Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

20 losers of the football season

Rafael Benitez
Perhaps the most high-profile loser from the Premier League season has been Rafael Benitez. In the space of one season his Liverpool team have gone from title challengers to mid-table mediocrity. The season started poorly, and along the way included defeat to bottom of the league Portsmouth. Twice finalists under his stewardship, Benitez saw his team crash out of the Champions League at the group stage. Hopes of lifting the Europa League were dashed by Atletico Madrid. Meanwhile in the league, Benitez promised the fans that Liverpool would finish fourth. They didn't - and who knows when they will again.
Rafael Benitez
Perhaps the most high-profile loser from the Premier League season has been Rafael Benitez. In the space of one season his Liverpool team have gone from title challengers to mid-table mediocrity. The season started poorly, and along the way included defeat to bottom of the league Portsmouth. Twice finalists under his stewardship, Benitez saw his team crash out of the Champions League at the group stage. Hopes of lifting the Europa League were dashed by Atletico Madrid. Meanwhile in the league, Benitez promised the fans that Liverpool would finish fourth. They didn't - and who knows when they will again.
Dimitar Berbatov
Berbatov has now been at United for two season. The Bulgarian's slow start to life at Old Trafford could be blamed on the difficulty of moulding in with a title winning team. But come the new term, Berbatov had no such excuse. With the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, United's record signing was seen as crucial if the Red Devil's were to push for a fourth consecutive title. Yet a couple of flashes of brilliance aside, Berbatov has been useless, missing chance after chance and infuriating the fans with his languid displays. He's now quit international football to concentrate on United, but it might be too little too late.
Portsmouth's creditors
The debts Portsmouth accrued and the fashion in which the club has been run in recent years has been a shambles. Numerous owners, exorbitant wages and awful transfer deals left many in trouble. While it could be argued that the fans are the greatest losers, at least they got to enjoy an FA Cup final. The real losers are Portsmouth's creditors, who after the club went into administration, will be lucky to ever see their money.
Jimmy Bullard
From hero to villain, it's been quite a ride for Hull's joker in the pack. After moving to the north-east club for a club record fee of £5m, the former Fulham man was quickly back in the treatment room. When he returned, he looked like he might be the catalyst to lift Hull away from relegation. He even produced one of the moments of the season when he mocked Phil Brown's on-pitch half-team team-talk with his celebration against Manchester City. Yet before too long he was injured again and upon his return he couldn't find his former form. Missing a penalty in a crucial match, accusations he was only at the KC Stadium for the money and a scrap with Nick Barmby all brought an end to the laughs for Jimmy Bullard.
Barcelona
They were the greatest team the world had ever witnessed, packed full of the best players, and in Lionel Messi possibly the best player of all time. So nothing could stop them becoming the first team to retain the Champions League and to make it all the sweeter, do it at the home of arch rivals Real Madrid. Or at least that was the theory. But Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan beat the unbeatable and with it crushed Barca's dream (or obsession depending on who you speak to).
Wembley groundsman
Wembley was supposed to be the greatest stadium on earth, yet the pitches in the nearby school playing fields might have provided a better playing surface. The Wembley turf came in for a huge amount of criticism following the Carling Cup final and the FA Cup semi-finals. Harry Redknapp likened it to an ice-rink. The main problem has been that due to the various events held at the stadium, the turf has been involved in more relays than an athletics team. The whole debacle led the FA to conduct a review. The verdict? They'll keep on relaying it.
Mark Hughes
Probably the harshest dismissal of the season came at Manchester City. A run of seven consecutive draws was enough for him to be given the axe. Yet despite these results, City were still going well in the league. To add insult to injury, news of his dismissal spread during City's match with Sunderland (which they won 4-3) with Hughes still in charge. Roberto Mancini was brought in to guide City into the Champions League. He didn't.
Brian Gunn
If Hughes' dismissal was the harshest, Gunn's was certainly the fastest. Norwich lost 7-1 to Colchester on the opening day of the season, which in fairness wasn't a great start. Yet a couple of days later they beat Yeovil 4-0 in the Carling Cup. But it wasn't enough and the Norwich board sacked the goalkeeping legend despite only handing him the job that summer.
Notts County
They went up from League Two as champions, which is certainly some consolation. But the season began with far greater ambitions for Notts County. A mysterious consortium took over the club in the summer. And then they drafted in former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson. And then they signed Sol Campbell. It appeared that rising up through the divisions would be a simple formality. But then it went wrong. Campbell left, saying promises had been broken. Then amid talks of a winding-up order and financial turmoil, the consortium sold the club for £1. Then Eriksson left.
Florentino Perez
