From our previous issue, by Gaby McKay
Football has always had a rather tenuous connection with the concept of the New Year. The practice of throwing out the old and bringing in the new that January or February represents for much of the world’s population has very little relevance to the game. All the major European leagues are in full swing and the process of renewal doesn’t really begin until after the Champions League final in June.
In 2020 though the football community is just as keen to step into a new year as the rest of the world. The planet has been gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic and all its associated hardships, while the game has lost some of its greatest legends. Things won’t change overnight on December 31 – or even on February 13 for our Chinese brothers and sisters.
After the annus horribilis to end them all though, there’s plenty to look forward to in 2021. As with the annual resolutions it may not be everything we hope but in the spirit of losing weight or stopping smoking, let’s look forward to the things we can enjoy once 2020 has been shown the red card of history.
March 2020 brought the Day the Football Stood Still, and even when the game returned a few months later it was a cold, sterile thing. Fans have been locked out of stadiums across the world in an effort to control the coronavirus, and while that’s understandable in the face of a deadly pandemic it has proved the old adage that football without fans is nothing. We’ve seen the Derby d’Italia, the Old Firm and El Clasico behind closed doors and the backdrop of an empty stadium is not fit to host some of the world’s most intensely felt games.
Even where fans have been allowed in it’s been at vastly reduced capacities with distancing and masks, but with a vaccine for COVID-19 starting to be rolled out across the world we can now dream of a return to normality. We can dream of the day we say goodbye to piped-in crowd noise on television broadcasts, of the moment we’re allowed back into a stadium to shout, to hug and to cheer. It may take some time, but that day is coming.
Then of course we have the action on the pitch. While there are legitimate fears of player burnout with a packed schedule, things are beautifully poised for a dramatic season. In Italy you’ve got the revival of Milan, led by a 39-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as Juventus’ grip on the Scudetto looks to be loosening. Look over to Spain and the Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly could be smashed this season. Barça are clown car and Madrid not much better – can Atletico Madrid, or even Real Sociedad or Villarreal take advantage?
The Premier League sees Liverpool continuing their dominant form of last season but Jurgen Klopp’s men won’t have it all their own way this time. Big spending Chelsea look to be in a position to challenge after a shaky start while, across London, Sauron appears to have recovered the One Ring as Jose Mourinho turns Tottenham into legitimate contenders.
If international football is what floats your boat then there’s the rescheduled Euro 2020 to look forward to. Some have criticised the format, spread across several cities, and it remains to be seen if that setup holds in the current climate. Assuming it can go ahead as planned though we should see fervent home fans in London, Rome and Munich. And if you thought “Will Grigg’s On Fire” was the sound of 2016 just wait until Scotland’s Tartan Army invades London armed with Spanish disco curio ‘Yes Sir I Can Boogie’.
Perhaps transfer intrigue is your thing? If so there’s plenty to look forward to on that score too. After the late summer saga of his planned Barcelona departure, Lionel Messi is out of contract on June 30. Provided he hasn’t inked a new deal – which looks unthinkable – the Argentine superstar will be free to negotiate with other clubs from January. Expect Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain to be at the front of the lengthy queue.
The French giants have issues of their own though with Kylian Mbappe and Neymar’s deals both expiring in 2022. Could we see one of them on the move? Real Madrid haven’t had a Galactico signing in a while – or rather Eden Hazard can’t get on the pitch – will they make a big play in the summer?
Then there are the little, unpredictable things that make up the rich tapestry of football and could enter the history books. Those are all to come. Hey, 2020, your number is up. 2021: get out there and make it happen for us.