The Football Year in Images: Part 3
There was no Euro 2020 to keep us entertained through the summer, but in place of a single international tournament came denouements to a host of major club competitions across Europe.
That meant joy for some of the biggest names in football, and dismay for others. There were also heartwarming success stories lower down the pyramid – not to mention a couple of sad farewells.
The England World Cup-winning class of 1966 lost another of its members in July, with the passing of Jack Charlton at the age of 85. But Big Jack wasn't just an England centre-back and big brother to another World Cup winner in Sir Bobby; he was also the coach who inspired and thrilled a nation when leading the Republic of Ireland to the 1990 World Cup quarter finals, and a one-club man who spent the whole of his 21-year career as a player with Leeds United. Farewell to a football legend.
A week to the day after Big Jack passed away, his old club were celebrating confirmation of their promotion back to the Premier League after no fewer than 17 seasons away. After a late collapse in their first season under Marcelo Bielsa, culminating in a heartbreaking playoff semi-final defeat by Frank Lampard's Derby County, Leeds United made no such mistakes second time round. The people took to the streets to celebrate not just a return to the top flight, but doing so as Championship winners. Best not look too closely at the sign in the bottom right there, eh?
End of an era
For every promoted team, there has to be one relegated. Norwich had already fallen through the Premier League trapdoor by the time the final day of the season came around at the end of July, but with Aston Villa earning the point they needed for survival at West Ham, Watford and Bournemouth would follow them. For the latter, relegation ended a five-year stay in the top flight. Days later, Eddie Howe agreed to end his second spell in charge of the club after eight largely happy and successful years.
The final day of the season also witnessed a swansong for one of the Premier League's true greats. David Silva joined Manchester City in the summer of 2010, arriving fresh from a World Cup win with Spain; in the decade to follow, the diminutive Spanish playmaker collected four Premier League titles and won two FA Cups, five League Cups and three Community Shields. He was the creative heartbeat of City, no matter who their manager was, and his record of 93 Premier League assists puts him sixth on the all-time list, ahead of other greats such as Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Thierry Henry. Silva would appear in City's remaining two Champions League fixtures before departing for Real Sociedad, but this was his final dance on the Etihad turf he graced like no one else.
Real Madrid have won more Champions Leagues than domestic titles in the past decade, but they went some way to redressing thay balance in July, when securing their third Liga championship in the past nine years. A 2-1 home win over Villarreal – both goals coming from the perennially underrated Karim Benzema – was enough to see off a lukewarm challenge by Barcelona with one game to spare. The title further enhanced the reputation of head coach Zinedine Zidane, who had returned to the club for a second spell in charge little more than a year earlier. The Frenchman has two Spanish league titles to add to his three Champions Leagues, two European Super Cups and two Club World Cups.
The biggest celebration of July was possibly saved for the League One playoff final at Wembley, however. A 2-1 win for Wycombe Wanderers over Oxford United meant promotion to the second tier of English football for the first time in their 133-year history. The success also represented validation for the idea of giving managers time to actually build something – Gareth Ainsworth may have the enjoyable look of an ageing rocker, but he also ended last season as the longest-serving manager in the Football League.
Football is, ultimately, about winning trophies. Mikel Arteta ended his first year in charge at Arsenal with questions still being asked about how much progress his team has made under him, but what is undeniable is that he has already added two trophies to the Emirates' already wealthy store of silver. The Community Shield is a welcome bonus for any young manager, but Arteta's FA Cup success featured a semi-final win over Pep Guardiola and Manchester City before victory against Frank Lampard and Chelsea in the final. Arteta thus became the first person to win the FA Cup with Arsenal as both player and manager – but, more importantly, he has established himself early as a coach who knows how to win.
The José Show
August started as Arsenal's month, but by the end it belonged to Tottenham – or, more accurately, José Mourinho. Spurs' 2019/20 was the focus of the latest in the series of Amazon Prime's acclaimed All or Nothing fly-on-the-wall documentaries. It says much for the impact of Mourinho that he wasn't even the Tottenham manager when filming started, being that he only replaced Mauricio Pochettino in November 2019 – but the camera loves the multiple Premier League and Champions League winner, and he certainly knows how to play it to maximum effect. He's not done so bad on the pitch, either; Spurs were within striking distance of Liverpool heading into the new year.
All a bit Messi
Not even the juggernaut that is the Champions League could withstand Covid – the remaining fixtures in 2019/20's competition were moved to a rapid-fire two-week end-of-season climax in Lisbon. Bayern Munich and Barcelona clashed in an all-star quarter final, but no one could have predicted what was to come. The German champions went ahead within four minutes and, despite conceding an own-goal equaliser soon after, they repeatedly tore a fragile Barça defence apart in one of the all-time European demolition jobs. Hansi Flick's men emerged 8-2 winners from a devastating 90 minutes; Barça sacked Quique Setién within days, but were further rocked a week later when Lionel Messi informed them that he wanted to leave, on a free transfer, with immediate effect. The silver lining to a tumultuous year at the Camp Nou is that Messi did not leave; instead, unpopular club president Josep Maria Bartomeu quit in October.
