Who is fading, who is the rising star and what is the looming crisis?

Lionel Messi – Ulrik Pedersen/Getty Images

With a controversial Winter World Cup underway, this year always promised to be action-packed and likely to raise any number of talking points. And it’s fair to say that he did not disappoint. Lionel Messi has finally got his hands on the famous trophy, his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo has left Manchester United under a cloud of his own making, and Erling Haaland has confirmed in a big way that he knows how to find the back of the net.

So what to make of the last 12 months and how will 2023 follow up on all of that? Here’s Telegraph Sport’s 2022 release and what next year may hold.

Which stars are in decline

The sight of Cristiano Ronaldo effectively “retiring” to play exhibition football should he accept an offer to play in Saudi Arabia will be an unedifying end to one of the most decorated careers, even if when he reflects on the extraordinary salary and reflects on the his incredible results it is unlikely to wonder where it all went wrong.

One could even argue that it’s downhill from here for his arch-rival Lionel Messi as well. Anyone who watches Party Favorite Die Hard knows the famous quote from Alan ‘Hans Gruber’ Rickman.

“When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”

Imagine the void inside poor Leo as he spends the rest of the season trying to win the French Ligue 1 with Paris Saint Germain. Not even the pursuit of another Champions League can regain the exhilaration of World Cup glory. But at least Messi’s gradual, inevitable descent will be from a heavenly peak.

Cristiano Ronaldo - Aijaz Rahi/AP

Cristiano Ronaldo – Aijaz Rahi/AP

Back in the Premier League, Jadon Sancho will spend the first few months of 2023 trying to remind everyone – including manager Erik ten Hag – that he still plays for Manchester United, while the safest bet in football is that Brentford striker Ivan Toney will transform his career after a (probably) long suspension by becoming an anti-gambling activist.

Which stars are on the rise?

Vincent Kompany has risked his manager reputation by joining Burnley but promotion from the Championship beckons. Even neutral fans would be delighted if the immensely likable Tony Mowbray reinstates Sunderland’s Premier League status. The top flight would be a better place with a Tyne-Wear derby to look forward to, and after years of footballing stagnation it looks like the north east are finally moving again.

The fight to be Premier League Player of the Year will be one of the toughest ever. Although Erling Haaland are favourites, Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli and Newcastle’s Bruno Guimaraes will spend the first few months of 2023 exposing the folly of Brazil for underestimating them at the World Cup.

Gabriel Martinelli celebrates at the Emirates - Stuart MacFarlane /Getty Images

Gabriel Martinelli celebrates at the Emirates – Stuart MacFarlane /Getty Images

Argentine hero Alexis Mac Allister will surely be sought after by Champions League clubs wondering how the hell he is still at Brighton, while every Moroccan international will be expecting a phone call from Premier League talent scouts. The manager who guided Africa’s first team to the World Cup semi-final, Walid Regragui, will be approached by the next mid-table Premier League club to sack their manager.

Liverpool’s Harvey Elliott and Aston Villa’s Jacob Ramsey will receive their first England call-ups in 2023, and Manchester City’s Cole Palmer will begin his quest to ensure he’s part of Gareth Southgate’s plans for Euro 2024.

The hottest ticket of 2023

The Champions League final in Istanbul. Surely this is the year Manchester City lift the trophy?

Alternatively, the producers of Amazon Prime should contract with Jude Bellingham’s agents for a documentary on the fly chronicling the English star’s last six months in the Bundesliga and the frantic search to sign him.

“All or nothing” will be the message launched by Borussia Dortmund which are quoting £150m for Bellingham’s services.

Bellingham’s pursuit will reach a level of hysteria such that fans of the club they lure will celebrate the deal as a Champions League final win, so much so that the English midfielder may even be paraded through the streets of his hometown on an open-top bus, proudly holding up the million pound contract he’s sure to win.

Jude Bellingham - Mike Egerton /PA

Jude Bellingham – Mike Egerton /PA

A looming crisis in sport is…

The true effects of a mid-season World Cup have yet to be realised. Gabriel Jesus is the most high-profile victim so far having returned from Qatar injured, but the player’s burn-out is a concern for the elite internationals. The culmination of this season, or the start of next, could see teams across Europe decimated if physical and mental efforts reach the stars.

Fifa’s response to criticism of match congestion is to cram even more matches and tournaments into the calendar. There are signs that players’ unions have reached breaking point given how little they have been consulted as governing bodies leverage their talents to squeeze more money out of the game, so don’t be surprised if there is a mobilization and response for restore that balance. Could the strike action eventually extend to footballers who do not want to participate in FIFA and UEFA vanity projects? It may be the only solution to stop football ‘presidents’ from behaving as if they are ‘supreme leaders’.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino - Pascal Bitz

FIFA president Gianni Infantino – Pascal Bitz

Closer to home, with every Premier League owner other than ‘tempting offers’ from Manchester City, Newcastle and Chelsea, club takeovers could become a monthly fixture, each followed by the usual corporate buzz as the next billionaire dons a scarf of the club and delivers a carefully crafted script in the form of an ‘open letter’ – written for a fee of £10,000 a word by London’s most coveted PR firm – naming all the famous 1970s games and players who made “fall in love” with the president of his new club.

And when the most gullible fans have swallowed it all up – and are mesmerized by the promise of the busiest transfer window in their clubs’ history – ticket prices will soar and replica shirts will cost more than a Prada suit. Happy New Year to all.

A prediction

Elon Musk will conduct a Twitter poll asking if he should bid for the 2030 World Cup to be hosted by… Mars. Despite mass outcry given the Red Planet’s notoriously suspicious history of human life, David Beckham will agree to become the tournament’s ambassador arguing that he “always believed that football belongs to more than one galaxy”. After confirming the choice of hosts who “change the world”, FIFA president Gianni Infantino announces “I am a Martian”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *