--

Carrington, December 31, 2009. Alex Ferguson is spending his birthday, again, looking out at the training pitches.

United have just thrashed Wigan Athletic 5-0 to move to within two points of leaders Chelsea. They won't win the league this season. But they did the last. And they will the next.

Ferguson has no idea what will come in the next decade. Failure for United is second place, not three years without a trophy. The idea of three seasons out of the Champions League is preposterous. Finishing seventh is unimaginable. It's Manchester United, for goodness' sake.

There is no way they could get to that point. Someone would notice. Someone would do something.

--

FERGIE TIME RUNS OUT

The years between 2009 and 2020 will forever mark United's crashing fall from their perch, unable to extricate themselves from a cesspool of anti-Glazer protests, mismanaged managers, dividends and transfer misfires.

The signs were there for Ferguson, even as he lifted the Premier League for the 13th time in 2013. Manchester City had been spending hitherto unseen sums to revolutionise what it meant to run a football club, while only four United signings between January 2010 and that day in May - Robin van Persie, David de Gea, Ashley Young and Javier Hernandez - can be considered entirely successful.

United underestimated City, as they underestimated Ferguson's power to turn average teams into winners and the damage of losing CEO David Gill at the same time as the manager. Any fear about David Moyes and the longer-term future was dismissed as idle scaremongering, an inconvenient truth to be squashed under silverware.

The result is there are matchgoing United fans born this decade who have never seen them get close to winning the league. Hearing grown-ups talk of Moscow, Barcelona, trebles, double-doubles and '20 times, Man United' must sound like a Netflix fantasy series. It's not hard to imagine a seven-year-old gazing up at the Alex Ferguson statue, outside the Alex Ferguson stand, and turning to her parents to shake her head in defiant incredulity, much like a future child staring at the world's last surviving polar bear at the zoo might exclaim: "But, mummy, the arctic was never REALLY frozen over, was it?"

--

Carrington, December 31, 2019. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks out at the training pitches.

Marcus Rashford and team-mates have been hard at work, buoyed by a battling win at Burnley but thinking of Arsenal on New Year's Day. The mood is positive, but trepidation lurks in their minds. They are fifth in the Premier League and were never even in the title race. The next setback never feels far away.

Solskjaer sighs, pensively. It wasn't always like this.

--

'WE WILL LOOK BACK ON IT AS A GIGANTIC FALSE ALARM'

Solskjaer the United manager is the product of three failures.

First came The Chosen One in 2013. David Moyes was Ferguson's preference, had worked wonders at Everton and earned a chance on a grander stage.

Moyes later said he was promised Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos and Cesc Fabregas for his first season by new executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, while Cristiano Ronaldo had also been a target. It was a bold statement from one new man to another, a chest-out assurance United would swat away the competition. What Moyes got was deadline-day Marouane Fellaini, an elbow-flailing augur of doom.

Moyes bemoaned a lack of world-class players as United suffered their worst start to a league season for 24 years. By Christmas, fans were disquieted. By March, home humiliations against Liverpool and City had them angry. After plane banner protests and a 2-0 loss to Everton, Moyes was gone, nine months into a six-year contract.

United's aura had splintered like an ice shelf. They needed a real expert, a man of facts, figures and a matchday folder.

In came Louis van Gaal on a wave of positivity after taking Netherlands to third place at the World Cup. Woodward, having almost failed to sign anybody the year before, tried to sign everybody. In came British record signing Angel Di Maria and pricey loanee Radamel Falcao in a huge squad upheaval. The 'Gaalacticos' had assembled. United fans found their belief. Then, Van Gaal lost his.

A 5-3 defeat to Leicester City, noteworthy for a sublime Di Maria goal and the beginning of the end of Tyler Blackett's Premier League career, seemed to shake the manager's faith in how to play matches. Over the next 18 months, his team would shrink from 'attack, attack, attack' like a melting glacier, the players terrified of trying anything that might prompt one of those telling-off emails from Van Gaal. It seemed amazing Van Gaal's team could be so predictable, so boring when the man himself was a source of constant entertainment, decrying "sex-masochism" on live television, diving on the touchline against Arsenal and presenting the press with mulled wine, mince pies and "Mr Mike Smalling".

