From unlikely title runs and captivating deals to heartbreaking tragedies, we take a look back at an astonishing 2016 in the world of soccer. This year was one of the Cinderella story, sublime shockers both on and off the pitch and, somber tearjerkers. Here’s a recap of some big events in the year that was 2016.
The Rise Of The Giant-Killers
Leicester City were the definite surprise of the 2015-16 Premier League season and the footballing world at large. Facing 5,000-to-1 odds and the threat of relegation at the start of the season, the Foxes were cunning in their championship run, boosted by Jaime Vardy and Riyad Mahrez combining for 41 of the club’s goals. While the 2016/17 Premier League campaign hasn’t been kind to Leicester, their UEFA Champions League run has them atop their group, facing Spain’s Sevilla in the Round of 16.
On the day before Leicester’s unlikely Premier League clinch, an even more implausible league champion was crowned. In the Hyundai A-League, Adelaide United defeated heavily-favored Western Sydney Wanderers 3-1 in the Grand Final on May 1st to earn the Reds a league double as Premiers and Champions of Australia. Adelaide opened their season winless in their first eight fixtures, but had a torrid run in 2016, losing only once in their 15 fixtures in 2016 en route to their Premier title as the best team in the regular season.
No team served as a greater inspiration in 2016 than Iceland at the Euro 2016 tournament in France this summer. This meager Nordic island nation with a population just over 330,000 was the story of the competition, reaching millions. The combination of their 2-1 victory over England in the round of 16 and the spirit of the players and fans left a lasting mark on the footballing world.
— RB Leipzig English (@RBLeipzig_EN) December 27, 2016
One club currently turning heads in Germany are the young upstarts from RB Leipzig. In 2016, the promoted east German club opened their debut season in the Bundesliga a league record thirteen matches without defeat. Leipzig were placed on top of the table a couple times, and are looking to be credible contenders to Bayern Munich to hold the Meisterschale at season’s end.
The 2016 Tournaments: Bigger Scale, Grander Stages
Three of the most popular players in world football participated in three major international tournaments over the summer. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo would play in the Copa America Centenario and Euro 2016 respectively, while Neymar stayed at home in Brazil to play in the Summer Olympics. The expanded formats for the Copa America and Euro provided some entertaining play, with a higher degree of difficulty worthy of action-packed blockbusters. Ronaldo would be vital in Portugal’s run to their first ever European championship over hosts France, while Neymar was the catalyst in giving Brazil their first ever gold medal in men’s soccer, defeating Germany in the final. Messi and Argentina would fall in the Copa America final in the USA to Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Chile in a rematch of the 2015 final. The loss devastated Messi to retire temporarily from the national team.
The Copa America was in their 100th year of existence, and to celebrate the occasion, the tournament was held in the United States with an expanded field of 16 teams. All ten CONMEBOL teams competed with six from CONCACAF. A Neymar-less Brazil would fail to make it out of group stage, while the hosts would settle for 4th place. The field for Euro 2016 was 24 teams, 8 more than the usual 16, but the nations who’ve never qualified prior to the expansion like Iceland made use of their time on the bigger stage. Gareth Bale and Wales, another Euro debutante, would reach the semi-finals before losing to the eventual champion Portugal.
— Chapecoense (@ChapecoenseReal) November 29, 2016
Brazilian club Chapecoense had just overcome a grueling two legs in the 2016 Copa Sudamericana semi-final against favored San Lorenzo, with Chapecoense holding the Argentine club to a scoreless draw in the second leg at home. The Santa Catarina side were set to face Colombian power and 2016 Copa Libertadores champion Atlético Nacional in the first leg of the final when tragedy struck.
