2013 was a funny old year for football. At a quick glance, one could say it was a quiet year for the beautiful game but look a little longer and you realise that 2013 saw one of the most significant changes in decades: the end of an era and the dawning of a new one as Sir Alex Ferguson finally bowed out of the game and with it, re-opening the door to old rivalries and new challengers.
One of the most successful and revered managers ever to work in football retired in May on the back of an incredible 13th league title and in doing so, changed the footballing landscape in England forever. In came his hand-picked successor and fellow Scot, David Moyes from Everton, who, it’s fair to say, has struggled initially with the mammoth task of replacing the God-like gaffer from Govan.
And from the shadows that linger over Old Trafford emerges a bright light from across the north-west as Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side seemingly go from strength to strength, sitting well placed in the title race thanks to some of the finest performances from a player in many a year.
The much maligned Luis Suarez is a polarizing figure in football. There are many who adore him and there are many who, frankly, hate him but there are none who wouldn’t have the little Uruguayan genius in their team.
Banned for 10 games back in April for biting Chelsea defender, Branislav Ivanovic he then tried to force a move from Merseyside during the summer only to recant and pledge loyalty to the club. Returning from suspension in September, by New Year’s Eve he had amassed 19 league goals - 10 in one history-making calendar month - and 29 in total for the year. For all the wrong reasons and for all the right reasons, 2013, from a players’ perspective in England, has been all about him.
And what of the other stories? Wigan’s David v Goliath FA Cup win over Manchester City and their subsequent slide into the Championship? A heart-warming tale tinged with sadness and yet Roberto Martinez’s star continues to soar, succeeding Moyes as Everton manager, playing some of the best football seen this season, leaving them one point off Liverpool in 4th place – Merseyside hasn’t been this giddy since Beatlemania.
From an international perspective, it was a disappointing year for the ‘Boys in Green’ as Giovanni Trapattoni’s stint with the Irish national team ended with a whimper, failing to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil next summer; the Italian finally getting his P45 from the FAI.
If Irish football needed an end-of-year boost, the appointment of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane was like an injection of anabolic steroids as the country detonated in an explosion of enthusiasm. If John Delaney and his board needed to get the fans back on-side following a catastrophic last two years, the installation of two of the biggest names in Irish football as some sort of managerial super-team was the ointment to the ailment.
Of course, the appointment of O’Neill and Keane is no guarantee of future success but at the very least, the FAI have finally given the fans something to get behind.
I couldn’t write a review of the football year without mentioning the domestic scene here in Ireland and, in particular, my hometown club, Dundalk. It’s been a fairytale season for the Lilywhites, who came from near extinction 12 months previous to finishing second in the league this season, playing some of the finest football Oriel Park has seen in years. The re-emergence of one of the most successful clubs in this country has reignited a fire amongst the support for the League of Ireland and long may it continue.
Overall, it’s been a historic year for football in 2013. From Inchicore to Islington, football fans across the UK and Ireland have endured the natural highs and lows of a year’s worth of football like any good soap drama – we just couldn’t get enough. In 2014, we’ll be back for even more.