africa and then it planted the seed of disharmony between Ferguson and Rooney that ultimately led to the striker seeking a new contract.
May's Hero: Shane Duffy
The 18-year-old Everton centre half was playing for an Irish developmental side when he clashed with the opposing goalkeeper following a corner.
Unbeknownst to anyone watching, Duffy had severely lacerated his kidney and was mere moments away from death. The FAI's team surgeon came on expecting to treat the player for being winded but noticed that his blood pressure was dangerously low and immediately called an ambulance.
Duffy had lost over half of his body's blood through the injury.
Following a number of operations, Duffy was expected to be out of action for over a year as his body recovered and few thought that he would ever return to the game.
However, the prodigious defender played a friendly for Everton against Sligo Rovers in August, just three months after incurring an injury that few people ever fully recover from.
The incident was described as "a freak injury and one we might never see in another 100 years of medicine..."
May's Villain: Jose Mourinho
To their credit, Inter Milan deservedly won the Champions League in 2010. They were by far the better team.
That is where this argument lies.
They were so much better that Bayern Munich that the lack of ambition they showed in the final against an opponent of such lesser quality was an insult to the game.
Mourinho's decision to play a counter attacking game off Bayern's weaknesses rather than his own team's attacking strengths left a legacy of defensive tactics that will inspire unimaginative coaches all over the world.
June's Hero: Diego Maradona
You either loved him or you hated him, but there is little doubt that Argentina were one of the great, if not only, entertaining teams of the early stages of the World Cup in South Africa.
Whether he was running over reporters that he did not see or cursing at television interviewers, the entire football world tuned in to see Diego self-destruct.
Instead, Argentina were good. They entertained and Maradona kicked every ball on the side line like he was playing the very match himself.
In the end, his wild exuberance was overcome and cruelly exposed by German tactics, but up until that stage, they were almost everybody’s favourite team.
June's Villain: The Jabulani
Aero grooves, 3D triangle panels, fewer panels on a ball than ever before, more aerodynamic than ever before, blah, blah, blah.
The Jabulani was an unmitigated disaster for FIFA and more importantly, the World Cup.
There were obvious problems with the ball right from the off, and FIFA's and Adidas' marketing people have a lot to live up to for Brazil 2014.
Put your money on a retro return to a 1970-style black-and-white Telstar for 2014.
July's Hero: Andres Iniesta
Two mentions in one year and neither for his phenomenal exploits on the football pitch!
Andres Iniesta gets a second mention in the 2010 hero list for his beautiful gesture following his World Cup winning goal.
On scoring, he wheeled away and took off his shirt revealing a message to the friends and family of Daniel Jarque, "Dani Jarque is always with us."
The goal was a just ending to a match that was almost destroyed by Holland's shameful tactics and it was fitting that it was scored by Iniesta.
July's Villain: Holland
Howard Webb and Bert van Maarwijk are close to pushing Holland out of the villain seat for July, but the thuggish manner of their play in the World Cup Final means that nobody would even get near to pushing them out of their rightful throne.
The only real surprise from the final is that only one Dutch player was sent off, Johnny Heitinga, when in reality at least three if not four players could have walked.
August's Villain: Fans Of Lokomotiv Moscow
Peter Odemwengie played for Lokomotiv Moscow for three successful seasons between 2007 and 2010.
The Taskent born Nigerian-Russian helped his side win the Russian Cup for a record fifth time in 2007 and was instrumental as Lokomotiv finished fourth in 2009 in what is rapidly becoming one of the most competitive leagues in Europe.
However, the $14 million signing from Lille was unhappy at the regular racial abuse he suffered from not only opposing fans but his own fans as well so in August 2010 he moved to West Brom on a three-year deal.
The following weekend, his old Lokomotiv fans unfurled a racist banner thanking West Brom for taking Odemwengie off their hands.
Incidentally, Lokomotiv lost 3-0 to Dynamo Moscow while Odemwengie scored on his debut for the Baggies.
August's Hero: Craig Bellamy
The much-maligned Welsh striker has had his fair share of ups and downs in football but even he must have been shocked at the speed at which he was drummed out at Manchester City.
Particularly when you consider that he was easily the Citizens' most influential player in the 2009/10 season.
City refused to do business with clubs that wanted him (Spurs, Villa, Everton), so poor Craig found himself being loaned out to Championship side Cardiff City.
On his first press conference for Dave Jones' side, every journalist waited with baited breath to hear the fireworks go off.
But a very dignified Bellamy chose his words carefully and said that he understood what City had done and that his time at the club was an enjoyable one and that he had no ill feeling towards Roberto Mancini.
September's Villain: Neymar
In the eyes of many, he is the most gifted Brazilian player since Pele. However, he has none of the legend's attitude or class.
The famous tantrum incident with Dorival Jr., his manager, came about after the youngster was taken down for a penalty against Atletico Goianiense.
