Chicken farmers, an octopus and the rise of the Belgians: 2010 remembered
If Sid Lowe can do it, why canÃ¢ÂÂt I? The esteemed interpreter of Spanish football gives out the Sids at the end of every season, so IÃ¢ÂÂm going to dish out the Simmos as I review a year in which football spectacularly lost the plot.
Some of the decision making Ã¢ÂÂ and I donÃ¢ÂÂt just mean by referees Ã¢ÂÂ displayed a kind of crazed incompetence seldom seen since Caligula promoted his favourite horse Incitatus to the Roman senate. It was a year in which England contrived to lose two World Cups, Rafa Benitez lost two jobs and a Spanish newspaper declared that the sermon on the mount was Ã¢ÂÂin fact a prophecy of Leo MessiÃ¢ÂÂ.
The mismatch of the year
No not Zilina v Marseille, or even Rooney v Ferguson, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad v Paul the Octopus. The Iranian president accused the now late, lamented psychic octopus who correctly called the outcome of eight World Cup matches, of spreading Ã¢ÂÂWestern propaganda and superstitionÃ¢ÂÂ.
The funniest example of English footballÃ¢ÂÂs insular closed shop mentality
All and sundry Ã¢ÂÂ from Sir Alex Ferguson to Lou Macari and Mark Lawrenson Ã¢ÂÂ have lined up to condemn the Indian chicken farmers who own Blackburn and had the unmitigated gall to sack Ã¢ÂÂBigÃ¢ÂÂ Sam Allardyce. Graham Taylor has even threatened to boycott turkey and chicken in protest.
The sub-text here is what makes a couple of Ã¢ÂÂIndian chicken farmersÃ¢ÂÂ Ã¢ÂÂ and you have to say those three words with just the right amount of indignant disgust in your voice Ã¢ÂÂ think they know more about football than Sam, Sir Alex or Graham?
IÃ¢ÂÂm not sure if the objection is to the fact that theyÃ¢ÂÂre Indian (surely not) or chicken farmers or whether the fact that they are Indian and chicken farmers somehow compounds the insult to Allardyce, Blackburn Rovers and English football.
But AllardyceÃ¢ÂÂs departure doesnÃ¢ÂÂt seem that odd or appalling to me. Playing Big SamÃ¢ÂÂs way, Blackburn were never going to be more than a middle of the road Premier League team. Every so often they would flirt with relegation while, with a bit of luck, they might qualify for the UEFA Europa League (where, with their style of football, they would win few converts and probably not progress very far). ThatÃ¢ÂÂs not the kind of business plan which would persuade anyone to part with ÃÂ£23million of their hard earned cash is it?
The timing may have been stupid but IÃ¢ÂÂm not sure the decision was.
The most compelling parallel between the works of Michelangelo and the career of Frank Lampard
In Alan BennettÃ¢ÂÂs diary in the London Review Of Books, his entry for 7 April 2010 reads: Ã¢ÂÂThe open mouth of ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs Frank Lampard, having scored a goal, is also the howl of the face of the damned man in MichelangeloÃ¢ÂÂs The Last Judgement.Ã¢ÂÂ If you donÃ¢ÂÂt believe him, see for yourself.
The most underrated trend
Belgian defenders. Vincent Kompany is now finally proving his quality at Manchester City (where his compatriot Dedryck Boyata is showing much promise). Marouane Fellaini has become a hero at Everton. Thomas Vermaelen settled brilliantly at Arsenal. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are first choice at the heart of AjaxÃ¢ÂÂs back four. Nicolas Lombaerts has won the Russian title with Zenit St Petersburg. For a country that languishes at 57 in the Fifa rankings and has a population of just 10.4m that is some conveyor belt.
The most crushing disappointment
The World Cup bidding process. Transparent, understandable and free from any hint of corruption Ã¢ÂÂ the battle to host 2018 and 2022 should have been all of these and wasnÃ¢ÂÂt. In public, Sepp Blatter may pillory the English as bad losers Ã¢ÂÂ even though the US, Australia, Spain and Portugal were just as disgruntled Ã¢ÂÂ but you would hope that privately, with such stalwarts as Franz Beckenbauer expressing doubts about the process, even he can see the need for change. Only one winner emerged from this flawed process: the construction industry which stands to gain ÃÂ£41bn in revenue from these two tournaments.
