2011 in Football: A turbulent year Part 1

Manchester City's remarkable rise, Uruguay's stunning Copa America triumph, the continued erosion of FIFA's credibility. There was no dearth of headlines in 2011.

Football News: Barcelona vs Man United

And from the plethora of storylines that the following twelve months gave to us, each with their own twists and turns, ESPNSTAR.com takes a look back at the ones that most captivated our attentions in part one of our two part series.

January: Out of the blue, into the Blues

"I can win Champions League with Chelsea"

Once the darling of Anfield, Fernando Torres completed his switch to Chelsea in what was one of the most shocking transfers in English football history.

On 28th January, days before the transfer window closed, Torres handed in a transfer request after catching wind of Chelsea's interest in him. That, despite saying on 3 August 2010 before the season started: "My commitment and loyalty to the club [Liverpool] and to the fans is the same as it was on my first day when I signed."

Within days of negotiations, Chelsea shelled out a British transfer record of £50million for the Spaniard and sealed the deal hours before the window closed on 31st January.

As fate would have it, Torres' made his debut for the Blues against Liverpool days later in February. Liverpool came out 1-0 winners and it set the tone for Torres' Chelsea career, where he spent 907 minutes on the pitch before finally finding the net months later in April.

January: A record transfer window

Transfer Window BPL Review

Torres' transfer invariably led to a record-smashing January transfer window, where £225million was spent by Premier League clubs. This is the largest total for a January transfer window its introduction in 2003, eclipsing the previous total of £175m in 2008.

The prime reason for the big spending was due to five big-money transfers that broke the previous January spending record, when Arsenal paid £15m for Andrey Arshavin in 2008.

Topping the list was Torres' £50million move, which then led to Liverpool spending £35million on Andy Carroll and another £23million for a certain Luis Suarez.

And of course, no transfer window can shut these days without Manchester City making a splash. This time, the Citizens spent £27million for Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko to Manchester City. 

Aston Villa provided a surprise big signing in the form of Darren Bent, who made the switch from Sunderland for £24million.

February: Suarez enters Kop hearts

Dalglish: It's a dream debut for Suarez

Liverpool fans were left wondering what the future held for the Reds when former hero Fernando Torres defected to Barclays Premier League rivals Chelsea on the final day of the transfer window for £50m.

Yet just hours later, Liverpool announced the double signing of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez for a combined fee of £58m. Having bagged eleven goals in nineteen appearances for Newcastle in the first half of the 2010/11 Premier League campaign, Carroll was expected to fill the void left behind by Torres.

But with the towering Englishman still regaining fitness following an injury layoff, it was Suarez who had the chance to make an instant impact two days later against Stoke, which he duly did, coming off the bench and netting the second in a 2-0 victory.

Donning Liverpool's famous number seven jersey has proved a tough ask for players in the past, considering it used to be worn by legends such as Kenny Dalglish and Kevin Keegan. In the eight months that have passed since his debut, Suarez is already on the way to becoming a Kop hero.

February: Arsenal continue wait to end trophy drought

Arsenal players destroyed by loss

It was the match that was meant to end Arsenal's six-year wait for silverware, with the Gunners firm favourites to beat struggling Birmingham in the Carling Cup final.

And when Robin van Persie scored to cancel out Nikola Zigic's 28th minute strike, all seemed well for Wenger's men. Crucially and despite all their domination after Van Persie's goal, the Gunners failed to fnid the net.

And their lack of penetration came back to haunt them a minute from time, when a calamitous piece of defending between Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny saw the ball fall kindly into the path of Obafemi Martins, who tapped home to win the Carling Cup for Birmingham.

Worse still for the Gunners, the defeat was the start of a horrible run of results that saw them fall behind in the Premier League title race, and get knocked out of both the Champions League and the FA Cup.

March: Spurs take Europe by storm

Bale wants European dream to continue

Few gave Tottenham much chance of qualifying for the knockout round if the Champions League when they were drawn alongside Inter Milan, Werder Bremen and Twente in Group A back in 2010. Not only were they pitted against stern opposition, but their lack of experience in Europe's elite club competition had many tipping them for an early exit.

However, Spurs stunned all as they claimed top spot in their group, losing just one of their six matches and recording a memorable 3-1 win over Inter Milan.

And Harry Redknapp's men truly proved they were no pushovers when the knockout stages arrived. Holding a one-goal advantage over AC Milan from the first leg, Spurs welcomed the Rossoneri to White Hart Lane on March 9 aware of the threat the Italian giants possessed.

Yet after 90 minutes of determined, disciplined football, Tottenham got the draw they needed to progress to the quarter-finals, where they eventually succumbed to Real Madrid.

April: City make the right noise

Man City win the FA Cup

When Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City over three years ago, his riches turned the club into a title-contenders virtually overnight. Not so, thought Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson who then proceeded to label all talk of City challenging United for trophies as 'noise' coming from a club which hadn't won anything in over three decades.

Fast forward to April 2011 and Ferguson would get the chance to prove his point with an FA Cup semi-final tie against City. A win for United would remind everyone in football who the top dog in Manchester was while a loss would mean a first FA Cup final appearance for City since 1981.