With Neymar having missed Santos' last three penalties, Dorival decided to chose another player for the vital spot-kick.
As the penalty was scored, Neymar berated Dorival and his teammates on the bench from a height in a tantrum that a two-year-old would have been proud of.
September's Hero: The Champions League
The Cup with the big ears returned with a bang in September and washed away all those bad memories of the World Cup in one fell swoop.
Attacking football was the name of the day as teams actually went out to beat each other, unlike in South Africa.
During the first round of games in the World Cup group stages in South Africa, only 25 goals were scored across 16 matches.
Compare this to the Champions League this week, where an astonishing 44 goals were scored across 16 games.
Overall, there were 145 goals scored in the entire World Cup of 64 matches, an average of 2.26 goals per game.
The Champions League average sits at 2.75 goals per game at the moment, only half a goal per game in the difference.
But in terms of entertainment, enjoyment, and sheer enterprise, the club competition outstrips its senior counterpart in every way.
October Villain: Ivan Bogdanov
In October, the Euro 2012 qualifier between Italy and Serbia was called off after just nine minutes after Serbian fans threw flares at Italian goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano.
The game had already been suspended for 30 minutes as police struggled to control the crowd.
Ivan Bogdanov was one of the main ring-leaders on that ill-boding evening.
The mastermind climbed the fence before producing a wire snips and then proceeded to cut the netting so flares could be thrown onto the pitch.
On leaving the ground, aware that he was Public Enemy No. 1 but happy because he had concealed his face, he decided to hide in the boot of a car just to be sure that Italian police would not arrest him.
They searched high and low for the Serb and eventually found him and identified him through his tattoos...
October Hero: Gareth Bale
Another Welshman and another flyer. The Tottenham Hotspur left-sided midfielder has had an incredible 2010.
He only broke into the Spurs first XI in January because Benoit Assou-Ekotto was suspended and since then, he hasn't looked back.
His superb season probably hit its highest point in October when he scored a fantastic hat-trick against Inter Milan at the San Siro in what was certainly one of the best individual performances of the calendar year.
He followed that impressive performance two weeks later at White Hart Lane as the Champions League's most exciting team literally tore Inter Milan apart.
November's Hero: Barcelona
Pep Guardiola's current Barcelona side are now what many people are calling the greatest team of all time.
Most certainly there has never been a team that play as attractive a brand of football.
November was an incredible month for football lovers everywhere, but particularly Barcelona football lovers.
The month didn't start in the greatest of fashion as La Blaugrana eked out a 1-1 draw away to FC Copenhagen in the Champions League, but from there they did not look back.
Over the next 22 days they beat: Getafe 3-1 (a), Cueta 5-1 (h), Villareal 3-1 (h), Almeria 8-0 (a), Panathinikos 3-0 (a) before they destroyed their long time rivals Real Madrid 5-0 at the Nou Camp in what many feel is the greatest team performance of all time.
November's Villain: Jose Mourinho
November was most definitely a month to forget for Jose Mourinho.
Not only did he suffer the greatest defeat of his career (Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid) he also diminished his own great standing in the game by ordering two of his own players to get sent off in a Champions League match against Ajax.
There can be little doubt that Mourinho shamed not only his own legacy but the game in general by resorting to such a base approach to football.
December's Hero: Juan Roman Riquelme
At one stage in his career, Juan Roman Riquelme was regarded by many as the world's best midfielder. Every team of stature in the game either tracked him or offered him riches beyond imagination to tempt him away from his beloved Villareal.
Now, at 32, the playmaker known as "the Lazy Magician" has returned to his homeland to play for Boca Juniors.
Since 2007 he has easily been the standout player in South America, guiding Boca to the Copa Libertadores in 2007, the Argentinian Primera Division Title in 2008, and the Recopa Sudamerica in 2008.
He has also claimed individual honours during the same period, so it came as no surprise to see big European sides begin to hover around Riquelme as 2009 drew to an end.
To fend off obvious bids for afar, Boca made Riquelme one of their highest-paid players and gave him a new four-year deal worth $5 million.
Then Riquelme got injured.
This season he only played one and a half games in the Apetura, as he was out injured and in a show of good faith to Boca Juniors, he refused to accept payment while he was out injured.
A nice touch from one of the game's great professionals.
December's Villain: The FIFA Exco
What would a villain list be without Sepp Blatter?
In December the FIFA Exco. met and awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cup's to Russia and Qatar respectively.
Arguments can be made both for and against these choices but that is not why the Exco made the list.
While it can be said that these particular choices were the right ones it is apparent to all who watch football that there is something wrong at the very top in FIFA.
The very system the game's governing body employs actually promotes cronyism and corruption and should be changed for the good of the game.
Although given Blatter has continued on exactly where Joao Havelange left off a couple of decades ago, it looks very unlikely that change will come around any time soon...