Soccer's 2011 Year in Review

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Whether 2011 was a good year in soccer depends on whom you ask. For FIFA President Sepp Blatter, it was the worst in living memory as FIFA lost all credibility amidst numerous scandals. But for the game taking place on the pitch, it was one of the best in recent times.

AC Milan broke Internazionale’s Serie A dominance and played in a more entertaining style than the former champions, who preferred a stifling defense. This season, more improvements are underway as the Italian status quo has been broken with both Milan clubs disappointing.

In Germany, Borrussia Dortmund emerged from the ashes of bankruptcy to win the Bundesliga. Even the financial might of Bayern Munich couldn’t secure the league title. But above all, last year’s campaign was a triumph for Germany, with the country’s latest generation of young soccer players more numerous and talented than anyone could have predicted.

Lille’s victory in the Ligue 1 showed that attacking play is a viable option in a league recently dominated by lack of ambition and goalless draws. Along with more entertaining soccer, better players are on their way following the takeover of Paris Saint-Germain by an Arab consortium.

And of course, a dazzling Barcelona side won a quintuple. No matter what you feel about the team, there is nothing more satisfying than the sight of a technically gifted group of players overcoming negative tactics from the opposing team.

On the international scene, 2011 was the year of the underdog. The Copa America challenged everyone’s conceptions of the South American game. While commentators suggested that the tournament would as usual be dominated by Brazil and Argentina, the regional superpowers, both sides played terribly.

Uruguay, guided by the tactical astuteness of Oscar Washington Tabarez, won the trophy. Peru and Venezuela, often considered to have the worst soccer in the entire confederation, reached the semifinals. If only all major tournaments were as unpredictable.

Over the past 12 months, FIFA has received more publicity than ever, outshining some of the biggest teams. Some FIFA executives received more media attention than the sport’s well-known players. Unfortunately, none of this was for good reasons.

The controversy originated from the decision to host the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 edition in Qatar. It didn’t matter that the FIFA inspectors had clearly stated that these were the most expensive options. The oppressive heat of the Qatari summer will torment the teams when outside their air-conditioned stadiums. FIFA, an organization which claims to run a campaign against racism, awarded a World Cup to Russia, where racism in the grounds is the most widespread.

It does not help that the FBI is now investigating the organization, nor that the 2011 FIFA presidential election had exactly one candidate, nor that over three-quarters of the FIFA executives were suspected of corruption or other unethical practices. That’s not even counting those linked to shady regimes or simply incompetent.

When one sees Blatter coming up with clever solutions to reorganize FIFA, asking the advice of everyone who will listen, from Henry Kissinger to Placido Domingo, it’s hard not to imagine a bank robber reorganizing the police department.

This year proves that soccer belongs to the players and coaches, not the administrators peddling their influence. It’s clear where progress must be made for 2012. Let’s hope that we see improvement off the pitch. As for the state of FIFA, it can’t get any worse.

Theodore Furchtgott is a RealClearSports soccer columnist. He can be reached at Theodore.Furchtgott@gmail.com.

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