25 Biggest World Football News Stories of 2011

Neri Stein@neristeinFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2011

25 Biggest World Football News Stories of 2011

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    2011 was no doubt one of the most exciting years in World Football history. Exciting new players sprouted up, transfer wars raged all year long (and some have yet to end), Manchester United finally surpassed Liverpool at the top of English football and football's greatest rivalry got even spicier. 

    With all the good, however, came some bad moments. Racism continues to rear its ugly head in football, some footballers are constantly pushing the boundaries of just how arrogant they can be and Sepp Blatter is still the president of FIFA. 

    With 2011 winding down, let's look back at the biggest football news stories of the year, in no particular order. 

25. David Villa Leg Break

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    Just weeks ago, Barcelona and Spain striker David Villa suffered a broken leg and will be out for much of the rest of the season. 

    For Barca, it's really not a big deal. With the arrival of Cesc Fabregas in the summer, 2010's £40 million man has been relegated to the bench or Club World Cup matches. But for World and European Champions Spain, it could be a big issue come Euro 2012. 

    Villa's lack of stability at Barcelona for the first half of this season also made him a very popular name on the January transfer market, with Liverpool being just one of many high-profile suitors. 

24. Manchester United 19, Liverpool 18

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    When Manchester United won their first Premier League title under Sir Alex Ferguson in 1993, their first since 1967, Liverpool fans smugly claimed, "Come back when you have 18." 

    On May 14 of this year, United won their 19th title, finally passing arch-rivals Liverpool, who have been stuck on 18 since 1990. 

23. Samuel Eto'o's Mega Contract

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    Former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o left Inter Milan this summer for Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, and there's no way you can say it was about football. 

    This move was all about money. 

    The Cameroon striker is the highest paid footballer in the world, netting an absolutely unheard of, obscene €20 million per year. 

    But Eto'o wasn't the only one making a big-money switch. 

    Not long after Eto'o's switch, Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan left Sunderland after just one year for a loan move to UAE side Al-Ain. Gyan may have said it wasn't about the money, but that's hard to believe when you consider he's being paid four times as much. 

    Martin O'Neill, Sunderland's new manager after Steve Bruce's ousting earlier this month, may want to recall Gyan, but he doesn't have much swaying power. 

22. Mario Balotelli Getting Even Dumber

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    Mario Balotelli is one of the best young strikers in football, and playing for top English side Manchester City means it's hard for him not to be in the news. Unfortunately, he worked hard in 2011 to get himself in the news for negative reasons.

    His arrogant back heel attempt in a friendly match, stupid red cards, his, "Why always me?" shirt, fighting with his manager and more, Balotelli made dumb decision after dumb decision this year. 

    He'd ruin a few weeks of praise with just one momentary lapse in judgment, but can he turn it around in 2012? Roberto Mancini must be praying he does. 

21. Wayne Rooney Red Card

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    Like Mario Balotelli, Wayne Rooney has done plenty of stupid things over his career, and he did another one in October 2011.

    In the Euro 2012 qualifying match against Montenegro, Rooney foolishly stomped on Miodrag Dzudovic and received a straight red card.

    He was initially banned three matches by UEFA, meaning he would miss all three of England's group games in Poland and Ukraine next summer, but the ban was eventually reduced to two. 

    Will two games without Rooney be too many for Fabio Capello and the Three Lions? Will Wayne Rooney ever grow up? 

20. Argentina and Brazil Continue to Underwhelm

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    Brazil and Argentina are supposed to be the two best footballing nations in the world, but they have been very disappointing in recent years, and both bowed out tamely in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Copa America. 

    Brazil went out on some very ugly penalties to Paraguay, while Argentina were very dull to watch, winning just one of four games (3-0 over Costa Rica). 

    Brazil is still on the rebound from a shocking 2010 World Cup performance with Mano Menezes still finding his way, and he will need to figure it all out before the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil. 

    Considering Argentina fields some of the best players in the world, much better was expected of them, especially as tournament hosts. 

