What We Learned About Football in 2016

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As the end of the year approaches, it's traditionally time to look back at the year that was. 2016 is a year that will go down in history for plenty of things, some good, some not. And the year in football was no different. It saw the very best of the game, and the very worst.

Impossible is still possible 

One of the best moments of 2016 - in football, in sport, in anything, came when Leicester City won the Premier League title. By now we've all got used to it, but the sheer improbability of a team going from basement of the Premier League to winning the trophy still shouldn't be underestimated. For years, the same handful of teams have fought over the top prize in English football. 2016 was the year when someone made us believe all over again that it is possible for a team to come out of nowhere and smack the big boys in the face. Hope is a valuable commodity, and for football fans everywhere 2016 was the year Leicester City gave us all hope again.

Players win games, managers win trophies

From football stickers to top trumps to fantasy football, we've been led to believe that the players are the biggest determining factor in what makes a great team. But in 2016 managers dominated. Claudio Ranieri wasn't the only reason behind Leicester's triumph, but he certainly was at the heart of their incredible turnaround. Antonio Conte has come in to the Premier League and taken Chelsea from one of their worst seasons in recent memory last year to being top at Christmas. And that's not even to mention all the time we spent talking about Mourinho, Guardiola, Klopp and the like in 2016. The players on the pitch may still be the stars of the show, but managers have never been as important as they were in 2016.

Apparently stadiums do matter

For one team, 2016 was nothing if not a year of two halves. West Ham's move to the Olympic stadium was one of the biggest stories of the year. What was supposed to be a crowning moment in the club’s history has become a nightmare. Things didn't go much better for Tottenham, whose Champions League campaign at Wembley was equally calamitous. It’s seems then that stadiums do matter after all. I'm still not completely ready to buy the argument that playing in a new postcode can turn a good team into a bad one, but new stadiums are easy targets. As soon as things start going wrong, stadiums become an easy excuse to explain why, and become a monkey on the back of any team. If you’re changing stadiums, make sure you’re ready for a bumpy ride.

There are now whole new ways to lose your job

Football managers having low job security is nothing new. Managers are staying in their jobs for shorter and shorter periods of time (outside of course for Arsene Wenger). 2016 showed that there are more ways than ever to lose your job. The Sam Allardyce scandal showed that the spotlight is more dangerous than ever for a manager. For all of Allardyce’s  flaws, what ultimately led to his downfall was the sheer level of scrutiny that the England manger now receives. As football gets more and more popular, the pressure on the biggest job in the country grows and grows. The media sting is now as much a danger for managers losing their jobs as a poor run of results. Gone are the days of managers having shady discussions in pubs and back rooms, 2016 proved that managers are now as much in the spotlight as their players.

Football’s dark side is as dark as ever

For all the good that happened in 2016, unfortunately we saw plenty of bad to go along with it. The scandal that cost Allardyce his job also exposed the old school culture that sits at the heart of the game. The European Championships were overshadowed by the return of mass football hooliganism on a global scale. And in recent months the revelations about sexual abuse at the heart of the game have shaken it to it’s core. 2016 was a great year for football, great players, great teams and one of the best stories in Premier League history. But the biggest thing we learned is that we have more to do to protect the health of the game. The New Year’s resolution for everyone in football needs to be to stamp out the issues that still blight the game, so in 2017 we can focus on what happens on the pitch.

James Fenn

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search