The most inspirational moment
Eran ZahaviÃ¢ÂÂs bicycle kick for Hapoel Tel Aviv against Lyon. A breathtaking piece of swivelling, improvised, genius. The 23-year-old attacking midfielder has improved over the last five years with Hapoel and is enjoying the most prolific season of his career. Zahavi has already been linked with clubs in Belgium and may move on for a decent fee this summer.
The most transformational coach
Not the Special One. Not even Joachim Low who coached the most entertaining team in South Africa and reinvented, through brilliant improvisation, the two man screen in midfield. For me, the man who over-achieved most spectacularly in the dugout was Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa, who helped Chile qualify for their first World Cup (they were hosts in 1962), beat Argentina for the first time ever in a competitive match and changed the national teamÃ¢ÂÂs culture, encouraging his young, gifted side to be more attacking away from home. It seems sadly typical that Bielsa quit in November because he felt he couldnÃ¢ÂÂt work with the new president of the Chilean FA.
The most intriguing remark about the state of football
ItÃ¢ÂÂs hard to beat BlatterÃ¢ÂÂs observation that Ã¢ÂÂFootball has become a monster, but a positive monster.Ã¢ÂÂ The longer you think about the remark the more baffling it becomes. Ã¢ÂÂMonster!Ã¢ÂÂ was, of course, the catchphrase of uber agent Eric Hall who is now, so his Wikipedia page says, hosting a golden oldies Sunday afternoon show on BBC Radio Essex.
The least memorable pundit
Has to be Alan Shearer. I cannot remember a single observation he made in 2010. Actually thatÃ¢ÂÂs a lie: my respect for him soared when the shambles of England v Germany in Bloemfontein moved him to angry eloquence. Sadly, he doesnÃ¢ÂÂt get that angry very often.
The most annoying clichÃÂ©
That Dimitar Berbatov doesnÃ¢ÂÂt run enough. The BulgarianÃ¢ÂÂs real flaw is that he doesnÃ¢ÂÂt impose his very obvious genius on games often enough. Despite what many people in English football seem to think, running is not an end in itself.
The player of the year
Antonio Cassano, the maverick genius of calcio who has just strolled into the last chance saloon at Milan. The player who confided in his memoirs that at best heÃ¢ÂÂd given not 110%, or even 100% but around 50% on the pitch has impressed and appalled in almost equal measure. But in an age where many football teams feature the bland leading the bland, Cassano is never dull. It would be great if Milan could find a way to make constructive use of a player who once ran away from Fabio Capello on the training ground prompting the coach to shout: Ã¢ÂÂDonÃ¢ÂÂt run, only cowards runÃ¢ÂÂ.
The team of the year
MourinhoÃ¢ÂÂs Inter. They didnÃ¢ÂÂt play attractive, expansive football but they knew precisely what they were doing, performed heroically at Camp Nou and clinically at Stamford Bridge and the Bernabeu. They were a proper team and the intelligence with which they played was fascinating to watch.
The Incitatus award for someone promoted above his or her level of competence
There are so many contenders but the clear winner must be Gigi Becali, the Romanian MEP who owns Steaua Bucharest, has a painting based on da VinciÃ¢ÂÂs Last Supper with himself as Jesus (and the players and coaches depicted as his disciples) upon his wall and sacks coaches faster than you can say Ã¢ÂÂIndian chicken farmersÃ¢ÂÂ. In 2010, the Romanian giants have been managed by Ille Dumitrescu, Marius Lacatus, Victor Piturca and Mihai Stoichita. Piturca has had five spells as coach while Lacatus is now in his third stint in the hottest seat in European football. Becali is, as Tommy Docherty used to say, Ã¢ÂÂa legend in his own mindÃ¢ÂÂ.