19. PSG Purchased

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    Uber-wealthy businessmen have been buying up football clubs in recent years and turning them into top competitors almost overnight, and Paris Saint-Germain is only the latest. 

    Qatar Investment Authority bought up 70 percent of the shares of the club in May and have been very serious about making their club a successful one. 

    They tried snapping up Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov in the summer, and they are coming on strong for David Beckham this January. 

    PSG isn't attracting top stars as quickly as Manchester City did a few years ago, but they certainly seem serious about doing so. 

18. Hillsborough Files to Be Released

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    The British government announced in October that it would release files pertaining to the Hillsborough disaster after an e-petition garnered close to 140,000 signatures. 

    The Taylor Report has been public for years, but many supporters, including the Hillsborough Family Support Group, have wanted all information available for years so that justice for the 96 victims and their families may one day be carried out. 

17. Manchester United Fail to Make Champions League Knockout Stages

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    Manchester United bowed out of the Champions League this season before the knockout stages for the first time in six years, and they did it rather tamely. 

    Manchester City joined them, leaving just Chelsea and Arsenal to represent the Premier League in football's most elite club competition. 

    United have had moments of brilliance this season but for the most part have been underwhelming, and their short Champions League campaign exemplified that. 

    With Sir Alex Ferguson closing in on age 70, how many more years will he strive for that elusive third European Cup? 

16. Robin Van Persie

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    It doesn't matter what happens when the Ballon d'Or is presented in January, Robin van Persie has been the best footballer of 2011. 

    He scored 10 Premier League goals from January to February, setting a new record for the first two months in the year. In April, he scored in his seventh straight away game, breaking Didier Drogba's previous record, and he eventually stretched the record to nine. 

    He scored a total of 18 league goals between January and the end of the season, matching records set by Cristiano Ronaldo and Thierry Henry, and he didn't slow down when the new season started. 

    As captain, RvP has pulled Arsenal up from their terrible early-season form into real competitors for the top four and the Champions League. 

    In 2011, van Persie has, so far, scored 44 total goals and added 13 assists. Most important of all, he hasn't been injured. 

15. Will Wesley Sneijder Stay or Go?

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    With Inter Milan's struggles since Jose Mourinho left for Real Madrid, Wesley Sneijder has been one of the hottest names on the transfer market. Many thought the Dutch midfielder would follow Samuel Eto'o out the door last summer, with Manchester United and Chelsea two of his biggest suitors.

    Sneijder did his best to confuse everyone saying how committed he was to Inter but also how much he wanted to one day play in England. 

    With United struggling (by their high standards) so far this season, Sneijder's name will certainly be a big one in 2012 as well. The question is whether anything new will come of it. 

14. Samir Nasri/Luka Modric Transfer Sagas

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    Two more midfielders embroiled in transfer sagas last summer, Samir Nasri and Luka Modric, dragged theirs on to the very end. 

    Nasri jumped ship from a sinking Arsenal for Manchester City late in the summer transfer window, and Arsenal fans sure let him know how they felt (video not for delicate ears). 

    City may be flying at the top of the table, but Arsenal fans are at least happy that the Frenchman has had minimal if any effect on his new club at all. 

    Meanwhile, the Gunners' fiercest rivals managed to keep hold of their prized midfielder when the Premier League's original Billionaires in Blue came calling. 

    In a chase that lasted all summer, Chelsea eventually offered as much as £40 million for Tottenham's Luka Modric, and the Croatian even tried to force a move and refused to play in Spurs' opening match of the season. 

    Harry Redknapp and Daniel Levy were too strong for Roman Abramovich though, and Modric has again been an important player for Spurs.

    But don't kid yourselves, Spurs fans. This saga is far from over. 

13. Neymar

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    Neymar is the most talked-about young star in world football, and his Brazilian side Santos is fighting to keep him away from all of Europe's top sides.

    Real Madrid had a deal with him at one point, Barcelona are still on his radar and Chelsea can never be counted out to sign the 19-year-old forward.

