Fans back in stadiums. We started the year with no fans in stadiums as per Covid protocols. It was 271 days that fans in the EPL had to wait from 2020 to 2021. The game just isn’t the same without the sounds of fans in the stadium. We respect safety but we hope that we never have to go through that again.
Digital. With no one allowed into stadiums, clubs needed to figure out how to connect with their fans. Clubs did a fantastic job of creating and leveraging digital tools to build digital fan communities. That didn’t just mean social media it meant understanding what it means to be a fan and creating new experiences to bring fans and clubs together. We hope to see more of this in the future.
Jerseys. 2021 was the year of jerseys. Nowadays top teams have 4 or more jerseys with special edition jerseys becoming the norm. There were some amazing ones and some terrible. Napoli’s Maradona jersey was widely derided (as were Juve’s and Tottenham’s 3rd kit) while Ajax’s tribute to Bob Marley was celebrated. UEFA ordered Ajax to change the jersey as the “three little birds” logo used was deemed to be an additional mark. Maybe it is time to look at jersey regulations and update them.
Champions. It was a fantastic year for the game. We saw some amazing competitions and that led to deserving champions. Manchester City’s EPL win and Chelsea winning the UEFA Champions League were fantastic but I’d like to focus on some others. In July, Italy won a stunning UEFA Euro after the tournament started off in dramatic fashion with the collapse of Christian Eriksen of Denmark with cardiac arrest. He’s made a remarkable recovery and we all hope his career can find the heights it once had. In an entertaining final, Italy defeated England who was seemingly on a quest to bring football home. Another amazing story was Argentina winning the Copa America, giving Lionel Messi the international trophy, he needed, wanted, and deserved.
Lionel Messi. What a year is has been for one of the best players the world has ever seen. He led the Albiceleste to its first major trophy since 1993. In August, Messi left the club he was at for 21 years. Barcelona did not renew his contract, and it was a cruel end to one of the most successful club careers the world has ever seen. The world waited eagerly to see where he would end up and in August Paris Saint Germaine announced they had signed the playmaker. He rounded out the year by winning his 7th Ballon D’Or with many thinking Robert Lewandowski of Poland was robbed. Whatever you believe we are witnessing one of the greatest careers in history.
Bonus. Controversy. The soccer world was also not without controversy. A proposed European super league was introduced in April of 2021 to the shock and chagrin of many in the soccer community. The league fell apart a week after it was introduced after protest from clubs and leagues. It was the epitome of big money wrangling and the best clubs in Europe positioning themselves to earn a bigger paycheck.
The latest controversy was the proposal of a biennial FIFA World Cup. More money to line the coffers of FIFA with resistance from multiple confederations. It is difficult to think about how many more qualifying and tournament matches players can endure in an already busy schedule.