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Top football/soccer transfer rumors - Feb. 23-Mar. 2 Check out the latest rumors doing the rounds throughout world football. /foxsoccer/world/lists/transfer-rumors-february-24-march-2-football-soccer-players-teams-022414 http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/24/022414-Rumor-Mill-GUNDO-GONE-DG-PI_20140224164223176_136_102.JPG
FOX Soccer Power Rankings - Feb. 21-28 FOX Soccer Power Rankings: Paris Saint-Germain return to top five after crushing Champions League win /foxsoccer/world/lists/power-rankings-february-21-28-paris-saint-germain-return-to-top-five-after-crushing-win-022114 http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/21/drasticjump-pi_20140221180930519_136_102.JPG
Top football/soccer transfer rumors - Feb. 17-23 Check out the latest rumors doing the rounds throughout world football. /foxsoccer/world/lists/transfer-rumors-february-17-23-football-soccer-players-teams-021714 http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/17/021714-SOCCER-Shock-Waves-HF-PI_20140217182428996_136_102.JPG
FOX Soccer Power Rankings - February 14-20 FOX Soccer Power Rankings: Lack of firepower have Arsenal going in the wrong direction /foxsoccer/world/lists/power-rankings-february-14-20-arsenal-going-in-the-wrong-direction-lack-of-firepower-021414 http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/14/021414-SOCCER-FAILURE-TO-FIRE-OB-pi_20140214172035535_136_102.JPG
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Champions League 185 2820 English Football 2013 - Year in Review 31992782 Crisis builds around David Moyes at United - Dec. 7 Crisis+builds+around+David+Moyes+at+United+-+Dec.+7 Champions League

As Everton manager, David Moyes never won away at one of the Big Four, so there was something horribly inevitable about Everton winning away at one of the Big Four as soon as he was in charge of one of them. That was the Wednesday. On the Saturday, Newcastle won at Old Trafford for the first time since 1972 and United had lost successive home league games for the first time in 11 years. The situation isn’t terminal yet, but Moyes needs at the very least to start closing the gap on fourth and Champions League qualification soon.

John Peters/Man Utd - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G1_20131231024400824_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G1_20131231024400824_107_80.JPG
Champions League 185 2820 English Football 2013 - Year in Review 31992785 England draw 0-0 in Ukraine - Sept. 10 England+draw+0-0+in+Ukraine+-+Sept.+10 Champions League

Nothing perhaps has ever summed up the nonsensical expectations of English football so well as what happened in Kyiv. Ukraine had scored 18 goals in winning its previous four games under Leonid Fomenko and was playing superb attacking football, but England knew that if it secured a tie it would remain top of the qualifying group and would qualify for the World Cup with home wins over Montenegro and Poland. Roy Hodgson devised a tactical plan to stifle Ukraine, achieved his aim so effectively that apart from a penalty shout in the first minute the home side didn’t have a chance, and bounced into the post-match press-conference expecting, if not garlands then at least a recognition of a job well done.

 

Instead he got hostility as everybody, (including former star Gary Lineker, via Twitter), asked why England was so boring. Only when Ukraine won 2-0 at home to France in the play-off – after England had secured the two wins it needed – was there a grudging acceptance that Hodgson might have got it right.

 

All but the very greatest sides of all time have to at times turn to pragmatism. England is only just about a decent side in the modern era: it’s not going to blow everybody away with brilliant attacking football but with focus and application and clever planning it might do OK.

SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G6_20131231024511833_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G6_20131231024511833_107_80.JPG
Champions League 185 2820 English Football 2013 - Year in Review 31990945 Gareth Bale leaves the Premier League - Sept. 1 Gareth+Bale+leaves+the+Premier+League+-+Sept.+1 Champions League

The sale of Gareth Bale for what was either a world record fee – if you’re most of the world – or wasn’t – if you were trying to salve Cristiano Ronaldo’s ego – had been expected for weeks, and in that time Tottenham put in place deals to spend the money they received going on the biggest spree in football history that hadn’t been prompted by a windfall from an oligarch. In that one sale, Spurs went from having a chance of qualifying for the Champions League to being possible title winners – although the expectation that all seven of its new signings should bed in immediately is unrealistic.

GERARD JULIEN/AFP - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G3_20131231024424827_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G3_20131231024424827_107_80.JPG
Champions League 185 2820 English Football 2013 - Year in Review 31992784 Arsenal sign Mesut Ozil - Aug. 31 Arsenal+sign+Mesut+Ozil+-+Aug.+31 Champions League

Rarely can one signing so transform a team. On the opening day of the season, Arsenal was woeful in losing to Aston Villa, and the Emirates seemed in open revolt. A couple of subsequent wins did little to alter that. Then Ozil arrived, for £42.5million, around two-and-a-half times Arsenal’s previous transfer record, and the mood was transformed. He was been very good, but it has been his influence on those around him that has been startling as Arsenal suddenly, after the years of inconsistency, looked genuine title challengers. Bringing back Mathieu Flamini to add bite to the midfield clearly helped as well.

Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G5_20131231024500832_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G5_20131231024500832_107_80.JPG
Champions League 185 2820 English Football 2013 - Year in Review 31992786 Jose Mourinho returns to Chelsea - June 3 Jose+Mourinho+returns+to+Chelsea+-+June+3 Champions League

The other great joke the football gods played at Chelsea was to wait until the very moment at which it could be said Jose Mourinho’s grip on the dressing-room there had been broken, and then re-install him. Countless managers had been undermined by a core of “mourinhistas,” many of whom were still seemingly in regular contact with their former boss, but seven years after he’d left, it seemed the club could at last stop harking back to his era.

 

But his era was successful, so Roman Abramovich did what football lore says you should ever do and went back, putting Mourinho in charge of a talented squad of players-- many of whom are unsuited to his tactical approach.

ANDREW COWIE/AFP - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G7_20131231024522834_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G7_20131231024522834_107_80.JPG
Champions League 185 2820 English Football 2013 - Year in Review 31992787 Chelsea win Europa League - May 15 Chelsea+win+Europa+League+-+May+15 Champions League

One of the great jokes of the football gods is to ensure that every manager who is appointed in a temporary or caretaker capacity at Chelsea is more successful than anybody who gets the job permanently, something that means a manager’s life at Stamford Bridge is short and long-term planning is constantly thwarted. By the end, Rafa Benitez seemed almost to revel in his unpopularity among Chelsea fans, combating their dislike with a magnificent passive aggression and by winning.

 

With a squad far too small – weirdly so, given the available resources - for the workload his success brought them, Chelsea nonetheless finished third in the league and reached the semi-finals of both domestic cup competitions. The piece de resistance, though, came against Benfica in Amsterdam, as Branislav Ivanovic headed the last-minute winner that won the Europa League.

Ian MacNicol - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G8_20131231024537837_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G8_20131231024537837_107_80.JPG
Champions League 185 2820 English Football 2013 - Year in Review 31992788 Wigan win the FA Cup - May 11 Wigan+win+the+FA+Cup+-+May+11 Champions League

In a sense it was the perfect end. Wigan Athletic’s stint in the Premier League, with tiny crowds and limited resources, couldn’t last forever, but at least it ended its eight-year stint at the highest level with a bang, Ben Watson heading in as it beat Manchester City in the FA Cup final to win its first ever silverware. Three days later, Roberto Mancini was sacked as City manager, soon to be replaced by Manuel Pellegrini, and, later that same day, Wigan lost 4-1 at Arsenal, confirming its relegation. Roberto Martinez was soon replacing David Moyes as manager of Everton as he replaced Ferguson at Manchester United.

Mike Hewitt - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G9_20131231024553840_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G9_20131231024553840_107_80.JPG
Champions League 185 2820 English Football 2013 - Year in Review 31992783 Sir Alex Ferguson confirms retirement - May 8 Sir+Alex+Ferguson+confirms+retirement+-+May+8 Champions League

You knew it was going to happen sometime, countless Sunday tabloid back pages had speculated exactly when it was going to be, and the post-match interviews had started to become a little less focused, a little more rambling than they used to be, but still the announcement of Alex Ferguson’s retirement came as a shock. A whole generation of fans didn’t remember a time without him, while the vast majority of journalists had never worked in an era when the prospect of a snarl and a ban wasn’t always in the background.

 

Yes, he is a dreadful hypocrite; yes, he was prone to disproportionate reactions at the slightest hint of negativity; and there’s no good way of glossing the time when he banned two reporters for accurately reporting an injury story; but he was also a quite brilliant football manager who, predictably and appropriately, signed off by winning the league. As soon as he’d gone, you began to miss him, and you knew nothing would be quite the same again. Quite how different, though, probably nobody expected. United’s struggles this season suggest just what an extraordinary effect he could have on a squad.

Matthew Lewis - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G2_20131231024412825_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G2_20131231024412825_107_80.JPG
Champions League 185 2820 English Football 2013 - Year in Review 31992789 Millwall fans brawl at FA Cup semifinal - April 13 Millwall+fans+brawl+at+FA+Cup+semifinal+-+April+13 Champions League

The contrast to the Capital One Cup final couldn’t have been greater. Even on the Tube up to Wembley, there was menace in the air, with large numbers of fans already boorish with alcohol and cocaine. The fighting that broke out in the Millwall end during the second half was shocking less for its scale or intensity that for the fact it happened at all: in modern stadiums such incidents have been almost entirely eradicated. Ultimately, although it clearly terrified nearby children, it was a fairly minor fracas that, when police eventually arrived, was swiftly contained, but it did raise questions about response times in modern stadiums, tarnished a great day for Wigan and did further damage to the reputation of Millwall, a club that has done huge amounts to tackle hooliganism but seems unable to quite shake off the element that so blackened its name in the eighties.

Getty Images - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G10_20131231024602841_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G10_20131231024602841_107_80.JPG
Champions League 185 2820 English Football 2013 - Year in Review 31990946 Paolo Di Canio appointed Sunderland manager - March 31 Paolo+Di+Canio+appointed+Sunderland+manager+-+March+31 Champions League

Sunderland, it felt, was on a long, slow slide to relegation. Something had to be done, but sacking Martin O’Neill to appoint Paolo Di Canio probably wasn’t it. To start with, there was the furore over his political beliefs, which were widely reported to be “fascist”. As a Sunderland fan, I confess to an ambivalence. Sunderland is proudly left-wing city with a fine tradition of tolerance; it’s far from perfect today, but attempts by the far-right that have seen potential in the combination of immigration and poverty to whip up discord have largely failed. I didn’t want my club managed by a fascist. Yet at the same time, I worried about the hysterical tone of much of the coverage. Photos of Di Canio at the funeral of a leading Italian fascist made me uneasy, but so too did the general willingness to condemn without finding out what he actually thinks and the refusal to acknowledge that the term “fascist” may have different connotations in different contexts.

 

Di Canio’s reign, as it turned out, lasted 12 games. Vitally, Sunderland won 3-0 away to Newcastle United in the Tyne-Wear derby – a game that led to the iconic image of a man with a black-and-white scarf covering his face punching a police horse; he was later sentenced to a year in jail – and followed that up with a 1-0 win over Everton. That was enough to save Sunderland from relegation, but they didn’t win again and as players rejected his dictatorial regime (no ketchup in the team canteen, no ice in drinks, no speaking to staff members of match days) he was dismissed in September.

Tony Marshall - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G4_20131231024437829_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G4_20131231024437829_107_80.JPG
Champions League 185 2820 English Football 2013 - Year in Review 31992791 Swansea win the Capital One Cup - Feb. 24 Swansea+win+the+Capital+One+Cup+-+Feb.+24 Champions League

It wasn’t a great League Cup final, Swansea sweeping aside a Bradford team that had thrillingly beaten Aston Villa, Arsenal and Wigan on its way to Wembley, but the occasional was memorable. This was what cup finals used to be like -- fans in awe of the occasional, wandering from Wembley Park tube station up Olympic Way with mouths agape, unable to believe that their club was actually there. And for Swansea, 10 years after facing bankruptcy, this was a proud validation of everything the club had done to rebuild, proof that with enlightened leadership and fan representation on the board, great things are possible without breaking the bank or needing the billions of an oligarch.

GLYN KIRK/AFP - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G11_20131231024616842_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2013/12/31/123013-SOCCER-JONATHAN-WILSON-YEAR-END-REVIEW-DC-G11_20131231024616842_107_80.JPG
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http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/24/022414-Rumor-Mill-GUNDO-GONE-DG-PI_20140224164223176_136_102.JPG Top football/soccer transfer rumors - Feb. 23-Mar. 2 Check out the latest rumors doing the rounds... Check out the latest rumors doing the rounds throughout world football. Robin van Persie's rumored return to Arsenal would be beyond controversial in many ways. Feb 26, 2014 8:47 AM ET 1 8 /foxsoccer/world/lists/transfer-rumors-february-24-march-2-football-soccer-players-teams-022414
http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/21/drasticjump-pi_20140221180930519_136_102.JPG FOX Soccer Power Rankings - Feb. 21-28 FOX Soccer Power Rankings: Paris Saint-Germai... FOX Soccer Power Rankings: Paris Saint-Germain return to top five after crushing Champions League win Giant thumping brings Ibrahimovic and Co. back to our top ten list. Feb 22, 2014 1:50 PM ET 1 8 /foxsoccer/world/lists/power-rankings-february-21-28-paris-saint-germain-return-to-top-five-after-crushing-win-022114
http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/17/021714-SOCCER-Shock-Waves-HF-PI_20140217182428996_136_102.JPG Top football/soccer transfer rumors - Feb. 17-23 Check out the latest rumors doing the rounds... Check out the latest rumors doing the rounds throughout world football. Robin van Persie's rumored return to Arsenal would be beyond controversial in many ways. Feb 20, 2014 10:42 AM ET 1 8 /foxsoccer/world/lists/transfer-rumors-february-17-23-football-soccer-players-teams-021714
http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/14/021414-SOCCER-FAILURE-TO-FIRE-OB-pi_20140214172035535_136_102.JPG FOX Soccer Power Rankings - February 14-20 FOX Soccer Power Rankings: Lack of firepower... FOX Soccer Power Rankings: Lack of firepower have Arsenal going in the wrong direction Lack of firepower has Gunners going in the wrong direction. Feb 15, 2014 1:14 PM ET 1 8 /foxsoccer/world/lists/power-rankings-february-14-20-arsenal-going-in-the-wrong-direction-lack-of-firepower-021414