As Manchester City are finding out, money can't guarantee success. Real Madrid president Florentino Perez spent over £200m last summer. The Spanish giants recruited two of the best players on the planet in Ronaldo and Kaka, and a few other gems, including Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso. Yet for all that, they finish the season with nothing. Knocked out of the Champions League by un-fancied Lyon. Knocked out the Copa del Rey by the even more un-fancied Alcorcon (a third-tier side) and pipped to the league title by Barcelona.
Fidelity
The short lived spell when footballers were role models (John Terry was once Dad of the Year) was well and truly brought to an end following the sex scandals that hit Chelsea. It was revealed that Terry had had an affair with the mother of Wayne Bridge's child, while Ashley Cole had been cheating on wife Cheryl. The fall-out was massive; Terry was stripped of the England captaincy while Cheryl had to struggle through her hit single Fight For This Love at the Brit Awards.
Defences
When Chelsea's players weren't scoring off the pitch, they were scoring on it. The Blues hit 103 goals in the Premier League, the highest top-flight season since Tottenham scored 111 in 1962-63. Along the way they scored seven goals or more in four games. Meanwhile London neighbours Tottenham hit nine past Wigan at White Hart Lane, proving attacking football was back with a bang - while defences were losing the plot.
Ben Foster
The Manchester United goalkeeper started the season as front runner to be England No 1 at the World Cup, and due to an injury to Edwin van der Sar, was first choice at Old Trafford. But numerous high-profile gaffes and confidence levels reaching Paul Robinson-esque lows meant the season disintegrated for the 27-year-old. He dropped to third choice at United and failed to make Fabio Capello's provisional squad.
Thierry Henry
Henry was supposed to be one of the nice guys of football, a true genius of the game and a gentleman to boot. But that all changed in a few crazy seconds at the Stade de France. France and the Republic of Ireland were battling it out for a place in the World Cup when Henry produced the most blatant example of cheating since Nasty Nick on Big Brother. Using his hand, he controlled the ball twice, before making an assist for William Gallas to score. It seemed everyone saw it bar the referee and the goal was allowed to stand, sending Ireland out and France to South Africa. Henry was cast as the biggest villain since Diego Maradona, even in his own country.
Extra officials
The Europa League not only provided one of the greatest modern fairytales with Fulham's run to the final, but also saw the arrival of extra officials. The masterminds at Uefa decided to add a fifth and sixth official to proceedings, who would stand behind the goal to assist the referee with any goal mouth incidents. Yet they appeared to simply wander around, adding little apart from amusement for fans. One such incident occurred when the corner flag fell out at Craven Cottage. As the extra official replaced it, he was awarded one of the largest cheers of the night.
Alberto Aquilani
When Rafael Benitez decided to replace the massively influential Xabi Alonso with Alberto Aquilani it was something of a gamble. Liverpool paid £20m for a youngster with a record of injury problems who was still yet to establish himself in Italy. And the gamble backfired massively. It took Aquilani months to make his debut and when he finally did, he proved he was no replacement for Alonso.
David Nugent
Striker David Nugent has the dubious honour of being relegated with two clubs in one season. The once England contender is contracted to Portsmouth, who finished bottom of the league this season. Yet he was sent out on loan to Burnley for the season, who finished third from bottom. Whether he stays at Turf Moor or returns to Fratton Park, a life in the Championship beckons.
Michael Owen
When Owen signed for Manchester United last summer, it looked like a return to the big time for the former Liverpool ace. And when he scored the last minute winner against Manchester City early in the season, it appeared Sir Alex had pulled off one of the greatest transfer coups of all-time. But then he began to disappear on the pitch, making little contribution and scoring fewer goals. A serious injury saved Ferguson from making the inevitable decision to drop him, and finally brought an end to the seemingly endless stories regarding a return to the England set-up.
Liverpool fan who threw the beach ball
It may have produced one of the most amusing scenes of the season, but for the fan who brought the offending object into the ground, it was devastating. This is of course the beach ball incident that saw Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina wrong footed when Darren Bent's shot hit the stray blow up. The goal was allowed to stand and the Liverpool fan who brought the ball into the ground was branded public enemy no 1 in the red half of Merseyside. The culprit was apparently "devastated".
Robbie Keane
It seemed that this season couldn't be stranger than the last for Robbie Keane, but it at least ran it close. After returning to Tottenham from Liverpool last season, the Spurs captain looked set to lead the side this term. Yet after falling down the pecking order, and then an ill-judged Christmas party (against the wishes of Harry Redknapp), he was sent off to Celtic on loan. Keane said he was delighted with the move, although that seemed hard to believe. While the Irishman was in Scotland finishing a poor second, Tottenham charged into the Champions League.

The domestic season is now at an end and it's been a rollercoaster of a year.

>>Click on the image to launch our guide.

We've already run through the winners of the season, but here we take a look at those at the other end of the spectrum.

Relegations, unfulfilled promises, off-field scandals and sheer bad luck have conspired to produce a number of failures. Here, we take a look at the 20 losers of the season.







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