The sporting world was brought to an abrupt halt in one of the most turbulent calendar years in modern history.The global COVID-19 pandemic would eviscerate modern sport as it had come to be known and, largely considered the biggest sport on the planet, football was not immune to it’s effects. Despite the re-arrangements, re-imagining and re-formatting of professional football, 2020 still managed to provide plenty of headlines, talking points and accolades.
Liverpool’s final season with kit sponsor New Balance was billed as one of their best opportunities at finally winning the Premier League in modern history. Jurgen Klopp’s side had come desperately close the previous season in a colossal battle with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City as the title returned to the blue side of Manchester on the final day of the season. In their final campaign before a move to Nike in a deal worth USD $39.5 million per year, the Anfield side finally overcame a 30-year drought of the domestic league title, winning the title with an 18-point gap over last years’ champions. The victory (on 25th June) completed a historic treble that also included the UEFA Champions League an the FIFA World Club Cup. Whilst their chance of invincibility fell at the hands of Watford in late-February, Merseyside will long forever remember Jordan Henderson lifting the trophy in the Kopp end. The reds experienced differing fortunes within the Women’s Super League however as they found themselves relegated from the top flight.
At the other end of the Premier League, former powerhouse Leeds United returned following a 16-year absence. The Yorkshire side sealed their place following the resumption of the Championship following a necessary break for COVID-19.
Despite missing out on retaining the Premier League, Manchester City claimed another Carabao Cup victory, their 3rd in a row, with a 2-1 win over Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium.
Overseas, Bayern Munich continued their dominance, claiming a historical treble of their domestic league, domestic trophy as well as the UEFA Champions League. The latter of the three came under unique circumstances as the crown of Europe was decided with a series of single elimination games all held in Portugal, following the competitions temporary halt to allow for the completion of all domestic leagues. As a result, Bayern beat PSG of France, home to global superstars Neymar and Mbappe on 23rd August.
Throughout such a turbulent year, the levels fitness and sharpness of elite players around the world were compromised as many faced stringent restrictions. Amazon’s ‘All or Nothing’ documentary following Tottenham Hotspur highlighted the impact of the lack of pitch time on an elite squad but it didn’t stop individual players from making headlines throughout the year.
Robert Lewandowski took the plaudits throughout the calendar year as his remarkable form in front of goal helped Bayern to their historic treble. Lewandowski, himself the protagonist of a remarkable football journey, scored 55 goals in the year, claiming the Golden boot in all 3 major competitions. As a result he won FIFA’s title of best player in the world, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and 2019’s winner, Lionel Messi. Despite his exploits, Lewandowski still has a way to go to catch the two. Messi scored his 700th career goal in June. Whilst Ronaldo became the first man to score 100 international goals for his country.
In England, Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema became the first player to score 50 goals in the Women’s Super League after completing the feat against local rivals Tottenham in October.
Lucy Bronze, star of the Lionesses, celebrated a remarkable calendar year with a summer transfer to Manchester City, following winning the treble (including the Champions League) with French side Lyon as well as being crowned the best player in the world by FIFA.
Away from the Pitch
Away from the pitch, the death of George Floyd in America projected the Black Lives Matter movement to the fore of public consciousness and understanding, seeing those involved in elite sport worldwide use their platform to project the social injustice and racism witnessed today. The Premier League re-iterated its’ stance in support of the campaign as players took a knee in unison at the start of all games, as well as wearing ‘Black Lives Matter’ on their match shirts as the Premier League resumed.
The ongoing controversy surrounding VAR (Video Assistant Referee) created confusion and frustration throughout the elite game, with many calling for a correction or altogether dismissal ahead of the 2020-21 season.
The tireless efforts of Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford captured the headlines and hearts of the nation following his campaign challenging the government over the feeding of vulnerable school children, eventually forcing a U-turn. As a result, the youngster was awarded an MBE.
Following the heroic efforts of those in the NHS during the pandemic, England Captain Harry Kane sponsored the match shirts of his former club Leyton Orient with a thank-you message as well as exposure for key charities on the club’s away strip and third kit.
The Return of Football
Not every league managed to resume their disrupted season as Scottish football experienced. Celtic were crowned champions once again following an average points per game decision. Despite this, the return of football saw a new spectacle, one that has taken time to adjust to. No crowds, minimal goal celebrations and the option for ‘fake crowd noise’ added to television productions have provided a unique perspective on the modern game. Borussia Dortmund scored the first goal in Europe’s major leagues as Germany was the first to trial the new world of professional football.
Despite the lack of atmosphere within grounds, there has been no shortage of drama. Aston Villa’s 7-2 demolition of Premier League Champions Liverpool at the start of October showed that anything was possible in the new era, a philosophy epitomised by Scotland’s national team as David Marshall saved the final penalty of the tie against Serbia to secure Scotland a place at the delayed Euro 2020 finals; their first appearance in 23 years.
Football in 2021
Whilst 2020 has been a unique and chastising experience for all involved in elite sport, the pivotal role in people’s lives that football holds was a key component of the urgency with which a return was facilitated. With the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic stretching into the beginning of the 2020-21 campaign and restrictions across the world for the foreseeable future, the return of fans and an essence of normality are not immediately on the horizon. The release provided by football, even in the midst of a global pandemic has produced storylines and emotions to rival any other year.