February marked the beginning of several storylines for 2008 as well as the beginning of the end of for a few teams and managers. In purely footballing terms though, Egypt stole the headlines with a memorable triumph at the 2008 African Cup of Nations on the back of a string of impressive performances throughout the tournament.
We were introduced to the idea of Premier League clubs playing competitive league matches abroad, dubbed as the ‘Game 39 proposal‘ and roundly criticised by everyone from the average fans to Sepp Blatter, who famously threatened England’s 2018 World Cup bid if the FA allowed the Premier League to push ahead with this proposal.
The ‘leaked’ proposal had its merits and problems but would over the course of the year have the effect the Premier League intended all along – get the public criticism out of the way before anything formal had been proposed or committed to. Later in 2008 we’d see heads of various footballing associations around the world (moved no doubt by the Premier League’s burgeoning wealth and the global economic crisis) become more amenable to the Premier League hosting matches in their region / country.
Soccerlens also held their first football awards, picking the best bloggers and blogs of 2007 out of 14 different categories.
In Europe we saw the beginning of the end of Mancini’s reign at Inter with Rafa’s Liverpool beating the Italian champions with a strong mixture of tactics and aggression plus a healthy dose of play-acting. The same approach (minus the play-acting) would see Liverpool beat Chelsea and Manchester United in first half of the 08/09 season, but from this day Inter were looking for a new manager and Mourinho, the most famous unemployed manager at the time, was already being linked with the club.
We head to London for the two biggest on-the-pitch stories of February.
Tottenham, having overpowered Arsenal in the semifinals, came back from a goal down to beat Chelsea in the Carling Cup final. It was great drama and perhaps the best day Ramos would ever have at White Hart Lane (and in fairness, Tottenham’s best moment of 2008). Chelsea were stunned, Grant was blamed for his players’ shortcomings and Ramos was hailed as a hero.
But perhaps the most significant story of this season has been Arsenal’s decline in 2008 after their metoric rise in the second half of 2007. Fans and media alike were quick to blame the ‘Eduardo’ incident and the game with Birmingham as a whole as the catalyst for their collapse, but the seeds of self-doubt had already been placed in the minds of proud Gunners thanks to a 4-0 FA Cup thrashing at the hands of Manchester United (who had lost to Manchester City in the previous game).
Coming so soon after Arsenal’s 5-1 reverse in the Carling Cup (although this FA Cup team had more first-teamers in the mix), Arsenal well deflated and so comprehensively beaten that post-match comments from the Arsenal camp were all complaints about how Nani had taunted them with his ball skills.
Arsenal wouldn’t recover – they were unlucky against Birmingham in the league and although they would end the season just a few points behind the leaders (and beating Milan in Italy along the way), the spell was broken and Arsenal had blown their best chance for a league title in several years.
Back to Soccerlens’ 2008 Review.