Football in 2023: The year in review

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As the curtains fall on another thrilling year of football, 2023 showcased the sport’s global popularity both on and off the pitch. The year had everything from pulsating domestic leagues to international tournaments to record-breaking transfer fees.

Let’s start in Sydney, where an unfathomable low followed an evening of record-breaking highs. Olga Carmona’s goal secured Spain a 1-0 win against England in their first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup final. But the historic achievement was overshadowed by Luis Rubiales’ antics during the celebrations. The Spanish FA President lost his job because of his behaviour towards members of the Spain and England squad. He has also been banned from all football-related national and international activities for three years.

La Liga TV presenter Semra Hunter told Football Now that what the Spanish women’s team did was extraordinary and can be understated.

“What they went through. What these women have been going through for many years – we’re not talking about just friction between the players and the coach. But there is also friction between the coaching staff and the players in the federation. And I think the fact they were able to say, “Well, we’re going to prove all of you wrong, and we’re going to do this for ourselves”, more than anything else, it’s very much a source of motivation, not just young girls, but young boys as well.” Samra explained.

Spain’s World Cup victory was the first in their country’s history

In the men’s game, Manchester City capped off an incredible 2023 by winning the Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia, 7 months after clinching a historic treble. The Cityzens won the Premier League, the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League earlier in the year, becoming only the second team to do so since Manchester United did it in 1999.

Sports writer and Manchester City fan Josh Lawless says securing a trophy in Europe has proved to be hugely significant.

“I think the priority was always the Champions League. In the first few years, they really didn’t buy into it, I think, as a club. But then, slowly but surely, I think it became like, ‘We dominate the Premier League; this has to be the next big thing to be an elite club’. It’s emotional because City fans never thought they’d see the day their team would win the treble. It’s just a special, unbelievable season.” Josh stated proudly.

Pep Guardiola won his first Champions League trophy as manager of Manchester City

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia emerged as a dominant force in the transfer market after making a series of high-profile signings that reshaped the landscape of the sport. Former Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema joined Al Ittihad from Real Madrid. Neymar joined a rival team, Al Hilal after he departed from Barcelona. Players’ of their stature not only brought great experience on the field but also elevated the Saudi league, capturing international attention.

“Saudi Arabia rocked football last summer with a highly ambitious window, and it’s just the start. People will focus on the spending, which was around a billion (Euros). But this is window one, and now we have to watch how the project develops. And it’s not just a star name project. It’s also about bringing in younger players, developing Saudi players, and ultimately growing a grassroots strategy. And that’s not just for men’s football but also women’s.” Says Middle East football expert Ben Jacobs.

Meanwhile, 2023 marked significant developments in African football. The inaugural African Football League was held in October and November. The Mamelodi Sundowns from South Africa won the first edition.

In Italy, Napoli achieved a historic victory in Serie A by clinching the title for the first time in 30 years.

Napoli lifted the Scudetto back in June.

Elsewhere in Europe, financial challenges dominated the year for three major clubs. Both Juventus and Everton had match points deducted due to financial-related charges. Despite winning their first domestic title since 2019, Barcelona sold several high-earning players to comply with La Liga’s spending cap. Notably, former Barcelona star Lionel Messi, who was linked to return to Spain but made a surprising move from PSG to Inter Miami, marking one of the most significant transfer stories of the year.

Messi’s arrival at Inter Miami was a historic moment for Major League Soccer (MLS), coinciding with the USA’s preparations to co-host the World Cup in 2026. His contract, reported to be worth more than 11 million Euros per year, also includes equity in the club and revenue-sharing agreements with prominent brands like Apple and Adidas.

It is a year that will be remembered as much for the headlines off the field compared with those on it. We expect to see more major stories dominating the sport’s 2024 landscape.

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