The highs and lows of a fascinating year

Top ten lists are notoriously hard to make, especially when they’re trying to sort through a year’s worth of memories. Viable candidates and moments are at the mercy of the delete key as the best, most controversial, high and lowlights of the year are whittled down.

There are so many emotional, physical and psychological components in play when thinking back over the course of an entire year: What kind of mood was I in; Had the missus cooked me my favorite dinner; Was the boss on the warpath; And most importantly, how did it make me feel in the instant it happened or in the microscopic aftermath where every wart and blemish was exposed for all to see?

So without further ado, here is my best of 2011 – my top ten moments of the year.

1/31/2011: Fernando Torres to Chelsea

The Sex Pistols coined the phrase "The Great Rock ‘n’ Swindle" to glorify themselves and how they took the music business to the cleaners. I wonder what phrase we’ll eventually come up with to describe the $80 million that Liverpool stole from Chelsea.

There have been some spectacular busts in the history of English football, but I don’t think anything comes close to Torres. What is probably the most baffling aspect of this whole saga is the fact that this is a man who is a recent European and World Champion, but at times in the last 12 months, he doesn’t look like he’s ever played football.

2/5/2011: Newcastle vs. Arsenal

Epic comebacks in football are pretty rare. Once a team – especially one at the top level – has you to rights, they just don’t let go.

After 26 minutes at St. James’ Park, the only question was how many Arsenal would hit the Magpies for. And then the incredible happened. Abou Diaby got sent off in the 50th minute, Joey Barton scored a penalty in the 68th minute and suddenly the atmosphere that was poisonous changed to one of c’mon, we’re in this

And were they ever in it. Alan Pardew threw caution to the wind and went for it. Leon Best made it two, Barton three with another penalty and then Cheik Tiote just bludgeoned the net from 30 yards with a wonder volley.

This was the match that truly had everything plus a little more.

Wayne Rooney scores THAT goal against Manchester City. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

2/12/2011: Wayne Rooney vs. Manchester City

There are great goals and then there are goals that are seared on your memory forever. I will never forget Rooney’s ‘super bike’ in the Manchester Derby. After a 2010 to forget, United’s talisman had plenty prove, and prove it he did. It wasn’t just the occasion, though. It was the perfection of the strike.

I’ve seen many bikes in my time but this one had everything. Rooney was one with the footballing gods as he struck the ball. The pure connection. Finding the top corner and of course the celebration … unforgettable.

2/21/2011 – 10/5/2011: Arsenal’s Implosion

Alright, I’ll admit it … I have a small soft spot for the Gunners. On their day, their brand of football is the best in the world bar none, which makes their public meltdown all the more astonishing.

After losing the Carling Cup final to Birmingham City in bungling fashion, the wheels didn’t just fall of the club. Arsenal imploded with all the violence of a NASCAR pile-up. Arsene Wenger seemed powerless to arrest the slide and lost two of his most prized players in Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas.

The fact that they’ve made a comeback of sorts, advancing to the UCL knockout stage and flirting with the top four in the Premiership, is testament to both the vision of Wenger and the Arsenal board.

The maestro: Lionel Messi tore Real Madrid apart in the Champions League semi-final (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

4/27/2011: Lionel Messi vs. Real Madrid

Trust me you have to watch a lot of football to be privileged enough to witness genius; unless, of course, you’re a season ticket holder at the Camp Nou.

I’ve watched Messi tear opponents ‘new one’s’ for years now, but what he did to Real Madrid on their home patch in the UEFA Champions League semifinal was art that belongs in the greatest galleries of the world.

This is a man that hasn’t just elevated football to a new level, he’s blown the roof of what we can dare expect. He is a better player than Pele and Maradona, and for those who say he needs a World Cup to be mentioned in their exalted company, I suggest you go back to the basement. Messi is the purest artist football has ever seen.

8/17/2011: Jose Mourinho vs. Barcelona

I’ve loved, admired and been in awe of Jose Mourinho since his arrival in English football in 2004; however, what he did during the Spanish Super Cup to Barcelona assistant coach Tito Vilanova was the act of a coward. To gouge anyone in the eye is a disgrace, but to perform such a heinous act because you lost a game of football and then try and sneak off undetected defies belief.

Jose, you lost one of your biggest fans that day.

England striker Wayne Rooney leaves the field after being sent off against Montenegro. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

10/7/2011: Wayne Rooney vs. Montenegro

This date has special significance, as it’s my birthday. This also means for the last 20 odd years (due to the international match schedule), I’m either over-the-moon or sick-as-a-parrot, to coin a phrase. England regularly put me through the ringer in one form or another.

Now I’ve seen plenty of players lose their rag when they’re staring defeat in the face. I’ve seen plenty of players retaliate when they’ve been kicked, punched and brutally fouled, but I’ve never seen anyone get disposed of a ball and then turn around to boot their opponent, especially when they’re winning quite comfortably.

England only had a small chance of winning Euro 2012 to begin with – minus Rooney their odds should be as long as Ireland’s at 66/1.

11/2/2011: John Terry vs. QPR

Being captain of England is something that every football-playing kid in the country dreams of. It should be bestowed on someone who embodies what the Three Lions is all about, which in my book is honor and integrity.

John Terry is not that man. He doesn’t embody those qualities. For him to try and worm his way out of what I saw him say to Anton Ferdinand just confirms the fact that he no longer inhabits a normal world.

One of the good guys. The world is still in shock at the death of Wales coach Gary Speed, the former Leeds, Everton, Bolton, Newcastle and Sheffield United midfielder. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

If the Football Association can ban Liverpool’s Luis Suarez for eight matches on the word of an opponent and without cameras, they’re going to have to throw the entire library at Terry.

11/27/2011: Gary Speed

Gary Speed was the type of footballer I wanted to be: box-to-box, brave, committed, fantastic striker of a ball, great in the air, a leader. Gary Speed, R.I.P.

1/1/2011-present: Robin van Persie

There is something truly memorable in witnessing a player carry his team. On a team-level, it has been a rough 12 months for the Dutchman, and not many would’ve questioned his decision to take the money and run out of the Emirates.

The fact that he didn’t lose his focus while all around lost theirs is a testament to his character and professionalism. As we enter the last week of what has been a fascinating year, Van Persie is now just three goals short of scoring 50 in a calendar year. I hope he makes it.