On November 28, a charter plane carrying most of the team crashed near Medellin, where the club would have faced Atlético Nacional that night. Of the 77 aboard the flight, 71 perished, with only 3 players surviving. Atlético Nacional, in an act of sportsmanship, requested to CONMEBOL, South America’s footballing body, that Chapecoense be awarded Copa Sudamericana champion posthumously, which was accepted on December 5. The footballing world paid tribute to the Brazilians as many clubs around the world had Chapecoense’s badge alongside their own. Brazilian clubs decried “today, we are all Chapecoense” and #ForcaChape for solidarity, as the Arena Conda held a memorial service for their fallen “eternal champions.” The 2017 Recopa Sudamericana would pit Atlético Nacional against a rebuilding Chapecoense in what will be a touching and emotional two-leg set.
The Deals Of 2016
Some of the definitive moves this year in soccer came off the pitch, as there were sponsorship changes and one player reached a distinction no other player in the sport ever has.
Cristiano Ronaldo had quite the 2016. His efforts for club and country had resulted in a UEFA Champions League title, a European championship, a UEFA Supercup win, a Club World Cup and the 2016 Ballon d’Or. In November, CR7 had resigned with Real Madrid for five more seasons. A few days later, he would resign with Nike in an even more lucrative deal tagged at around $24 million annually. Only two other athletes – Michael Jordan and LeBron James – were given such contracts.
Chelsea FC’s deal with Nike was also a noteworthy bank-breaking statement. After ending their relationship with adidas in May, The Blues have secured a lucrative 15-year, £900M (About $1.1 Billion) deal with the American sportswear giant in October, a club record. The London side will suit up with the swoosh starting next season.
The following month, FC Barcelona and Japanese e-commerce store Rakuten would sign a deal worth $235 million, with Rakuten’s logo replacing Qatar Airways as shirt sponsor, and serving as the club’s global partner. The deal will last for four seasons starting next year, with an option for an additional season.
On a smaller scale, PSV Eindhoven in the Eredivsie, named for Philips but serving as a separate entity ended their 33-year run of having the technology company serve as shirt sponsor, replaced by energiedirect.nl at the start of this season.
2016 in American Soccer
Our wrap-up concludes with the domestic view of the world’s game.
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) December 10, 2016
The rise of Christian Pulisic had been documented all year long, beginning with his appearances for Bundesliga contenders Borussia Dortmund. The 18 year-old midfielder had been touted as the best young American prospect in years, as Pulisic would be the youngest US Men’s player to score a goal and start a senior national team game, both within the same year.
It’s our time!
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) December 11, 2016
THE FLASH ARE YOUR 2016 NWSL CHAMPIONS! pic.twitter.com/VgmdHljwOL
— WNY Flash (@WNYFlash) October 10, 2016
The Seattle Sounders and Western New York Flash emerged as unlikely MLS and NWSL champions respectively. Both the Flash and Sounders each defeated the regular season champions in the playoffs, and won the finals – Seattle vs. Toronto, WNY vs. Washington – on penalties. The Sounders seemed to be out of the Playoff picture when the front office and Sigi Schmid parted ways on July 26. The Flash hadn’t won their last seven regular season games, including a loss to the regular season champion Portland Thorns in the season finale.
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) November 22, 2016
The US Men’s national team started the last phase of World Cup qualifying on the wrong foot with Mexico shocking the Americans in Columbus, then getting crushed in Costa Rica 4-0. Jurgen Klinsmann would be fired as manager and Technical Director, and Bruce Arena for the first time in ten years returned to manage the USMNT on November 22, and he’ll see them through the remainder of the Hexagonal.
The NASL took heavy losses in 2016, as the structure of the American soccer league shifted. Early in the year, the Atlanta Silverbacks suspended their operations in the league, and played in the NPSL. The New York Cosmos, NASL champion for the third time, were one of several clubs in the league to have terminated all player contracts. Minnesota United would move onto MLS as an expansion team for the 2017 season along with Atlanta United. The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury would go to USL. The Carolina RailHawks would rebrand as North Carolina FC, and expressed intent to play in MLS. despite all of these changes and the USL now expanding to 30 clubs for the 2017 season, the NASL still intends to have an 8 to 10 club competition.