Who could have possibly imagined during the winter months, let alone all the way back in August 2014, how the European football year would come to an end. While the majority of fans around the world were waiting for the upcoming 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup and/or the Champions League Final that will feature Barcelona and Juventus, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department of the United States rocked the footballing world by indicting 14 officials during the final week of May. What this will mean for the future of the sport and of FIFA cannot be determined as of the posting of this piece, but the hope is that the matter brings necessary and sweeping changes to the beautiful game.
As for on-the-pitch matters that occurred over the course of the season, there were plenty of surprising and even shocking occurrences that made headlines and raised eyes. While the kings of Serie A and the Bundesliga held serve as just about any knowledgeable fan and analyst expected that those clubs would, the Premier League and La Liga saw old familiar faces once again claim their spots atop of those league tables. One of those two clubs has an opportunity to cement itself as the best in the game at will be the official conclusion of the current European season. Most, in fact, are expecting that team to emerge as Champions League winners.
What was set to be, far and away, the most surprising news of the 2014-15 European football season was the rain in Spain falling on what was, only one year ago, the undisputed best team in the world. That club not only went through a trophy-less campaign. It has seemingly blown up all that it had accomplished in recent memory, and that team is now on the verge of once again taking steps to keep up with its most hated rival club. That story has, however, since been overshadowed by all that happened in FIFA in the closing weeks of the spring. It is not yet a new day at FIFA, but there is hope that the sun is, in fact, setting on the organization's current run as it exists.
20 Freiburg painfully relegated
Freiburg being relegated on the final day of the season was not surprising. The club had, after all, put itself in a position with its play to be fighting for its Bundesliga life in late May. What was surprising and also heartbreaking for the club was that Pavel Krmas, a beloved veteran defender playing in his final match with the club, inexplicably struck a force own goal after his goalkeeper had made a save. That tally put Freiburg down a pair of goals, and the game's final score was – you guessed it – 2-1. The final knife-twist is that a draw would have been good enough for Freiburg to stay up another season Ouch.
19 The fall of Gareth Bale
The former Tottenham Hotspur standout was a hero among the Real Madrid faithful 12 months ago. His sprint down the left wing and subsequent tally notched the Copa del Rey for the Spanish giants, and Bale topped that by heading home what was the match-winner in the Champions League Final. Bale has since found out that sports is the ultimate “what have you done for me lately” business, getting booed at home matches due to what has been perceived as lackluster play. There are now rumors that Real may sell the Welsh wonder back to the Premier League during the summer of 2015.
18 Newcastle survive
All indications early into the campaign was that this was going to be the season when Newcastle United were (finally) relegated into the Championship. A tumultuous first-half of the campaign that included fan protests against manager Alan Pardew and a run of lousy results was capped off by Pardew returning to Crystal Palace, where he had played during his career, this time as a manager. Enter John Carver, who slowly yet surely kept Newcastle teetering on the edge until the final day of the Premier League campaign. A 2-0 win over West Ham guaranteed Newcastle safety for another season.
17 Lyon finish second
Paris Saint-Germain finished the season atop the Ligue 1 table as most expected, but the Champions League mainstays were given a fight from a somewhat unexpected foe. Lyon proved to be more than just a contender for European football in 2014-15, putting together a run of positive results that catapulted the club ahead of Monaco and within striking distance of PSG late into the season. A second-place finish should not be taken for granted by anyone at the club, but now Lyon face a different challenge: Holding onto top players for at least one more season.
16 The rise of Danny Rose
The days of Danny Rose being loaned out to lesser Premier League teams because he could not get into the Tottenham Hotspur squad came to an end with Mauricio Pochettino in charge. Rose was one of several standouts for the roller-coaster Spurs side that once again barely missed out on Champions League football, so much so that he has been referred to as one of the best English fullbacks in the game. England fans and Tottenham supporters are the only ones who noticed what Rose accomplished in 2014-15, as he is reportedly set to be a target of Manchester City.
15 C'mon, feel the Moyes
David Moyes was a Manchester United castoff before the end of the 2013-14 campaign, and Tottenham Hotspur supporters were singing songs about how they did not want the former Everton boss at White Hart Lane at matches during the spring of 2014. Moyes found new life over at Real Sociedad, the club he took over in November of 2014. Flirting with relegation and having won only only twice out of 11 attempts, Sociedad found winning ways with Moyes leading the way. The club finished comfortably in the middle of the La Liga table, and Moyes will now be looking to build the squad leading up to his first full season in charge.
14 Blackpool fans
This event was literally surprising in that those running security at Bloomfield Road did not see it coming on May 2nd. Blackpool fans, fed up with the state of the club and with club owners the Oyston family, took to the pitch in protest before the relegated side were set to play Huddersfield. A funny thing then happened: The fans refused to leave the field. The protest lasted for an hour until it was decided that the match was to be called off. It was the cherry on top of a disgusting sundae for club and for supporters, and the hope moving forward is that there will be brighter days ahead at Blackpool.
13 PSG shock Chelsea
Few gave Paris Saint-Germain much of a chance against Premier League powerhouses Chelsea in the Round of 16 of the Champions League. Those opinions only grew in might after Chelsea notched an away goal and a draw in the first leg of the draw. PSG refused to be outdone despite losing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a red card, finding the back of the net twice and earning the draw that put the Ligue 1 champions through on away goals. Barcelona went on to make light work of PSG in the next round, but that did not take away what the French outfit had achieved at Stamford Bridge.
Radamel Falcao was supposed to be one of the key pieces for manager Louis van Gaal rebuilding Manchester United, but the man on loan had a Premier League campaign to forget. Van Gaal dropped Falcao on multiple occasions, forcing the Colombian to play for the United U-21 team at one point. Falcao ended the season with just four goals in 29 matches, and Van Gaal did not offer him a deal to remain with the club. Falcao is still reportedly a popular transfer target, however, with both Chelsea and Juventus rumored to be interested in acquiring the forward.
