The good, the bad & the ugly of '09
The year is quickly coming to a close, and all those year-in-review feature stories are coming out of the woodwork. So we'll spare you the traditional looks back and have a little fun. Our ranking below is still our view of this week's top 10 movers and shakers in the power centers of world soccer. But we'll reminisce on 2009 for each team in three categories: the good, the bad and the ugly (or il buono, il brutto, il cattivo for you Serie A fans). Enjoy this week's rundown and we'll check back in 2010.
Note: All rankings, records and statistics are through Dec. 23.
FC BarcelonaThe good: Winning everything there was to win for an unprecedented six trophies, insinuating themselves into the "best team ever" debate and Lionel Messi sweeping every year-end award.
The bad: Really, not much to knock. You can haggle over outgoing president Joan Laporta's over-politicizing the club, Samuel Eto'o's parting shots on the way out the door or even rumors Pep Guardiola will step down. None of those takes away from Barça's stunning season.
The ugly: Still splitting hairs, but pulling out of an MLS expansion team in Miami due to the economy. Sure, you can argue South Florida isn't the right place for a new club, while Portland, for example, is a no-brainer. But MLS missing out on the backing of a club like this is a disappointment.
ChelseaThe good: Reclaiming pole position in the English Premier League thanks to the leadership of Carlo Ancelotti. At this point, it's Chelsea's to lose.
The bad: Banned by FIFA from making any signings until 2011 over the supposed illegal capture of French teenager Gaël Kakuta. (The ban since has been suspended by Court of Arbitration for Sport.)
The ugly: Didier Drogba maniacally stalking ref Tom Henning Ovrebo after the Blues bowed out of the Champions League semis. TV cameras caught the Ivorian striker calling the officiating a "f---ing disgrace." Maybe so, but nowhere near as disgraceful as that childish display.
Manchester UnitedThe good: A third straight EPL title, a Carling Cup and a return trip to the Champions League final.
The bad: The looming ghost of Cristiano Ronaldo. Antonio Valencia, when healthy, is a nice player on the right wing. But no one yet has been able to fill the boots of a certain winking Portuguese megastar, especially given the way Sir Alex Ferguson chose to spend that record $131 million check from Real Madrid.
The ugly: Sir Alex is never shy with a mic in his face, but his diatribe against a ref -- whom he felt was too fat and slow -- left a sour taste.
Real MadridThe good: For better or for worse, los Galácticos are back, and so is the swagger. Florentino Pérez's $400 million in offseason expenditures has recaptured the world's eye.
The bad: Playing without marquee signing Ronaldo for almost two months didn't exactly help. And for all that bluster, Real still hasn't dislodged archrival Barça from the peak of La Liga -- yet.
The ugly: Bowing out in the Copa del Rey's early rounds yet again, this time via an epic collapse to third-division Alcorcón, 4-1 on aggregate.
Inter MilanThe good: The four-time Serie A champs are setting the pace yet again, thanks to smart pickups like Eto'o, Lúcio and Wesley Sneijder, as well as young talent like Mario Balotelli and Davide Santon.
The bad: Are you convinced? Neither are we. Inter started slowly in the Champions League and is going to the knockout phase for a fifth straight year. Where it'll be knocked out again. By José Mourinho's old team.
The ugly: Literally, the way the Nerazzurri play. Inter's free-flowing attack under former manager Roberto Mancini is gone, replaced by Mourinho's less aesthetically pleasing -- yet inarguably effective -- defend-and-counterattack approach.
Girondins de BordeauxThe good: Bordeaux's first Ligue 1 title in 10 years, followed up by an almost flawless start to 2009-10: a sizeable nine-point advantage and a cakewalk through a Champions League group that included Bayern Munich and Juventus (which was rewarded with a plum draw vs. Olympiakos in the round of 16).
The bad: The drawn-out transfer saga of Marouane Chamakh. Arsenal has been chasing the Moroccan attacker since June and is still poking around for next month's transfer window.
The ugly: Getting shell-shocked, 3-1 by relegation-threatened Saint-Étienne, in October. Bordeaux's 22-match unbeaten streak had to end sooner or later, but this was an ignominious way for it to happen.
AC MilanThe good: A return to the Champions League knockout rounds, as well as a 10-game undefeated streak that saw the Rossoneri surge back into the Serie A race thanks to (surprise!) a resurgent Ronaldinho.
The bad: A slow start to the season after a horrid preseason, including a big, fat o-fer on American soil with losses to Club América, Chelsea, Inter and a disheartening draw with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The ugly: Angry ultras, livid that the club did little to replace Kaká (or anyone else for that matter), hurled flares, bottles and pretty much anything else they could find during a training session at Milanello in July.
ArsenalThe good: Despite the ever-present roster turnover, Arsène Wenger again has fielded a solid squad, doing his usual unearthing of young talent and shrewd acquisitions to keep the Gunners in contention in both the EPL and the Champions League.
The bad: An inability to beat the big teams. For every 6-2 whipping of Blackburn and 4-0 smackdown of Wigan, the Gunners have been pummeled by the top clubs: They're 1-3 against the rest of the EPL's top five this season, but can improve on that on Sunday vs. Aston Villa.
The ugly: Fans taking the bait in September at Man. City, reacting to Emmanuel Adebayor's length-of-the-pitch sprint to celebrate his goal in front of his former fans. A near-riot left one security guard knocked out.
SevillaThe good: Hanging tough with the Big Two in Spain and blowing through the Champions League group phase with a deep, talented squad.
The bad: Losing Luís Fabiano to a bad ankle sprain until January, when Sevilla might lose him altogether -- Milan and Chelsea are still interested.
The ugly: Dropping points at home. Sevilla has a 9-3-3 record in La Liga heading into the winter break; of those six non-wins, four were at the Sánchez Pizjuán (three losses and a tie). Those are lost points they'll regret when the season heads into the stretch.
FlamengoThe good: Won its first Brazilian Championship in 17 years on the backs of former Inter Milan star Adriano and Serb never-was Dejan Petkovic.
The bad: A humiliating first-round exit in the Copa Sudamericana by crosstown rival and archnemesis Fluminense.
The ugly: Ronaldo's reception at the Maracanã in August. It's no surprise fans felt betrayed by the Rio native's decision to sign with Corinthians. But greeting him with chants of "fat," "queer," and "traitor," and brandishing a sign that read "King of the Transvestites" seemed a bit in bad taste. Or hysterical, depending on your thoughts on the three-time FIFA World Player of the Year's extracurricular activities. Ho, ho ... ho?
|Honorable mentions: FC Twente, Bayern Munich, Banfield, SL Benfica, PSV Eindhoven, Estudiantes de La Plata, Lille|
Dropped off: LDU Quito