Football 2023 year-ender: Ronaldo catalyst for Saudi, Messi wins Ballon d’Or | Football News - Hindustan Times

Key highlights in football 2023: Ronaldo catalyst for Saudi transfers; Messi's Ballon d’Or triumph and Bonmati shines

ByNeelav Chakravarti, New Delhi
Dec 24, 2023 04:11 PM IST

Here are the key moments in world football during 2023.

The season 2023 marked a key year in world football. We saw a sudden surge of well-established superstars making their way to the cash-strapped Saudi Pro League. Meanwhile, Lionel Messi moved to Major League Soccer (MLS) side Inter Miami in a sensational transfer after departing Paris Saint Germain (PSG) as a free agent.

Lionel Messi poses with his eighth Ballon d'Or trophy(AFP)
Lionel Messi poses with his eighth Ballon d'Or trophy(AFP)

On the other hand, women's football witnessed a controversy just after Spain’s 2023 World Cup glory due to disgraced former Spanish football federation chief Luis Rubiales. This year, we also saw players filled with fatigue due to the extensive scheduling calendar implemented by UEFA and FIFA in recent times. Players participating in the 2022 World Cup didn't get a decent break as stars had to return to their respective clubs quickly after the FIFA tournament.

Here are the key moments in world football during 2023:

The Cristiano Ronaldo effect

Before the 2022 New Year's, Cristiano Ronaldo was shockingly without a club, after Manchester United tore up his contract. The club took the decision after Ronaldo's interview with British journalist Piers Morgan, where he criticised United, including Erik ten Hag and the club's hierarchy.

It was already well-known that he was on his way to the Saudi Pro League, as clubs in Europe couldn't afford his huge salary. So the big news came on January 1, 2023, and Ronaldo finalised his move to Al Nassr, who awarded him a massive contract. The contract included a base salary of 50 million Euros annually, which increases to 200 million Euros when considering sponsorships and additional incentives.

Ronaldo's move was a catalyst as soon in the summer transfer window, it became like a shopping spree for the Saudi clubs. Players like Neymar Jr, Karim Benzema, N'Golo Kante, Sadio Mane, Ruben Neves, Riyad Mahrez, Roberto Firmino, Aymeric Laporte and Jordan Henderson joined the Saudi Pro League.

2023 was Lionel Messi's year

Lionel Messi led Argentina to 2022 FIFA World Cup glory in December last year. The glory just didn't stop there, although 2023 had some lows for him in the beginning. He departed PSG on a disappointing note, being jeered in his final Ligue 1 game. Then, he sealed a sensational move to MLS side Inter Miami, which is co-owned by David Beckham, Then, he even clinched the 2023 Ballon d'Or, adding to his glittering collection.

His move to Inter Miami also saw Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba join their former Barcelona teammate. He was also adjudged as the Argentine Footballer of the Year and Laureus World Sportsman of the year.

Aitana Bonmati, the new women's football star

Spain and Barcelona found their superstar Aitana Bonmati, who replaced Alexia Putellas. Putellas' year has been marred with injury issues and poor form. Bonmati was Barcelona's star midfielder and Spain's main player in the 2023 Women's World Cup.

In Spain's opening match of the World Cup, she scored their second goal in a 3-0 win against Costa Rica. She scored twice and got two assists in their 5-1 rout of Switzerland as they reached the quarter-finals. She was named as the tournament's best player and received the Golden Ball award.

With Barcelona, she won the Primera Division, Women's Champions League, and Supercopa de Espana. Meanwhile, she also received the women's Ballon d'Or award, UEFA Women's Player of the Year, and Women's Champions League Player of the Season.

Spain's World Cup glory marred by Rubiales controversy

Spain were the better team as they defeated England, 1-0, in the Women's World Cup final this year. But controversy followed in the post-match awards ceremony, where Spanish Football Federation chief Luis Rubiales was seen inappropriately touching Spanish players and he also kissed Jenni Hermoso. The incident sparked controversy and widespread criticism, eventually leading to Rubiales' resignation, a three-year FIFA ban and sexual assault criminal charges.

Manchester City's dominance

Pep Guardiola finally completed his mission as Manchester City cemented their dominance in Europe. They ended up as the quintuple champions, clinching the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League, UEFA Super League and FIFA Club World Cup.

The club outplayed opponents in all departments, with Erling Haaland leading the frontline. Meanwhile, Kevin de Bruyne, who is currently injured,led the creative front. De Bruyne was assisted by Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan, who is now in Barcelona. The backline consisted of the likes of John Stones and Kyle Walker, assisted by the excellent goalkeeping Brazilian no. 2 Ederson.

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