Between Euro 2016, the start of 2018 World Cup qualifiers in earnest, and some major upheaval at the club and international level, this year was a consequential one in football. With Sepp Blatter’s removal as president of FIFA and the corruption scandal entering the evidence discovery and continuance motion stages, it was thought that scandals would be fewer in numbers and dimmer intensity.
Boy were we wrong!
We couldn’t fit everything in this list. Some big stories, like riots at the Euros, Messi’s brief retirement from international duty, and Jürgen Klinsmann’s unceremonious departure from the USMNT, ended up getting muscled out. But this list, we hope, provides a good survey of the landscape. Where humans and sport and money congregate, there will be shenanigans.
15. The FA’s Helpful And Not At All Sexist Recommendations For Girls’ Football
It is a universally acknowledged truth that some of the stupidest mistakes happen when a clueless individual with influence tries to do good. So it was that the FA released guidelines for reaching out to girls and young women to try and get them involved in football, with such helpful ideas as incorporating breaks so players can check their phones and Twitter feeds and starting out with futsal because it’s “easier.” The recommendations received some well-deserved criticism, which led the FA to defend itself by saying that they totally asked some women for feedback and they said it was fine. This isn’t the most pointed example of institutional sexism in football, but given the age group the recommendations are aimed at, it’s particularly damaging.
14. Robbie Rogers Receives Homophobic Abuse From An Opponent During A Game
If you’re a cynic, or the many horrors of 2016 have left your spirit broken, you may have thought something like this was just a matter of time. Back in August, while playing for the LA Galaxy reserve team as part of his recovery from injury, Robbie Rogers was on the receiving end of homophobic insults and taunts from an opponent. The player in question, eventually revealed to be former West Brom and Southampton midfielder Richard Chaplow, was ultimately suspended for two games and fined. Chaplow accepted the punishment and offered a “sorry if you were offended” style apology but denied making homophobic remarks. Then the conspiracy theories started. And people wonder why there aren’t more openly gay footballers.
13. Michael Laudrup May Or May Not Have Profited From Transfer Fees At Swansea
This story is still in the early stages, but the gist of it is that Michael Laudrup and his agent allegedly took kickbacks from transfer fees while he was manager of Swansea, and that it was the leading reason for his firing. Laudrup has denied the allegations and Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins said he made the decision to fire the Dane for football reasons. The story broke in the Danish newspaper Politiken, who received documents from online whistleblowers Football Leaks. If there’s anything to this story, look for it to bleed over into next year— and probably rank higher on the 2017 list.
12. Alleged Financial Impropriety At Didier Drogba’s Charity
Earlier this year the Daily Mail broke a story accusing former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba’s charity of fraud, alleging that as much as £1.7 million that should’ve gone to help sick and impoverished children in Ivory Coast was instead pocketed. UK authorities launched an investigation and formally cleared Drogba’s charity of wrongdoing earlier this month, although they acknowledged that the organization may have “misled donors.”
11. The Matchfixing Scandal In Cyprus
Spyros Neofitides was a midlevel official in Cypriot football who made headlines for being named the whistleblower in a wide-reaching matchfixing scheme in the country. Cyprus’ football authorities reacted, somewhat predictably, by going after Neofitides rather than dealing with the actual problem. The CFA hasn’t announced the findings of their disciplinary proceedings against Neofitides and press coverage has been, uh, sparse, so it appears that Spyros Neofitides may have fallen down the memory hole. (If you have any tips, please get in touch with us.)
10. Neymar legal probs
The controversy surrounding the transfer deal that moved superstar forward Neymar from Santos to Barcelona has been on a low-simmer for the past few years, with allegations that the announced fee was lower than what Barça actually paid and that a third-party firm that owned some of Neymar’s rights was cheated out of the full amount. The allegations were enough to force Sandro Rosell to resign as club president but beyond that the matter seemed to be petering out. Until last month, when Spain’s top prosecutor announced he intended to pursue a prison sentence for Neymar. This hasn’t been resolved yet, so it’s possible that Neymar’s season could come to an abrupt, horrible end.
9. The Trials And Tribulations Of The Nigerian Olympic Team
The Nigerian Men’s Olympic Soccer Team had a rough journey this summer in Brazil. First, the Nigerian FA didn’t pair the bill for the team’s charter flight, leaving the team stranded in Atlanta for days. They finally made it to Brazil in time for their first group stage match of the tournament— barely. Then there was a dispute over payment, and the team threatened to boycott later rounds unless their paychecks cleared. And when the Nigerian FA balked, the team was rescued by a wealthy Japanese plastic surgeon. (Yes, really.) Everything worked out, the Nigerians won the Bronze, and everyone got paid on time. But it was still a farce, and unbefitting one of the strongest teams in Africa.
8. The NASL’s Imminent Collapse
The American soccer pyramid will likely look very different in 2017. Between the drama at Rayo OKC, Minnesota United joining MLS, Tampa Bay and Ottawa leaving for the USL, and the league’s top moneymakers ceasing operations, the NASL is a shell of its former self. US Soccer will be meeting next week to figure out what to do with it, but even if the league survives (which is by no means certain) it could very well lose its Division 2 status or even be merged with the USL. It seemed like only yesterday that the NASL was gearing up to challenge MLS for its top flight status.