Each year, the staff of FOXSoccer.com takes time to reflect on the past twelve months. This is the second in a series of pieces which will continue all week and culminate in our naming of the American Player of the Year. From all of us, happy holidays and best wishes for 2013. – JAMIE TRECKER
EDITOR’S CHOICE: ROBERTO DI MATTEO
There are a number of worthy candidates this year, with Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp, Barcelona’s ex-manager Pep Guardiola, and Montpellier’s Rene Girard all deserving of a nod. But Di Matteo’s incredible run with Chelsea has them all beat.
Unloved by the owner and thrown into the meatgrinder after the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas, Di Matteo pulled off the improbable, winning Chelsea its first ever European Cup in Munich. Did we mention he was an ‘interim’ coach at the time? Di Matteo would be cruelly jettisoned by Chelsea after failing to get the most out of Fernando Torres this season, but that cannot detract from what he accomplished. This past spring, he did the impossible and gave Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich what he wanted. – JT
JURGEN KLOPP, DORTMUND
In 2012, Jurgen Klopp took Dortmund to an improbable second straight Bundesliga title after an up-and-down first half of the season. Dortmund then absolutely embarrassed Bayern Munich in the German Cup final, winning 5-2 and missing out on an even more decisive result. This season, Dortmund has been the revelation of the Champions League, knocking out Manchester City and besting Real Madrid to top the Group of Death. Dortmund have focused on Europe this season to the detriment of their Bundesliga campaign but no matter: Klopp’s side looks like the team no one wants to play. – Thomas Hautmann
JOSE MOURINHO, REAL MADRID
Jose Mourinho was set the task of toppling Pep Guardiola and, whatever you may think of his methods, or even the cost, he did it. Real Madrid are the reigning La Liga champs because when the critical tests came, Mourinho had the answers. Love him or hate him, you have to respect the ‘Special One.’ How long he remains in Spain is anyone’s guess but when he comes on the market, he’s sure to be the most prized commodity out there. – Jorge Mondaca
FRANK DE BOER, AJAX
A little homerism here: de Boer is one of my all-time favorite players from the team I’ve rooted for all my life – who also happens to be one of my favorite interviewees. De Boer, whose slurry Dutch speech is confused for idiocy, is actually a most cerebral and communicative coach.
After taking over as Ajax manager in Dec. 2010 – his first head coaching gig – de Boer debuted with a 2-0 win at AC Milan. He steered his team through an incredible comeback in the Eredivisie to finally end the club’s six-year title drought. And then he did it all over again in 2012. In the process, he has restored Ajax to its former glory. The fluid 4-3-3 is back and by beating Manchester City – almost twice! – European respectability was reinstated. Under de Boer, Ajax is developing some of the best young players in Europe once more. Better yet: de Boer refused an approach from Liverpool in the offseason and says he wants to be ‘Ajax’s Alex Ferguson.’ Loyalty, talent and class? That’s manager of the year material for me. – Leander Schaerlaeckens
BOB BRADLEY, EGYPT
All of the usual suspects – and especially the two outstanding candidates, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp – merit consideration here. But none of them coped with the geopolitical and the sporting upheaval Bradley faced in 2012. The former U.S. boss handled every development better than he did the last. He wasn’t just the coach of a national team in a country without a functioning league. He was a neutral symbol of hope and unity in a country trying to put itself back together. Two wins out of two to start the second round of World Cup qualifying in June just provides a wonderful gloss to his work this year. – Kyle McCarthy
HERVE RENARD, ZAMBIA
A baggy-shirted romantic hero who in the final of the Cup of Nations both punched one of his own side in the chest and carried a stricken player onto the pitch to join the post-match celebrations. One of the top shows of the entire year. – Jonathan Wilson