11 Tim Sherwood saves the day
You will all have to save your Tim Sherwood jokes for another year. Sherwood, mocked by fans and analysts for his tactics and for his handling of players while filling in at Tottenham Hotspur in early 2014, found a new home at Aston Villa in February of 2015. The energetic Sherwood was the injection of life the relegation candidates sorely needed, and the former Spurs caretaker boss led Villa to three points above the drop by season's end. Just as impressively, Villa qualified for the FA Cup Final by defeating Liverpool on April 19. Sherwood is now a legitimate Premier League boss.
10 The near fall of Borussia Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund were favorites to finish atop this list during the winter months. The winners of the Bundesliga for 2011 and 2012 had a nightmare start to the campaign, to the point that Dortmund were bottom of the league and almost destined to be relegated. Things got so bad at one point that players were moved to apologize to fans after a home defeat in February. While Dortmund turned things around and finished in the top-seven of the Bundesliga table, one cannot help but wonder what will be to come for the club with adored manager Jurgen Klopp moving on this coming summer.
9 Ageless wonder
Age is known as the great equalizer in the world of professional sports. It catches up with all athletes, and it is undefeated. Some great footballers manage, however, to age like a fine wine, and that was the case for Luca Toni during the 2014-15 campaign. The Verona forward struck for 22 goals in Serie A play, earning him a share of the Golden Boot award for the Italian top-flight. Toni, who eventually will not be able to escape time, is being linked with a few possible moves, and he may find himself able to cash-in on a deal with the Australian A-League during the summer months.
8 Lazio to Champions League
Juventus. Roma. Napoli. They were supposed to represent the top-three teams in the Serie A for the season with no questions asked. Somebody forgot to clue Lazio into the Italian football tradition, as the Biancocelesti proved to be more than pesky competition for a berth in the Champions League. A late-season slip-up at home against Roma put things in doubt, but Lazio then saved the best for last and earned a 4-2 victory away to Napoli to clinch a third-place finish and a spot in the top club competition in the world for next season. Is this a one-off, or are the Lazio of old here to stay in Europe?
7 Liverpool are..back?
It was not supposed to be this way for Liverpool so quickly after the 2013-14 campaign. Manager Brendan Rodgers had the Reds competing for the Premier League title last spring, and he brought Liverpool back to the Champions League. Liverpool were unable to cope with losing Luis Suarez to Barcelona in the summer transfer window, and it was business as usual for the club by the time May 2015 rolled around. Liverpool once again finished the campaign beneath Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League table, and some are calling for Rodgers to be sacked.
6 Old Juventus return
There are certain events you can set your watch to, such as the sun rising in the east and Juventus winning the Serie A crown. The surprising run made by the “Old Lady” has come in the 2014-15 Champions League competition. Juve steamed past Borussia Dortmund, the kings of Serie A outlasted Monaco, and Juventus followed that up by earning the necessary result at the Bernabeu to shock Real Madrid. There is one final hurdle between Juventus and a return to European prominence: A showdown with Barcelona, the best team in Spain and perhaps the best club squad on the planet today.
5 Luis Suarez: Good guy?
Forward Luis Suarez was a pariah in world football during the summer of 2014. A scummy player and person with a laundry list of black marks on his resume bit an opponent for at least the third time of his career, this time at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and some were calling for him to be banned from all competitions indefinitely. That Suarez struggled to make impacts in games early into his Barcelona debut season following a move from Liverpool seemed to be karma catching up with him. Don't look now, but Suarez has become more than a positive contributor for Barca. Spanish newspaper Marca called his switch from Liverpool to the Spanish outfit the best La Liga transfer of the year.
4 Harry Kane
Find that magical DeLorean, take a ride back in time to August 2014 and tell that version of yourself that Tottenham Hotspur front man Harry Kane will be the best forward in England come June 2015. Then, wait until that “you” stops laughing. Kane was a revelation while playing under new Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, netting 30 goals across all competition and emerging as a forward worthy of being scouted by the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona. The young man who is “one of their own” has publicly committed himself to White Hart Lane. We shall see.
3 The fall of Real Madrid
It was back on June 1st of 2014 when Real Madrid were supposedly on the verge of yet another golden era of football. The club had the best overall player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo and a budding star and hero in Gareth Bale. That was even before Real agreed to terms with World Cup standouts Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez. What was thought to be golden turned to clay seemingly overnight, however, as Real struggled to earn positive results more often than expected en route to entering June 2015 without having won a single trophy during the previous campaign. That led to an even more surprising event.
2 The fall of Carlo Ancelotti
Carlo Ancelotti took over for Jose Mourinho in the summer of 2013, and he helped produce the following glorious moments for Real: Copa del Ray victory, UEFA Super Cup victory, FIFA Club World Cup victory, and a Champions League win that delivered a long-awaited “decima” to what was, a year ago, the best club in the world. Ancelotti now finds himself looking for a new gig in June 2015 after being unceremoniously shown the door due to Real winning nothing of merit in his second season at the Bernabeu. Enjoy Rafa Benitez, Real. Here's hoping he gives you all you truly deserve.
1 The FIFA scandal
FIFA is corrupt. That is no surprise, but it has now been confirmed by the FBI and by the United States Justice Department following a lengthy investigation. 14 officials have, to date, been indicted, and the FBI made it clear on May 27 that this was the only the beginning stages of what was to come. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has yet to be directly implicated, and he even won re-election on the last Friday of May. I along with football fans from around the world can think of one way he can celebrate: He could consider taking a holiday to the United States. What could go wrong?