A single, short Champions League campaign and an FA Cup triumph were not enough. Leicester (Leicester!) had won the league and Pep Guardiola was going to City. This was a full-blown crisis. United put up the flood defences.

TO THE TIPPING POINT

"I want everything: I want to win matches; I want to play well," Jose Mourinho vowed in 2016. United spent big again on Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the best players in Italy, France and Germany the previous season. In 2016-17, they won the EFL Cup and Europa League but only finished sixth in the league, and Mourinho was not wholly content. United still had obvious concerns; they denied them.

United were second in 2017-18, their highest league position since their last title, as champions City obliterated the record books. Mourinho waspishly claimed it was his greatest achievement. He had begun warring with Woodward over transfers, sniping Pogba and Anthony Martial in training, and sulking through news conferences in which he said as little as possible when he wasn't reminding the room how good he used to be.

Mourinho's verbal microplastics had seeped into Old Trafford and turned it toxic. A 3-1 loss at Anfield was the last straw. Desperate, United put the battle for their very future in the hands of a bright-eyed, baby-faced Scandinavian and an emboldened band of youngsters up for the fight.

"There have been ups and downs," was Solskjaer's assessment last week, with stunning early form and a famous win in Paris undermined by 2019 defeats to Everton, Bournemouth, Watford, Newcastle United, Crystal Palace and Cardiff City. But with six wins in eight, victories over City, Chelsea (twice) and Tottenham and the chance of trophies in early 2020, maybe, at last, United have taken decisive action.

"I think we're on the right track," he added. " We will come strong this decade, definitely. That's just in the nature of this club."

Nature can be fickle, though.

--

Carrington, December 31, 2029. The Manchester United manager looks out at the training pitches.

Led by captain Marcus Rashford, player spirits are high. They're the champions of Europe and top of the league. It's been a good 10 years.

The manager sighs. It wasn't always like this. Manchester used to be cold in December.

Buoyed by two wins from two as Everton manager, Carlo Ancelotti begins the new decade back in the division where he was the first title-winner of the previous one.

Tactical thought in the 2010s was dominated by the Dutch-Catalan school's influence, as Pep Guardiola refined Johan Cruyff's vision to stunning effect with his dominant Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City sides, throwing in some South American seasoning as a Marcelo Bielsa disciple.

Guardiola, of course, has a more than worthy adversary in Jurgen Klopp, who looks to be at the beginning of his own imperial period at Liverpool. The gegenpressing master has refined his high-octane approach to find something utterly relentless – more motorik krautrock than heavy metal football.

Whenever major clubs make a managerial appointment nowadays, talk of "philosophy" and an overarching vision are rarely far away. This is the age of high-concept football.

Amid all of this, despite Serie A losing some of its lustre and the Azzurri humiliatingly failing to make the 2018 World Cup, Italian coaching remains something of a gold standard.

Ancelotti was the first of four of his compatriots to win the Premier League in the 2010s. Roberto Mancini lifted Manchester City's first English title for 44 years in 2011-12, leaving in place foundations Guardiola has built handsomely upon.

Mancini is now in charge of an Italy side that has not looked in such good health since Antonio Conte's time at the helm. Former Juventus boss Conte left after Euro 2016 and promptly won the Premier League with Chelsea. In doing so, he followed a countryman into the winner's enclosure.

Claudio Ranieri's 2015-16 march to glory with Leicester City stands apart as the outstanding club football achievement of the past 10 years.

A mix of football cultures

Ranieri and ex-Bayern Munich boss Ancelotti have also worked with distinction in Spain and France, while Mancini's route back to home came via stints at Galatasaray and Zenit.

All four men have some similarities in their approaches but do not speak of a uniform style. They are testament to the flexible and shape-shifting qualities of an ingrained Italian tradition.

"We have to make a mix of our football culture with the cultures of other European countries," said Renzo Ulivieri, the director of the Scuola Allenatori – Italy's coaching school.

"I think that our best quality is we are not closed, but we are open to other football cultures. We mix our culture with others."