    Santos has increased his wages to what many European sides would pay him in hopes of keeping him for a few more years, but if we've learned anything about football in recent years, it's that Neymar will be playing in the Champions League come next year.

    For whom, remains to be seen.  

12. Steve Kean

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    Steve Kean has to be the most hated manager in world football. Blackburn fans have been crying for his dismissal pretty much the whole year, and they don't seem any closer to get their wish.

    Kean replaced Sam Allardyce late last year when the latter was fired by the club's new owners Venkys Limited. He signed a two-year contract in January and hasn't a had pleasant time since.

    Blackburn have been in the relegation zone all season long, and fans have been calling for Kean's head more than supporting their team. As a slap in the face, Venkys handed Kean an improved, but not extended, contract in November.

    How long can the owners completely ignore the fans' wishes and more so, the results on the field?

    Kean was also arrested for drunk driving in August, fined and banned from driving for 18 months. Not a good year. 

11. John Terry Reclaims England Captaincy

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    It seems like the John Terry, England captaincy saga has been dragging on for years, doesn't it? Well, that's because it has. 

    Fabio Capello stripped Terry of the armband in early 2010 due to allegations into his personal life, but because of long-term injuries to Rio Ferdinand, Capello reinstated Terry as his captain in March 2011. 

    Capello probably hoped Terry would be able to keep his nose clean for at least a year, but that's just not how he operates. 

    Overall, Fabio, I'd say you handled this situation really well. 

10. David Beckham Wins MLS Cup

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    Even when he's not the best player playing in not the best league, David Beckham is still one of the biggest global stars in world football. 

    In the fifth year of his mega contract with MLS side LA Galaxy, Becks finally won the MLS Cup, his third league championship in a third country, after one of his best seasons in America (amazing what not racing over to Europe every offseason can do for your body). 

    Beckham's contract with Galaxy is up, meaning if he signs somewhere else, this could be the third time in his career he has won the league title in his final game with a side (Manchester United in '03 and Real Madrid in '07). 

9. Alex McLeish Goes from Birmingham to Aston Villa

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    After seeing his Birmingham City side relegated after their miraculous Carling Cup victory in February, Alex McLeish made the jump few men are willing to make. 

    McLeish resigned from Birmingham in June and took the manager's seat at arch-rivals Aston Villa just days later, the only man to ever go directly from one to the other and only the second man to manage both clubs. 

    Birmingham claimed McLeish was still under contract and filed a complaint with the Premier League, while Villa fans did not take kindly to their new boss. 

    Villa fans protested the appointment and even left anti-McLeish graffiti on the walls of their club's training ground. 

8. Gary Speed

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    Wales manager Gary Speed was found dead in his home in late November of an apparent suicide. The 42-year-old former midfielder had played for a number of English sides, and his death affected many across British football.

    Former teammates and politicians gave their condolences, and Aston Villa vs. Swansea City, which kicked off just hours after his death was announced, was played in his honor.

    A minute's silence was to be held before the match, but fans applauded and sang Speed's name instead. 

7. Arsenal's Collapse and Climb

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    Arsenal have had the most up-and-down year of any football club in the world.

    It started with a horrible defensive collapse against Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final that eventually led the Gunners out of the title race and all other competitions.

    It continued through the summer with messy transfers and a very poor start to the 2011-2012 season, which had them lingering above the drop zone and had fans calling for Arsene Wenger's head. 

    Just as quickly as they fell however, Arsenal have picked back up. The Gunners have been on a tear for the last few months of 2011, landing them in fifth place in the table, the knockout stages of the Champions League and looking in good position to challenge for a top-four position come May.

6. FIFA Presidential Election

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    2011 saw a FIFA Presidential Election, and sadly, Sepp Blatter ran unopposed. Mohammed bin Hamman of Qatar had been running against the three-time incumbent but dropped out shortly before the election amid investigations into the bidding for World Cup 2022.

