Round-up 2021: From Ronaldo's Coca-Cola snub to Champions League re-draw - 10 controversial football moments
Controversies and football are known to go hand-in-hand. From Cristiano Ronaldo's Coca-Cola snub to the controversial Champions League round of 16 re-draw, this year saw some major controversies plague the sport. As 2021 approaches its end, we look at the ten most controversial moments that rocked football this year.
The European Super League saga
In April 2021, 12 of European football's biggest clubs attempted to cut ties with the UEFA's well-established Champions League competition unceremoniously and created a new European Super League. The formation of a new league saw the football world divided as the new competition received a hostile reaction from fans, players, managers, pundits, governing bodies and governments. Following the mass agitation, all six English clubs, i.e. Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspurs - plus Inter Milan, AC Milan and Atletico Madrid left the league consortium. Spanish clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona and Italian team Juventus have continued to push the idea, and proceedings continue in a Madrid Court. Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is said to be the brainchild of this new league and believes that the ESL is for the betterment of football even as the European Parliament passed a resolution opposing 'breakaway competitions'.
The world of football was left shell-shocked after 29-year-old Christian Eriksen collapsed on the football field after suffering a cardiac arrest during Denmark's opening clash against Finland at the Euros 2020 on June 12. The former Tottenham Hotspurs midfielder had to be resuscitated on the pitch. After a commendable effort from Danish players and the team's medical staff, Eriksen was stabilised and then taken to the hospital for a speedy recovery. Post this incident, Denmark were given the option to continue playing immediately, or play the next day, or forfeit the game altogether. Denmark opted to finish the remaining 50 minutes of the game the very same day, but UEFA was slammed for their insensitiveness towards such a delicate situation. Televised live to a stunned nation, Denmark then rode a wave of emotion at the Euros 2020, making it to the semi-finals.
During a Euro 2020 press conference in June, Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo intentionally put two bottles of Coca-Cola away from the cameras. The Manchester United striker encouraged viewers to drink water instead of aerated drinks. Believe it or not, this gesture by Ronaldo wiped off close to $4 billion from Coca-Cola's market value, and its shares fell by 1.6 per cent. In a statement after the press conference, Coca-Cola had said that "everyone is entitled to their drink preferences"
The Euros 2020 final was perhaps one of the most widely spoken games of football this year. It was the first time England made it to a major competition final since their 1966 World Cup win. But the Gareth Southgate side was beaten in the grand finale after a penalty shootout against Italy. Three young guns - Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka - missed the penalties and were racially abused online after the shocking loss. This led to a nationwide movement with several fans and players rallying support for the youngsters and promising them to get such offensive comments reported and removed.
Iran's women's football team was accused of playing a male goalkeeper
32-year-old Iranian goalkeeper of the women's national team, Zohreh Koudaei, has been facing calls to confirm her gender. The Jordan Football Association alleged that Iran played a man in a women's international contest after Koudaei saved two penalties during Iran's 4-3 penalty shootout win against Jordan during their 2022 Women's Asia Cup qualifier in September this year. The President of Jordan's FA, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, had tweeted a letter 'requesting a gender verification check' on Koudaei. Refuting the claims, Koudaei told the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, "I am a woman. This is bullying from Jordan. I will sue the Jordan FA."
Benjamin Mendy sexual assault case
Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy, who remains in custody, is facing six counts of rape and one count of sexual assault. The charges are related to four complainants by victims over the age of 16. The incidents are alleged to have taken place between October 2020 and August 2021. The 27-year-old France international moved to Manchester City from Monaco for a reported £52 million in 2017. He was suspended by the club after being charged by police, pending an investigation.
French footballer Karim Benzema guilty in sex tape blackmail case
France and Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema was on November 24 found guilty of conspiring to blackmail a fellow French footballer with a sex tape. A judge handed the striker a one-year suspended jail term and ordered him to pay a €75,000 (£63,000; $84,000) fine. The 33-year-old was one of five people put on trial in October over an attempt to extort Frenchman Mathieu Valbuena. The scandal, which dates back to June 2015, stunned the football community in France, and both players lost their national team places.
Lionel Messi wins 7th Ballon d'Or amid 'robbery' outrage
Argentina and Paris Saint-Germain forward Lionel Messi bagged his 7th Ballon d'Or award on November 29, 2021. However, this achievement was ridden with controversy, with several fans insisting that Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski was 'robbed' of the top football honour. The Poland striker, Lewandowski, was widely expected to win after scoring 38 goals in 30 league games for Bayern Munich in 2021 and 11 goals in 12 games for Poland. Lewy also netted in 19 consecutive games in all competitions for Bayern Munich from February to September and missed out on equalling the record of scoring in 16 Bundesliga games in a row. The star striker missed out on what would almost certainly have been his first Ballon d'Or award when the event was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. However, several fans were left fuming that the Polish superstar finished second behind Lionel Messi this year, despite the Argentine's feats for club and country.
UEFA Champions League 2021-22 round of 16 "re-draw" fiasco
The highly-anticipated Champions League ran into controversy on December 13, after UEFA declared that the round of 16 draw was null and void following a series of 'technical' errors involving the placement of the marked balls. The excitement of Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi once again was short-lived. Manchester United was drawn against Paris Saint-Germain after earlier being wrongly paired with Villarreal (a team from the same group) and before being mistakenly left out of the list of possible opponents to face Atletico Madrid. These errors, which rendered the results inherently flawed and unfair, were spotted and forced the UEFA to redo the Champions League last 16 draw.
FIFA's biennial World Cup plan meets with fierce criticism
FIFA's plan to hold the World Cup every two years instead of every four has met with fierce criticism from a number of continental and national federations, players' groups as well as supporters. The International Olympic Committee too called for discussions suggesting football's governing body is putting money ahead of the sport. Recently, FIFA claimed that staging the World Cup every two years would offer enormous financial benefits for its member federations. To help convince its 211 member federations, FIFA vowed to hand over an extra $19 million every four years to each one. President Gianni Infantino expressed hope that the highly controversial plans would not be derailed by opposition from Europe and South America.