20 wishes for a Happy New Year
An outsider crashing Big Four would greatly benefit the English Premier League
Atlético Madrid needs to stop underachieving, Valencia needs someone to fix club
Ronaldo deserves to be smiling again, while Cristiano Ronaldo needs to grow up
It's that time. So why not make a list of things I hope to see in 2009?
1. Somebody to come and save Valencia. The recent announcement of a financial restructuring to stave off bankruptcy is good news, but what the club needs most is owners who can run it responsibly and with the financial means to keep Valencia where it deserves to be.
2. Edmundo to come back, score a few goals and then retire on a high. O Animal is an acquired taste and there are many reasons to dislike him. But you have to be dull, stupid or both to not appreciate his skills. I don't want him to bow out on the back of a relegation.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo to grow up. Yes, he's a marked man, yes, he's entitled to seek a move elsewhere if he wants one. But there's a classy way of dealing with brutish defenders, just as there's a classy way of engineering a move. He's young enough to change and, if he does, he truly can be the greatest -- not just the best -- player in the world.
4. Hoffenheim to prove that '08 wasn't a fluke. Dietmar Hopp's money may have sent the club on its way, but this season's success was built on youth, planning and Ralf Rangnick's vision, rather than simply buying ready-made stars. Hoffenheim can provide a blueprint for how to invest money.
5. Claudio Ranieri to finally get some recognition for taking Juventus out of Calciopoli's shadow. He has never been fashionable as a coach, but he is hitting all his targets and Juventus is on its way back to greatness. It's time somebody realized that Ranieri is not just the Tinkerman, not just the well-meaning uncle, not just a guy who found himself in the right place at the right time.
6. Somebody to break into the Premier League Big Four. For too long, people have made excuses as to why Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal were in a league of their own. Enough excuses. The game is not just about transfer budgets (and, indeed, some clubs, like Manchester City and Aston Villa, have outspent the Big Four of late).
7. Michael Essien to return to action and get the respect he deserves. That means not being a victim of his own versatility and getting shuffled all over the pitch to accommodate other stars. He's a star in his own right and one of the best midfielders in the world. Period.
8. Napoli to continue punching its weight. I missed them, I really did. Napoli doesn't need to bring back the Diego Maradona glory days, but at least give Naples the kind of football it deserves. With Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik, the future looks baby blue.
9. Tigre to come back and mount a title challenge. It's cruel when you beat the champions in a playoff and still walk away second-best. The Argentine upstarts' fairytale can't end here.
10. Tony Mowbray to continue ignoring the punditocracy and stick to his guns. There are many different ways to play the game, but the mantra that a small club can't stay up if it plays attacking, pass-oriented soccer is just a big fat lie. Or, at least, I hope West Brom prove that it is.
11. FIFA, UEFA and the leagues to give themselves solid, hard-and-fast rules for the good of the game. And to do so via collaboration, not coercion. People buying clubs with debt. Club officials pocketing bribes and payoffs. The kind of bogus accounting practices that would have made Enron seem the paragon of integrity. It's a ticking time bomb and it has to stop.
12. Somebody to apologize to Samuel Eto'o. Wasn't he supposed to be finished?
13. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger to make up. Yes, this one's a long-shot. And, from a neutral perspective, it's been a lot of fun. But these two guys are too bright to continue feuding ad infinitum. (While they're at it, maybe Pelé and Maradona will follow their lead.)
14. Joey Barton to retire. 'Nuff said.
15. Somebody to give Zdenek Zeman a job. I miss him.
16. Ajax to spend the Klaas-Jan Huntelaar money wisely. Yes, I miss Ajax too.
17. José Mourinho to be described, at least for a while, as a gracious, affable guy and not as a one-man media show.
18. Atlético Madrid to stop underachieving: for the sake of its long-suffering fans.
19. Rafa Benítez to relax.
20. Ronaldo -- the original one -- to start grinning again.