Ninety-minutes later and we had the first indicator of a power-shift in Manchester.Paul Scholes saw red as City beat United 1-0 through man-of-the-match Yaya Toure's second-half goal.

Roberto Mancini's men went on to win their final against Stoke to lift the FA Cup trophy and forever change the landscape of the Barclays Premier League. It also forced United fans to tear down the banner they used to taunt City which displayed the length of their silverware drought.

May: Barcelona thrash Manchester United to win the  Champions League

Barcelona win the Champions League

On paper, it was the clash between the top two teams in Europe. On the pitch, Barcelona showed they were the best side on the continent, followed by huge swathes of daylight. 

Fresh off their record 19th league title, Manchester United had gone into the final at Wembley hoping to seriously challenge the Spanish outfit. And if a football game lasted to five minutes instead of 90, they might have, such was the intensity of their start. But that was the time Barca needed to settle - and for the next 85 minutes, United were swept off the park by the La Liga champions.

Pedro opened the scoring before Wayne Rooney equalised against the run of play. That was but a mere blip, as splendid goals from Lionel Messi (his first on English soil) and David Villa deservedly crowned Barcelona champions of Europe for the second time in three years.

For United, it was a chastening experience - as they failed to solve the Catalan conundrum yet again.

May: AC Milan claim their first Scudetto crown since 2004

AC Milan revel in Scudetto success

It had been a bleak few years for AC Milan and when Leonardo left the managerial post in the summer of 2010, the omens were not good. 

In came the unheralded Massimiliano Allegri - an underwhelming appointment. Hopes were high; expectations were not. But the former Cagliari manager went about his business impressively, signing the temperamental Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho to join Clarence Seedorf and Alexandre Pato at the San Siro. 

It wouldn't have been an easy job, keeping the super-egos happy, but Allegri handled it with aplomb. Halfway through the season, Milan led second-placed Napoli by four points and by the time season's end came around, they'd ended bitter-rivals Inter's five-year hegemony by six points.

Pato, Robinho and Ibrahimovic scored 14 goals each, a tribute to Allegri's strategy and man-management, as Milan ended seven years of Scudetto hurt.

June: Sepp Blatter is re-elected FIFA president

Beckenbauer backing for Blatter

Less than a month after shocking revelations of endemic bribing and corruption in football's supposedly august body, Sepp Blatter was re-elected president of FIFA.

This, despite the best efforts of the English Football Association to delay the election until after the maelstrom had blown over. Perhaps Blatter won simply because the challenger's credentials were even more questionable than his own. Mohammad Bin Hammam was alleged to have paid bribes totalling around 1million US dollars to officials from the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) to ensure their support for Qatar's 2022 FIFA World Cup bid. 

With questionable characters, ever-more startling revelations and some disgusting mud-slinging, the beautiful game's governing body sank to a new low in 2011. Even more amazingly, Blatter managed to hold on to power despite all this. Man's shamless love of power simply cannot be overestimated.

June 1 was a victory for Blatter and his cronies. For the rest of us fans, it was yet another disillusioning episode that highlighted FIFA's incompetence.

June: The transfers that were not

Sneijder: I almost signed for United

Levy tells Chelsea to lay off Modric

Football's silly season was in full swing by June, and three stories that just would not give up the ghost were the supposed transfers of Luka Modric, Wesley Sneijder and Neymar from Tottenham, Inter Milan and Santos respectively.

Modric had been heavily linked with Chelsea, and in fact the Blues' did make a few bids, but Harry Redknapp managed to convince his star midfielder to stay on for a while longer despite no Champions League football.

The Sneijder saga was even more long-drawn out. The player expressed his desire to leave the club, United were strongly linked with a move for him as a replacement for the retired Paul Scholes - but despite all the smoke, no fire could be located. Sneijder remained where he was and United decided to blood Tom Cleverley in that crucial midfield role.

Neymar had been linked with virtually every major club on the European continent. Pele asked him to join Real Madrid, Robinho advised a move to Barcelona even as Chelsea hovered somewhere in the background. In the end, the next big name in Brazilian football decided to stay at home, but will it be for long?

With the January transfer window in the offing, the rumour mills are gradually churning back into action. Expect more craziness.

June: Chelsea appoint Andre Villas-Boas

Villas-Boas excited by Chelsea challenge

Roman Abramovich continued to spin the revolving door at Chelsea, sacking Carlo Ancelotti just a year after the Italian had brought home the club's first-ever domestic double.

In came Andre Villas-Boas, the former Porto man - one of the youngest managers in England in charge of one of the older teams in England. He may have followed in compatriot Jose Mourinho's footsteps, but the way they set out their teams could not be more different. Mourinho was content with 1-0 wins, while AVB wants a more flamboyant brand of play that emphasises attacking football.

Chelsea are certainly scoring a lot more, but they are conceding far more as well. Consquently, the jury is still out on him, although he did get a taste of what managing a top club in England is like when sacking rumours began doing the rounds after Chelsea slumped to defeats against most of their big rivals in October and November.

Champions League knockout qualification as well as a 2-1 win over Manchester City has quelled critics for the moment - but tougher tests lie ahead for the young Portuguese.

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