Football review of 2012
A look back at how the football year of 2012 unfolded, including Manchester City's dramatic Premier League success.
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"I swear you will never see anything like this ever again".
The immortal line from Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler applied to the breathtaking conclusion of last season's Premier League title race, as Sergio Aguero won the trophy for Manchester City with almost the final kick of the campaign.
But, let us be honest, it could have related to 2012's footballing year.
It has been a truly spectacular 12 months for sport as a whole and the 'beautiful game' played its part.
There has been title-winning team brilliance and record-breaking individual displays but at the same there has been sadness and those instances to forget, when it has felt like off-field events took too much of the focus.
Away from Aguero reducing grown Manchester City fans to tears, the purity of Lionel Messi's year-long radiance cannot be ignored. The Argentine ripped up the history books to score the highest number of goals in a calendar year and underline his reputation as the best footballer of all time.
Chelsea and Spain also had a sense of phenomenal achievement.
The latter were victorious at Euro 2012 to bolster their status as the greatest team in football's archive.
Di Matteo was not the only manager to become unemployed in a typically frantic year on the merry-go-round.
To name just a few, Pep Guardiola decided to leave Barcelona and Kop idol Kenny Dalglish was shown the door at Liverpool despite winning the League Cup. Fabio Capello also quit England amid the row surrounding demoted captain John Terry and accusations of racism, for which the defender was later cleared in court but was handed a Football Association ban and fine.
A Capello-less England went to Euro 2012 with Roy Hodgson as their boss after he was picked ahead of Harry Redknapp, who himself made a court appearance when being acquitted of tax evasion.
But it was a familiar story of penalty pain in a quarter-final defeat by Italy.
Stuart Pearce's Great Britain football team, without the overlooked David Beckham, also crashed out on spot-kicks when making an historic appearance at the London Olympics.
Off the field, transfer windows have become as much a part of football as two posts and a crossbar.
In January, Papiss Cisse's £9million move to Newcastle proved value for money in the second half of last season while the deadline-day switch of Nikica Jelavic from Rangers to Everton was also funds well spent.
Swansea's bargain deal for Michu looks like being the pick of the buys in a summer which also saw Robin van Persie leave Arsenal for Manchester United.
But it has not been a year of complete happiness.
Bolton's Fabrice Muamba suffered an on-field cardiac arrest which stunned the world in his club's FA Cup game at Tottenham before he went on to make a miraculous recovery.
There was also sad news at the end of the year, when coach Tito Vilanova suffered a relapse in his fight against cancer having led Barcelona to a record-breaking start to the season only months after succeeding Guardiola.
The battle against racism in football has also been forced to continue, and perhaps intensify, with the Terry case sadly just one of several reported to authorities and police throughout the year.
Elsewhere, there was more negative news as the previously unthinkable happened when Scottish giants Rangers were liquidated and had to reform as a newco before beginning this season in the Third Division.
The year ended on a positive note for the bereaved Hillsborough families, as the original inquest verdicts into the 1989 disaster, when 96 people lost their lives, was quashed in the High Court.
Player of the Year: Lionel Messi
Messi somehow surpassed even his own high standards. The year of 2011 had yielded a fantastic 59 goals for the man with three consecutive awards as the best player in the world, as well as a La Liga win, and a third Champions League title secured at Wembley. But this was all just a preview of what was still to come in 2012. Ninety goals for club and country later and Messi is the undoubtedly sole contender for the 'Best Player of 2012' award. Gerd Muller's 40-year-old goalscoring record fell. Even his supposed underachievement for Argentina was cast aside, with 12 goals from nine appearances. Although titles were not as easy to come by, it is impossible to believe they will not follow. This was a year like no other - unmatched by any individual player before, and with Messi looking to be the only challenger to his own throne as the world's greatest player.
