Saturday, January 07, 2012

Happy New Year - what to look for in 2012

Happy New Year to all, a few days late, but still within a reasonable window! So what can we expect in 2012 in the world of footy? Here are some trends/predictions to look for this year:
  1. Influx of mega-wealthy investors. The footy world has witnessed what an apparent unlimited budget can do for a club - look who is sitting atop the Premier League. And we all lived through the dramatic changes at Chelsea with the unlimited funds from Abramovich. Most recently we have seen Manchester City on the Seine with the influx of Qatar money into PSG. This trend will only continue or become worse...add to the mix the petro-dollars from Russia and oil rich former Soviet nations (look at Monaco being taken over by a Russian billionaire). This will elevate teams out of the second tier - see Manchester City as well as some clubs that no one has heard of - see FC Anzhi Makhachkala. Add to this an apparent rise of Chinese domestic football spending and we will only see a continued shift in the balance of power of football. Look for this trend to thrust unexpected clubs into contention and send big name players to leagues otherwise unheard of.
  2. Spain will disappoint at the Euros. Spain could still reach the semi-finals or finals, but they will not become the first nation to win three consecutive major tournaments. I realize they walked through qualifiers but some of their results from other matches leaves something to be desired: 1-1 away to Mexico, losing 4-1 to Argentina, losing 4-0 to Portugal, losing 1-0 to England and barely getting draw away to Costa Rica. I am sure that most Spanish fans, included my buddy Jose, will argue that the old Spain was always champions of the friendlies but did not step up when it counted. However, there leaves some room for doubt based on some of these results. Add to this the David Villa injury, Torres apparently forgetting what his role and nagging injuries. Finally, the core of the team has played A LOT of footy over the past 4 years, between club and country. This is going to catch up. The reality is nations have also started to figure out how to beat Spain (granted it is not easy): let them play their passing/possession game and wait to hit back on the counter. Without the likes of David Villa or an effective Torres there is not that clinical finisher who only needs half a foot to but the ball in the onion bag. Look for Spain to take a step back in international football.
  3. China will become the new "retirement" destination for players...but will not be limited to just that role. Anelka will be heading over to Shanghai and might be followed by his former Chelsea teammate, Ballack. As the Chinese economy as a whole continues to burn red hot, there is a large amount of capital for such luxurious as football clubs and players. The MLS had become a default retirement home for big named players - Beckham, Henry, Ljunberg, Marquez - to name a few. The MLS was an expected destination for the likes of Anelka, Ballack, Ronaldinho, Drogba and Pires - however that might no longer be the next destination for these players. Chinese football will expand beyond simply attracting players at the end of their carreers as they also attract some South American names - Dario Conca, Cleo and Muirqui- before they ended up in Europe. Look for China to continue to grow in terms of influence and presence on the world scene. What will be interesting is to see if the Chinese players themselves become better and can challenge in Asia versus usual powers: South Korea, Japan and Australia.
  4. Video and a second official will find themselves as part of the game. Maybe this is more wishful thinking, but with Sepp Blatter finally admitting that some type of goal line technology, there is hope! I have a feeling there will be some controversy whether in the Champions League or the Euros where it will become painfully clear that we need to leverage technology to make the game easier for the officials to better officiate the game. In addition, the move of having extra officials at the Europa League games and others will grow in momentum. Rather than simply having an official patrolling the penalty box, the football powers that be will realize that having 2 officials might be even better.
  5. The Bundesliga will start infringing on the #2 spot in terms of domestic leagues. The German domestic league has already passed Italy when it comes to domestic leagues, measured simply by Champions League spots and the coefficient. I think that 2012 will mark the first time that La Liga begins to feel some "heat" in a long time. La Liga will suffer, in some ways, from its success. Or shall we say success from two clubs - Real Madrid and Barcelona.  Clubs that carried success in Europe such as Valencia, cannot keep up in terms of money and players as the big two. This will only hurt Spain as a whole. The Bundesliga remains a more balanced league, without a real dominant power - even Bayern Munich does not have the domestic dominance exhibited by Real and Barca. This will only allow for a healthier league. Look for this to continue in 2012.
2012 should be a very exciting year for footy, with what should be a great Euro, and the last one before it expands again (not a fan of that move) we will see great matches from day #1. I am also looking forward to the Olympic soccer tournament as well.

Happy New Year!

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