Such was the ruthlessness of their display against Barcelona that the two subsequent victories that carried Bayern Munich to Champions League glory represented something of an anticlimax. Lyon were casually swatted away in the semi finals, and Paris Saint-Germain – with all their many Champions League hopes and dreams – barely registered a punch in a final with a 1-0 scoreline that failed to truly tell the story of Bayern's dominance. Kingsley Coman was the sole goalscorer on the night as Bayern claimed their sixth win in European football's biggest competition. They lie joint-third with Liverpool on the all-time list, one behind AC Milan, and a mere seven behind Real Madrid.
It has long been known that the Qatari owners of Paris Saint-Germain have one overwhelming desire – to win the Champions League. The French champions have repeatedly failed to translate their domestic dominance to the European stage, but there was a feeling around the interrupted 2019/20 season that something was brewing – and that feeling only grew when they scored twice in stoppage time to overcome Atalanta in the quarter finals. RB Leipzig were duly dispatched in the last four, but the dream team of Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Ángel Di María failed to fire in the final and the wait goes on. The Brazilian superstar shed tears in the aftermath of their defeat to Bayern Munich, but their head coach Thomas Tuchel was the ultimate loser - the German was sacked in December.
In the summer of 2018, Julen Lopetegui was heading for the World Cup as head coach of pre-tournament favourites Spain. He hadn't lost a game in charge, but on the eve of the tournament it was announced that he would be taking over at Real Madrid after it had finished and the Spanish federation duly fired him. He lasted little more than two months before getting the same treatment from Real after a poor start. Re-emerging at Sevilla in the summer of 2019, he led his new club to fourth in La Liga and then followed that with his first club trophy in the Europa League. Wolves and Manchester United were among Lopetegui's victims before victory over Inter Milan in the final secured a record sixth win in the competition – no other team has won more than three.
It wasn't only the men bringing their European campaigns to a close in August. The women were doing likewise in Spain, where French champions Lyon were achieving what their male counterparts at PSG couldn't. A 3-1 win over VfL Wolfsburg of Germany featured goals from Eugénie Le Sommer, Saki Kumagai and Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, but Delphine Cascarino was named player of the match and English right-back Lucy Bronze – who returned to Manchester City soon after this final – was named FIFA Best Women's Player of the Year in December. A team of stars, perhaps, but the team comes first – and Lyon, with their fifth straight Champions League title, are serial winners.
Not long after one season finished did another one start. September brought renewed optimism for a return to something like normal, with the government announcing crowd pilots across a number of sports. Ten EFL fixtures were earmarked to take part in that pilot, although ultimately only seven proceeded – including the Championship fixture between Norwich and Preston at Carrow Road. One thousand fans attended a fixture that was subject to precautions, including the temperature checks featured above.
The start of the new Premier League season brought with it much in the way of anticipation. Could Liverpool go again, would Manchester City come again, and what to expect of Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal? The most exciting new arrival, however, was a 65-year-old Argentinian coach who had spent two seasons perched on a bucket – or simply just crouching – on the sidelines in his capacity as the manager of Leeds United. It was fitting that Marcelo Bielsa and his bucket should make their Premier League debut at the home of champions Liverpool, where his young and vibrant team shone in an exhilarating 4-3 defeat. They entered the new year having scored 30 and conceded 30 in 16 league games. Who knows what's to come?
It is a measure of Andrea Pirlo's class as a footballer that he signed for Juventus at the age of 32, after a decade with AC Milan, and yet still became a club legend in four seasons during which the Old Lady dominated Serie A. There was something inevitable in his ascension to the role of head coach, but less so in its timing – having been put in charge of the Juventus Under-23 team in July, he was appointed to the number-one role after the dismissal of Maurizio Sarri only nine days later. By September, he was on the touchline for his first competitive fixture. They won 3-0, of course.
Been a while
At the end of 1971/72, Barrow Association Football Club dropped out of the Football League – not through relegation, however, but because they were voted out. A tough way to go, but even tougher was that it took them the small matter of 48 years to fight their way back in. Fight their way back in they did, however, and in mid-September they hosted Stevenage at their Holker Street ground in their first Football League fixture for almost half a century. On a grey day – the town has had a few – local rivals Morecambe welcomed them back with this touching if not entirely grammatically pleasing banner. It's the thought that counts though, right?
Could we really have gone so long without mentioning Cristiano Ronaldo? Apparently so. But he got in on the act in September, scoring twice in a UEFA Nations League game against Sweden, taking him past 100 international goals for Portugal, and making him the first European in history to reach a frankly astonishing landmark. At the conclusion of 2020 sits on 102, seven behind Iran legend Ali Daei. He's definitely going to go past him.