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New year, new football

Reports suggest that Messi is growing increasingly unhappy at Barcelona. ©Wikimedia

Every year witnesses the proliferation of messages about new years bringing the chance for renewal and revitalisation. Of course, football does not necessarily move in the same temporal circles as the rest of society. The start of the new season is much more markworthy than the start of the new calendar year. But let’s not dwell on that, and instead highlight some of the things that may or may not prove to be interesting over the course of 2015. 

 

Wilfried Bony, excited for the Africa Cup of Nations.  ©Wikimedia
Wilfried Bony, excited for the Africa Cup of Nations. ©Wikimedia

Africa Cup of Nations

With Wilfried Bony completing his £28 million move to Manchester City, the champions have solved their immediate striking problems in no way whatsoever. This is because Bony and the rest of Africa’s elite will be shipping off to Equatorial Guinea this January for the Africa Cup of Nations. Equatorial Guinea fill the hosting position vacated by Morocco as a consequence of Ebola scares, and the infrastructure and stadia is illustrative of their stand-in nature. But the tournament should provide some pulsating action on the field, with a group comprised of Ghana, Algeria, South Africa and Senegal looking particularly tantalising.

Two Torres

Remember when Fernando Torres was one of the best strikers in the world? Because he clearly does not. With the possibility of recapturing whatever spark he once had, Torres has returned home to his first club Atletico Madrid, where he burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced flowing-haired youngster. Confidence is surely the key, with familiar surroundings hopefully conducive to the instinctive striking that made Torres so feared at his peak. If he flops, as he has proven so adequate at doing, then it is time to finally accept that Torres is past it at the ripe old age of 30.

The fantastic four

The battle for the top four spots in the league has evinced a level of intrigue not seen in recent seasons. Can Ronald Koeman take a Southampton side who were hugely unfancied at the start of the season on a European adventure in 2015, in the Champions League no less? Will Tottenham finally unpick the enigma that is their squad, and use Harry Kane’s goals as a solid bedrock for a consistent run of form? Can a resurgent Sam Allardyce really guide West Ham to unprecedented heights in the league? Or maybe, just maybe, Arsenal will finish fourth.

Mings can only get better

There are many promising English youngsters to keep on radars this year, but one that might be slightly overlooked is Ipswich Town’s Tyrone Mings. Not that he will be overlooked for much longer, with Arsenal and Chelsea reputed to be sniffing around the athletic left-back. The bad smell of a £10 million price tag seems to have warded off suitors in January, but summer will either witness Ipswich’s promotion or Mings’ departure. Claims that Wenger and Mourinho perceive him as a centre-back in the making seem bizarre considering his marauding runs and obvious technical ability, but his imposing physique and impressive recovery pace certainly suggest that he has the versatility to play anywhere. Well-publicised charitable acts from this grounded 21 year-old reflect his meteoric rise from non-league to Championship title contenders in the space of a couple of years; refreshingly, his feet are on the ground and he has not forgotten his roots.

Champagne Moment

Could 2015 be the year to give us that most glorious gift? Is this the year where the footballing world will be able to wave a goodbye (with both middle fingers, presumably) to Sepp Blatter? Yes, he took the World Cup to Africa, and that was wonderful. But not content with one radical World Cup location, the footballing tournament will next take place in the racist and dangerous Russia, and the subsequent one will be tackling the rampant homophobia, unjust labour laws and crippling heat of Qatar. Thank you Sepp, you truly are a pioneer. He will also be remembered for his uselessness in the face of inarguable corruption, for his refusal to leave power despite promises to the contrary (which sure does not bode well for this year), and for that hilarious time when he spectacularly fell over. One of the contenders for the throne in which Blatter’s ass-groove will now be firmly marked is Jerome Champagne, who has called for quotas on foreign players, the rule from rugby where only the captain may speak to the referee, and, somewhat unsurprisingly, more transparency within FIFA. The other serious threat is Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, who also wants FIFA to be less secretive. Whether either candidate can source sufficient backing to topple Blatter remains to be seen; Sepp has secrets that he ideally wants to remain that way, and he will do whatever he can for that means.

World Cup year

In June the world’s gaze will turn to Canada for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Japan arrive as holders in a tournament comprised of 52 games; that’s one for every week of the year! Credit to The Yorker’s Financial Director Tom Leach for that one, proving he’s not just good with money. England go with optimism, looking to build on consecutive quarter-final appearances. Failure in quarter-finals sounds familiar, doesn’t it? A 100% record in qualification bodes well, but that often means so little when the tournament gets underway. One can hope that both England and the host nation gets swept up in the euphoria that comes with the World Cup.

Steven Gerrard faces some non-adoring fans. ©Wikimedia
Steven Gerrard faces some non-adoring fans. ©Wikimedia

The American Dream

There will be floods in Merseyside on the day that Steven Gerrard first pulls on his new LA Galaxy shirt, with Liverpool fans shedding tears and forced to face the inescapable reality of their idol’s departure. At least Gerrard is removing himself far enough away that his reverence in the Kop will remain unstinted. Manchester City are breathing down the neck of Chelsea, and Chelsea legend Frank Lampard has played a crucial role. Lampard will eventually join up with David Villa at New York City, unless Manchester decide that he is too valuable to let leave. Ultimately Gerrard and Lampard will spend the end of their careers strutting their stuff in the sun, and possibly finding one more piece of silverware to polish.

Cheddy, steady, no

What can be said about Ched Evans that has not been said already? Very little, at least until he finds a club whose owners have skin as thick as his own. One wonders why Evans is so keen to pursue a career in a profession where he may be resented in his own dressing rooms and where he will certainly be vociferously abused in stadiums across the land. Similarly, one wonders why so many clubs are purported to be willing to consider signing someone who spent much of his career being mediocre until he dropped to League One. Baggage he has aplenty, and contrition he lacks entirely. There will be developments in the Ched Evans saga in 2015, and there is a very real chance that he will be appearing on a club’s 2016 calendar. It just won’t be Oldham Athletic’s.

Victor or loser?

Keep an eye out for someone recently considered one of the world’s premier goalkeepers, as he presumably warms the bench at Old Trafford in a way that Anders Lindegaard never could. Perhaps he can dislodge the currently imperious David De Gea, or potentially he has signed in view of Manchester United cashing in on their incumbent Number 1. Or maybe, as the more cynical will say, he will collect a very nice sum of money for sitting on a very comfortable bench.

Getting Messi in Chelsea

When hearing about the possibility of Lionel Messi donning Chelsea colours the mind almost releases an involuntary shudder, unless you are of a Chelsea or a Real Madrid disposition. Messi in the shirt of a club team other than Barcelona would look as out of place as a celebrity in the Celebrity Big Brother house. Ultimately, the hefty transfer free required to prise him out of Catalan hearts will probably prove too daunting even for Roman Abramovich. Footballing purists will hope that Messi rediscovers his happiness at the Nou Camp. Chelsea fans will be changing their sheets every morning after nights dreaming of Fabregas, Hazard, Costa and Messi working their magic together. Alas Messi will probably prove too expensive, which seems counter-intuitive when talking about Chelsea.

Reports suggest that Messi is growing increasingly unhappy at Barcelona. ©Wikimedia
Reports suggest that Messi is growing increasingly unhappy at Barcelona. ©Wikimedia