football

A Look Back at 2016: The Biggest Footballing Stories of the Year

January 03, 2017

- Grant Whittington

They say that a year is a long time in politics, but in football it is a veritable lifetime. 2016 has been no exception to this rule, starting with lowly Shrewsbury’s FA Cup success against Championship high-flyers Sheffield Wednesday and ending with Bob Bradley’s dismissal from struggling Swansea after just 11 games in charge.

There have been some incredible twist and turns in-between, however, with 2016 likely to go down in history as one of the most thrilling and unpredictable domestic football seasons of all time. So, let’s take a nostalgic journey through the last 12 months and consider the stories that have captivated fans nationwide.

Now and Then: Football’s Incredible Year

We saw the first indication of what was to come in 2016 at the Etihad Stadium on 6th February, when table-topping Leicester City travelled to face rivals Manchester City. Although the Foxes were two points ahead of the Citizens at the top, many felt that their challenge would ultimately fall away and that City would make a grand statement in this top-of-the-table clash. Instead, Leicester produced a devastating display of counter-attacking football to thrash the blue half of Manchester 3-1, moving five points clear and convincing the world of their title credentials in the process.

We then saw the Foxes’ coronation in May, as Claudio Ranieri’s men completed their transformation from the Premier League’s basement boys to improbable title winners.

As if this was not enough, the summer also brought its fair share of surprises at the European Championships in France. Most of these were provided by eventual quarter-finalists Iceland, who belied their status as underdogs to qualify ahead of Portugal and stun England in the second round. Despite falling behind to an early Wayne Rooney penalty, rapid-fire strikes by Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson turned the tide and humiliated a panic-stricken Three Lions team. Manager Roy Hodgson resigned immediately after the defeat, while yet another inquest into the national team’s persistent failures began in earnest.

The Fleeting Reign of Allardyce and the Return of Mourinho

If underdogs dominated the headlines in the first part of 2016, however, it was members of the management fraternity who took centre stage from the autumn. First, Hodgson’s successor Sam Allardyce completed the shortest managerial role in the history of the national team, after a tabloid newspaper investigation suggested that the former Bolton boss had offered individuals advice on how to negate FA transfer regulations regarding third-party ownership. Then came Gareth Southgate’s surprising appointment, despite the credentials of young Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe.

Former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho also struggled to stay out of the headlines, despite taking a six month hiatus from the game after being sacked by the Blues in December 2015. In the worst kept secret of 2016, the Portuguese was announced as Manchester United manager just hours after Louis Van Gaal’s charges had lifted the FA Cup. This followed hot on the heels of Pep Guardiola’s appointment by Manchester City, as the most ferocious managerial rivalry of modern times resumed in the Premier League.

The End of a Stunning Year and the Beginning of Another?

In some respects, the end of 2016 has provided something of an ant-climax to the rest of the year. With a familiar look to the top four in the EPL and Chelsea established as clear Premier League favourites (and surprise champions Leicester struggling in the bottom half of the table), for example, the traditional orders appears to have been re-established while the newly-promoted clubs once again struggle to establish themselves.

January brings a New Year and considerable optimism, however, particularly as the FA Cup offers every chance of a surprise result or giant-killing. Who knows, such a result could serve as a catalyst for another year of mayhem in the world of football, where shocks and surprises lurk around every corner.

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