By Amos Joseph
Football witnessed a series of monumental events in 2021 despite the threats posed by the coronavirus pandemic from the previous year to date.
UEFA Champions League Final:
It was an all-English final involving two of the Premier League’s finest, Chelsea and Manchester City. Thomas Tuchel had recently taken over affairs at Stamford Bridge and he was looking to mark an impressive beginning against a Pep Guardiola who had been tagged favourite to clinch the title.
How can we forget the early near misses from both sides? Timo Werner was a constraint thorn in the flesh of the men from Etihad Stadium. But with less than four minutes to end the first half, Kai Havert took advantage of the space between City’s center back to slot home in a 1v1 with Ederson to put Chelsea ahead. He was the club’s most expensive signing at the time before the return of Romelu Lukaku. He cost the Blues around £72m from Leverkusen in 2020, he had to live up to his billing. His goal settled the tie to help Chelsea secure their second Champions League title. You just might want to catch up on the highlights again. Breathtaking.
Football didn’t come home (Euros 2020)
The pandemic made it impossible to hold Europe’s nation’s cup tournament, and it was eventually staged in the 2021 summer. The event further marked the gradual return of spectators to the stadium as some venues approved between 25% – 100% capacity. To the games proper. Let’s not open the wounds, but it is safe to say that it was an emotional outing for the Three Lions of England. Gareth Southgate’s men were held on their home ground in Wembley despite taking the lead in the early minutes of the final. Kieran Trippier’s switch to the left side found Luke Shaw who struck home to send England fans both in and out of the stadium into a frenzy. It was coming home until Leonardo Bonucci’s 66th-minute equalizer sent the match into extra time, and later penalties. The Azzurri converted more penalties than the Lions to claim their first trophy in the competition in 53 years.
Lionel Messi left Barcelona & won Ballon d’Or
Arguably one of the most unbelievable stories of the year. To see Messi leave Barcelona seemed impossible for the club, fans, and the football community. But it did happen as events concerning the club’s financials necessitated the move to join Paris Saint-German. The club hesitated to accept their reality but it appeared impossible to continue to keep the 6th time Ballon d’Or winner. To date, many are yet to come to terms with the event. Highly impactful player as he is, his debut match for Mauricio Pochettino’s tutored PSG had a record-breaking effect on Ligue 1 fixture against Reims. Reports from France suggested that the match became the most-watched as it was viewed by more than 10.5 million viewers, the highest in the country ever. The numbers from Spain were impressive, the audience also peaked at about 6.7 million without mentioning other platforms. The world sure knows the ultimate objective of the club but will Messi be able to help them achieve the UCL title feat? Only time shall tell.
Having won the Copa America with Argentina the coast became clear for the 34-year-old to win his 7th Ballon d’Or trophy edging Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski, Real’s Karim Benzema, and Chelsea Italian midfielder, Jorginho. This award got the world talking, and once again beamed the lights on the credibility of the awards.
Biennial FIFA World Cup proposal
FIFA wants the world’s most glamorous event to hold every two years. You wouldn’t be wrong to call it the most controversial news in recent times. FIFA and its proponents have termed it an opportunity for all citing that the tournament will be able to generate about $3.5bn solidarity scheme to support less developed footballing nations. FIFA also said that the world cup in two years will further generate “a combined additional $4.4bn (£3.3bn) in revenue from the first four-year cycle.”
Those on the other side of the divide think it is a selfish plan that will kill football. UEFA and South America’s Conmebol have voiced their displeasure with the plan arguing that it would impact the financial health of their continental and club competitions.
At this time no one is sure where the pendulum will swing but FIFA’s number one, Gianni Infantino had earlier stated that everyone would need to be on the same page for the plan to fly. While we await the full finding from the feasibility studies in early 2022, it should be noted that the Confederation of African Football (CAF), The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association of Football (CONCACAF), and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have given their nod to the plan.
AFCON 2021 and European Concerns
The Africa Cup of Nations will be held in Cameroon between 9 January – 6 February 2022. The original plan was to hold the competition in 2020 but it was moved due to the covid-19 pandemic. Now, the reality for most European clubs is that they will lose some of their star performers, and they threatened not to release the players for the African showpiece. The European Club Association in a letter to FIFA made three demands regarding releasing players for Afcon. These concerns bother on the welfare of the players, clubs are not forced to release the players, and that they should be allowed to return to their clubs in time.
Although the soundbites from Cameroon and CAF are that the tournament will go ahead come January, FIFA’s Gianni Infantino has suggested that Afcon be played in the autumn window. Recall that the timing for Afcon was moved in 2017 to avoid the club and country row but here we are again.