    Bin Hamman and CONCACAF President Jack Warne were suspended in May while Blatter was cleared of any wrongdoing. Go figure. 

    Fortunately, Blatter stated during this campaign that he would not run for president again. Unfortunately, no one believes him. 

5. Racism

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    Racism has sadly been a hot topic in English football in recent months, with Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Chelsea's John Terry both being accused of racially abusing opponents during matches. 

    Suarez was eventually charged and banned eight matches by the FA for allegedly racially abusing Manchester United Patrice Evra, which he plans to appeal, while Terry is facing criminal charges over racist remarks her reportedly made to Anton Ferdinand. 

    However, if we're going by the esteemed Sepp Blatter, racism really isn't that big a deal and can be solved with a simple handshake. 

4. El Clasicos

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    El Clasico is the biggest rivalry in world football, and it got a whole lot nastier in 2011. 

    Barcelona have had all the glory in recent years, and Jose Mourinho was brought to Real Madrid in 2010 to rectify that. He got plenty of chances in 2011 as the sides faced off four times in 18 days late in the 2010-2011 season.

    In each of the games, Mourinho clearly sent his side out to bully the Barcelona players off the ball, and Pep Guardiola's men responded by throwing themselves all over the pitch every chance they got. 

    The most recent match the sides played, a 3-1 Barca win at the Bernabeu, had none of that nonsense, which is a good sign for more entertaining Clasicos in the future, considering the world's top two sides field some of the world's best players. 

3. Barcelona Finally Land Cesc Fabregas

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    The longest transfer saga of the last decade is finally over. Barcelona wanted Cesc Fabregas back from the moment they let him go to Arsenal as a youngster, and I don't know about you, but I was really getting tired of all the "Cesc is a Catalan at heart" talk.

    Barca players' embarrassing wooing of Fabregas and insults to Arsenal for keeping him from his true club finally worked, and Arsene Wenger let his captain go to Barca in the summer.

    Even with all the talent on Barca's bench, Fabregas has managed to lock down a starting spot with La Blaugrana and has been one of the side's top players this season.  

2. Carlos Tevez

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    Oh, Carlos Tevez. When he's happy, he's ecstatic, but it never lasts long, does it?

    Manchester City's Argentine striker seemed like he'd gotten over his homesickness for the first half of 2011, but come summer, he was a different person, saying in June he never wanted to return to Manchester, even on holiday

    When the new season started, however, everything was fine once more, until that little incident at Bayern Munich. Roberto Mancini named Tevez a substitute for the Champions League group match in September, but the manager said his player refused to come on in the second half when his side was 2-0 down.

    Mancini then claimed Tevez would never play for him again, and he was eventually placed on gardening leave, essentially meaning he wasn't allowed to come to work but was still paid in full (tough breaks). 

    So, as of now, Carlos Tevez is getting paid a ridiculous amount to do nothing, at least until City sell or possibly reinstate him. 

    Please do something with him. Otherwise, it's just insulting to the rest of us. 

1. Fernando Torres

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    For Fernando Torres, 2011 has to go down as the worst year of his professional life. 

    Late in January, he handed in a transfer request at Liverpool to force through a £50 million move to Chelsea.

    Overnight, he absolutely ruined his image in the eyes of Liverpool fans, who adored him from the moment he came over from Spain, and it seems he did something to ruin his image in the eyes of football fans everywhere. 

    In the last year, Torres has not looked like even a shadow of the world-class player he once was, and he's been relegated to the bench for Chelsea. 

    Torres has scored just three league goals and five total, with six assists, in 36 appearances for Chelsea. He's also added a handful of yellow cards and one extremely stupid red, and he supplied an unbelievable miss at Manchester United. 

    Now, if reports are to be believed, Chelsea could be ready to give up on the 27-year-old Spaniard and for only half what they paid. Talk about a bad investment. 

    Overall, 2011 was an all-around awful year if you're Fernando Torres. If you're a football fan though, it was pretty exciting.