Manager of the Year: Neil Lennon
There have been a number of contenders for the manager of the year but Celtic boss Neil Lennon defied the odds in Europe. In his first season as a Champions League manager, Lennon has guided Celtic to the last 16 of Europe's premier competition despite having one of the smallest budgets. Before a ball was kicked, Celtic's chances of progressing were written off by many after being drawn against Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow. But Lennon has confounded the critics by leading the Scottish champions into the knockout stages in style. He showed astute tactical nous in guiding the club to one of their greatest ever victories with the 2-1 success over European titans Barcelona at Celtic Park in November. Lennon's success against the cream of Europe has seen his stock rise considerably and there are sure to be a number of Premier League clubs monitoring his progress.
Team of the Year: Spain
Never before has an international side claimed three major tournaments, including the World Cup, in succession or retained the European Championship. But there again, there has never been an international side like the modern Spain. In 2012, the Spanish national team again excelled beyond any levels thought possible. Starting without a striker for much of Euro 2012, the Spanish were unfairly criticised for their playing style - all up until the final, when they ran riot in a 4-0 victory over Italy, the biggest in European Championship finals history. From the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Iker Casillas in the starting XI, to the host of leading Premier League stars who can only make it as squad players, the Spanish have a collection of players that anyone would envy, and the titles to match. That dominance shows no sign of waning anytime soon. In 2012, Spain showed us all how it should be done once again.
Moment of the Year: Chelsea win Champions League
It had been a long, long time coming but on May 19, Chelsea finally ended their much-hyped search for Champions League glory. With Barcelona somehow ousted at the semi-final stage, Roberto Di Matteo's men travelled to the Allianz Arena with the daunting task of doing the same to Bayern Munich on their own turf. A cagey 83 minutes into the encounter, Bayern were on course for title number five after Thomas Muller scored a late strike. But Chelsea refused to be beaten and Didier Drogba sent the clash into extra time and eventually penalties with his last-gasp equaliser. Cue a nail-biting shoot-out, during which the Blues finally banished the pain of defeat by Manchester United on penalties in the 2008 final in Moscow by overthrowing their hosts 4-3, with Drogba fittingly smashing home the winning penalty in what was his last kick in a Chelsea shirt as history was made.
Goal of the Year: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
There can be only one. The goal that sent the world into raptures. The goal that very few players would even attempt, let alone score. But after all, there is only one Zlatan. The brand-new Friends Arena in Stockholm is unlikely to witness a better goal and even though Sweden's 4-2 win over England in November was just a friendly, the sheer audacity and sublime execution of Ibrahimovic's effort means it may have already passed into football folklore. Quibble all you like about goalkeeper Joe Hart's positioning and the retreating Three Lions defence but the rest of us will revel in Zlatan's outrageous speed of thought, his high-kicking kung-fu athleticism, and his phenomenal precision from a shot where any sort of control is a secondary concern to the main task of actually getting your foot to the ball in the first place. Simply brilliant.
Signing of the Year: Michu
There are a few candidates for this but there can only be one winner and that is Swansea's summer capture of Michu. Costing less than £3million, many bigger clubs dithered about the Rayo Vallecano man, however, Michael Laudrup knew what he was getting. But even the Swansea boss must be amazed by how well Michu has settled in the Premier League. He is a brilliant player whose form has captured the attention of Spain coach Vicente del Bosque. There should also be honourable mentions in this category for Jason Roberts, who inspired Reading's promotion bid after a January move, and Papiss Demba Cisse, who took the Premier League by storm with Newcastle United at the end of last season with 13 goals in his first 14 games.
Flop of the Year: Queens Park Rangers
For all the lofty ambitions and deep pockets of chairman Tony Fernandes, Queens Park Rangers have endured an annus horribilis throughout 2012. The year started with the sacking of Neil Warnock and the appointment of Mark Hughes, with the former Manchester City boss the second-biggest spender in the January transfer window. A paltry six Premier League victories were secured, with survival only achieved by a solitary point on a nerve-shredding final day. Further significant funds were lavished in the summer but an additional 16 top-flight games of the new season had ticked by, with Hughes now relieved of his duties and replaced by Harry Redknapp, before QPR were to win again. The Loftus Road outfit may no longer be bottom of the pile but they spend Christmas in the relegation zone and need a significant upturn in fortunes if they are to avoid an embarrassing return to the Championship.