B/R World Football Awards 2011: Starring Messi, Beckham, Barca & Balotelli
Aside from being the most SEO-friendly opening paragraph in football history, it's also a name-dropping introduction to a timely review of the footballing calendar year.
Ladies and gentleman, allow me to present the inaugural Bleacher Report World Football Awards...
Goal of the Year: Neymar
But of the three candidates for this year's FIFA Puskas Award, this goal by Neymar for Santos is the most impressive in my opinion.
The teenager's remarkable poise, pace and technique were unleashed in a burst of Mohawk-ed brilliance, which culminated in a goal from absolutely nothing. Hopefully we'll see more of the same when the Brazilian completes an inevitable move to Europe in 2012.
Most Entertaining Performer: Mario Balotelli
Manchester City's Mario Balotelli has had a busy 2011. Here are some of the highlights...
- He won £25,000 in a casino and decided to give £1,000 away to a tramp outside.
- He got really, really confused trying to put a bib on.
- He had a training bust-up with Micah Richards.
Amidst all of that, he celebrated a goal for Manchester CIty by revealing a T-shirt bearing the slogan, "Why me?"
Without him, the Premier League would be a far duller place.
Renaissance Man: David Beckham
In 2007, LA Galaxy built a golden bridge across the Atlantic Ocean and offered David Beckham extraordinary riches to ignite their franchise and take soccer to the masses in the U.S.
It took him four years to deliver, but in leading Galaxy to the 2011 MLS Cup, Beckham finally came good on some of that investment. He was influential in the success of Bruce Arena's team and found himself named in the MLS Team of the Year for the first time.
Beckham was also named MLS Comeback Player of the Year, as he demonstrated the fierce work ethic and commitment that made him a star in the first place.
One last dance beckons at Paris Saint-Germain, but it's only a matter of time before Beckham returns to lead a franchise of his own in the MLS.
Feel-Good Story of the Year: Republic of Ireland Reach the Euros
Everybody loves the Republic of Ireland. They're the lovable underdogs of international football who take an army of good-spirited fans wherever they go.
It had been nine years since the Irish had graced a major tournament. In 2009 they stood a playoff against France away from reaching the World Cup, only for Thierry Henry to do this. How we wanted the memory erased when a playoff opportunity arose again in 2011.
Estonia were the opponents this time, with Giovanni Trapattoni's team two games away from Euro 2012. A nation held its breath, but an emphatic 4-0 away win in the first leg made the return a party.
Expect the celebrations to continue all the way through to next summer's finals, where the Irish will face Spain, Italy and Croatia.
Player of the Year: Lionel Messi
Sorry Cristiano Ronaldo, but you were unfortunate enough to be born into the same generation as one of the truly great players.
Lionel Messi scored 53 goals in all competitions for Barcelona in the 2010-11 season. The Argentine genius is on track to match that in the current campaign, which is testament not only to his incredible talent, but also to the physical prowess that has kept him relatively untroubled by injuries.
Messi was hugely influential in the 2011 Champions League final and also in the semifinal against Real Madrid. He's so prolific in the role behind the main striker that Barca don't really need a striker anymore.
The 2011 Ballon d'Or is surely his, and the odds on a fourth straight title in 2012 will be short.
Team of the Year: Barcelona
Another straightforward decision. Pep Guardiola's men won the Spanish title and the Champions League in 2011, as their remarkably slick passing game continued to prevail.
Guardiola's reign is now a dynasty, and his team the best of its generation. Some are already calling them the best of all time, and a similar success story in 2012 will further their argument.
Guardiola has won 13 of 16 possible trophies during his time at Barca, with the most recent triumph coming with a 4-0 win against Santos in the Club World Cup.
Tedious Transfer Saga of the Year: Carlos Tevez
By the time you read this article, Carlos Tevez will have been linked to 1,459 football clubs and played yet another 18 holes with his golf clubs in Argentina.
With Tevez the saga is always running, but the key moment in 2011 came when he allegedly refused to warm up for Manchester City in a Champions League game away to Bayern Munich.
Tevez was charged with a breach of contract and given a fine. City manager Roberto Mancini said he'd never play for the club again, and thus began an endless flurry of transfer speculation. Tevez's agent, Kia Joorabchian, has been frothing at the mouth with excitement ever since.
As we stand, AC Milan are favourites to land his signature in January. The Italians clearly know a thing about handling difficult personalities. They have Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Kevin Prince-Boateng already on board.
Shocking Result of the Year: Manchester Utd 1-6 Manchester City
Manchester United's 6-1 defeat to City has been the given classic Nazi overdub treatment, but not even a furious Hitler can capture the anger and embarrassment United fans suffered in the wake of the Old Trafford humiliation.
United had started the season in confident mood, beating Arsenal, 8-2, and looking every bit the defending champions. "We're Man United, we'll do what we want," sang the fans at every opportunity as they anticipated title No. 20.
City were a looming threat with their vast financial resources and the trophy monkey finally off the back, but nobody in football saw what was coming on Sunday 23rd October.
City swarmed all over their neighbours in the closing exchanges, becoming the first team to score six at Old Trafford since 1930. Sir Alex Ferguson suffered his darkest day as United manager, and the title race was completely turned on its head.
United have all too predictably steadied their ship since, and the two Manchester teams currently stand level on points at the top of the Premier League. What happens next will definitely be worth watching.
Quote(s) of the Year: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was already a pretty divisive character. Then came his 2011 book, Jag Ar Zlatan, which provided football writers with ridiculous quotes in such quantity we'll still be using them well into 2012.
Here's my personal favourite, which relates to his time at Barcelona:
(Guardiola) was staring at me and I lost it. I thought ‘there is my enemy, scratching his bald head!’. I yelled to him: 'You have no balls!’ and probably worse things than that. I added: ‘You are -----ing yourself because of Jose Mourinho. You can go to hell!’
"I was completely mad. I threw a box full of training gear across the room, it crashed to the floor and Pep said nothing, just put stuff back in the box. I’m not violent, but if I were Guardiola I would have been frightened.
Here's another one for good measure.
Then Guardiola started his philosopher thing. I was barely listening. Why would I? It was advanced bull---- about blood, sweat and tears, that kind of stuff.
I asked for a meeting with Guardiola–for a discussion, not an argument. I said I was being used in the wrong way and that they shouldn’t have bought me if they wanted another type of player.
"I told him what a friend had said to me—‘you bought a Ferrari but drive it like a Fiat’. The chat seemed to go well but then Guardiola started to freeze me out.
Scandal of the Year: Luis Suarez/John Terry
Two allegations of racism dominate the football agenda as 2011 draws to a close.
Luis Suarez has been banned for eight games and fined £40,000 by the FA in relation to an exchange between the Liverpool striker and Manchester United's Patrice Evra. Suarez's lawyers have confirmed he'll appeal.
Meanwhile, Chelsea and England captain John Terry will face criminal charges relating to an alleged racist slur he delivered to Queens Park Rangers' Anton Ferdinand.
Expect both cases to drag on well into 2012. For Terry, the England captaincy and a place at Euro 2012 is at stake. Suarez carries with him the complete faith of one of the world's great football clubs.