As we complete another trip around the sun, 2016 goes in the books. The year saw a LOT happen, including surprise champions, the retirement (and return) of a legend and much more. There was the heartbreak of the Chapecoense tragedy and the inspiring coming-together that followed. Here are the 10 biggest stories of the year, presented in no particular order.
Brazil's Olympic redemption tour
Brazilian star Neymar took a lot of criticism for this summer, skipping Copa America (per Barcelona's wishes) and his perceived party-boy mentality. That all washed away on Aug. 20, at least for a little bit. Neymar powered the Brazilians to a gold medal against Germany scoring in a 1-1 draw and converting the winning penalty in the subsequent shootout. It doesn't erase their World Cup 2014 failure, but it was certainly meaningful for the proud soccer nation.
Premier League's managerial influx
Has there been a more loaded era of the Premier League, from a coaching talent perspective? This summer saw Antonio Conte join Chelsea and Pep Guardiola join Manchester City, while Jose Mourinho saddled up with Man United. Those three managerial changes, combined with Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool) and Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham) already in place, makes for a stacked roster of managers.
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Real Madrid promote Zindine Zidane
When Real Madrid canned Carlo Ancelotti, rumors swirled as to who would take over the Spanish giants. Rafa Benitez stepped in as caretaker, but Los Blancos promoted from within in January 2016 and called up Zidane to take over managerial duties. Despite his limited experience, Zidane has been a revelation for Real Madrid. His appointment raised more than a few eyebrows, but all he's done since is rack up more trophies than losses before Christmas.
U.S. Soccer drops the hammer on Hope Solo
The U.S. women's national team entered the Olympics as undeniable favorites to win the gold medal. They didn't, as Sweden bounced the USWNT in the quarterfinals. Solo, who has never been shy to offer a soundbite, proceeded the call the Swedes "cowards" for their style of play. That didn't sit well with a lot of folks, particularly U.S. Soccer. The governing body suspended Solo for six months in August, an action Solo deemed "devastating."
Leicester City do the unthinkable
Leicester City might be the worst defending champions in history, but they have one important thing going for them: they're defending champions. Nobody in their right mind pegged the nearly relegated side to win the 2015/16 EPL title, but they did it. At 5000:1, the Foxes were the most unlikely champions in sports history. It doesn't get much bigger than that.
Lionel Messi retires and then un-retires from Argentina
Summer 2016 proved to be rough for Messi, as Argentina came up short in an international final yet again. Understandably, the Barcelona superstar was emotional following the loss to Chile in the Copa America. In the immediate aftermath, Messi said the national team was no longer for him. The pressure and pain of failing to deliver, plus Argentina's complete discombobulation as a federation looked too much for Messi. In August, cooler heads prevailed and Messi returned to La Albiceleste.
Jurgen Klinsmann era with USMNT ends
After five years, U.S. Soccer cut ties with Klinsmann in late November. There were a number of reasons to pull the plug, namely results. Klinsmann suffered a number of historic losses since an encouraging 2014 World Cup. Winding up behind the 8-ball in qualifying during the Hex seemed to be the last straw for the German, who had two years left on his contract. U.S. Soccer called upon a familiar face to fill Klinsmann's post, Bruce Arena.
Cristiano Ronaldo's brilliant year
It's good to be Cristiano Ronaldo basically any time, but if you could only select one year to be him 2016 might have been the best choice. The Portuguese icon won the biggest club trophy in May with another Champions League triumph, a good year by any measure. Then he followed that up with a Euro 2016 title with Portugal in July. Those trophies set him up to take home the most prestigious individual honor, the Ballon d'Or. Not too shabby, Ronnie.
Sam Allardyce out as England boss after one match
The England job has always been a magnet for controversy and criticism, but Allardyce really stepped in it in September. The outspoken 62-year-old was caught in a sting operation by The Telegraph allegedly telling businessmen how to get around FA regulations. The FA and Allardyce quickly agreed to a mutual termination, and Allardyce's dream job ended after just one match in charge of the Three Lions. Gareth Southgate has since come in to take over the post.
Chapecoense tragedy stuns the world
The tragic plane crash that killed 71 people in Colombia rocked South America and much of the global community. Brazil's Chapecoense were en route to the Copa Sudamericana final when the plane apparently ran out of fuel. Of the 71 killed, 19 were players, 20 were journalists and the remainder were coaches and team staff members. The outpouring of support was immediate, as teams and playerspaid tribute to the victims and Chape were even named Copa Sudamericana champions.