Omnisport spoke to Ulivieri during a visit to the Italian Football Federation (FIGC)'s Coverciano headquarters, which was bathed in the glow of late autumn sunshine last month.

A picturesque location around five kilometres east of Florence, nestled below Monte Cereci where Leonardo da Vinci tested his flying machine half a century ago, Coverciano is where the latest generation of Italian coaches seek to take their country's proud tradition of tactical excellence to new heights.

Along with being home to all of Italy's national squads and a treasure trove of a museum celebrating each of their four World Cup triumphs, Coverciano is a campus that exists as football's equivalent to Harvard and Oxford.

Ulvieri oversees the UEFA Pro License course, already known as Il Master before it took on the standards of the highest coaching qualification set by European football's governing body.

Back to school with Pirlo and Toni

A Coverciano coaching education still stands apart. Alongside intensive tactical and technical elements, psychology, communication and sports medicine form part of the studies.

Andrea Pirlo, Luca Toni, Thiago Motta and Walter Samuel were among the 2019-20 intake, who found themselves trading free afternoons following training for eight-hour classroom days.

The course concludes with a set of oral exams and the completion of a detailed tactical thesis, which students present in the same oak-panelled room where we sat down with Ulivieri, resplendent in a federation tracksuit and speaking via an interpreter with a twinkle-eyed enthusiasm that belied his 78 years.

"It's a sort of obsessive thing for me," he said, when discussing the adaptability that has helped Italian coaches continue to thrive throughout a fast-changing period.

"A football coach has to arrange things with the players that he has. Being able to arrange is the main topic because, for the names like Marco Rossi, the coach of Hungary, it is more difficult to be a coach in these countries, instead of being a coach in France, in England.

"Italian people are a population who travel so much, so they have to arrange to go in other cultures. I want to explain to [the students] what will be their future life.

"There are some coaches, for example, who make a good season and then the other seasons are not so good. These are coaches who have not adjusted their football and arranged for the players they have.

"The future of football will be with a very big flexibility in tactics, because the tactics of a football team do not only change from match to match but also within the same match. Now we are seeing this. In future, football teams will play in two or three different ways."

A passion for tactics

Ulivieri's longevity is evidence he practiced what he preached.

Starting as an amateur coach in the mid-1960s in his native Tuscany – a region he still proudly proclaims to be a hotbed, with the exploits of Massimiliano Allegri, Maurizio Sarri and others backing up the point – Ulivieri boasts a bulging Serie A CV that features spells in charge of a young Mancini at Sampdoria, Cagliari, Parma, Napoli, Torino and Roberto Baggio's renaissance at Bologna.

His last top division post was with Reggina in 2007-08, although the obsession remains.

Alongside his day job at Coverciano, Ulivieri continues to coach women's Serie C side Pontedera, where he is still keen to throw around the odd bold tactical scheme.

"With the team, we are in a low level but I am still a coach because I have the passion and I want to try something. I want to try some tactical concepts on the field," he explained.

"Recently, I was speaking and I told them we will make a tactical approach that no team is doing."

Asked to elaborate, Ulivieri eagerly took Omnisport's notepad and sketched out a sort of 4-2-4 formation, featuring a rhombus of forwards where width would be provided by the central midfielders overlapping into wide areas.

A discussion of Sheffield United's successful adaptation to the Premier League followed, with Ulivieri fascinated to learn of Chris Wilder's roving wide centre-backs.

"I will study it," he exclaimed, before sounding a note of caution for Wilder and his contemporaries.

"In the past, tactical innovation could last four years, now maybe one year. We have to change always."

Back to the future

Coverciano's latest intake studied England's 1966 World Cup winners towards the end of 2019, with Ulivieri highlighting the movements of Roger Hunt, Martin Peters and Bobby Charlton as useful ploys against zonal defences of the modern day.

"Sometimes the past comes back," he said. "When Guardiola says my first forward is the space, before Guardiola was England with Bobby Charlton and the great Hungary team before that.

"Ideas in football come back always. We have to know everything. We have to know the past but we have to guess the future. Guessing the future is our main topic."

So, what will that future look like?

"More flexible," Ulivieri reiterated. "We will work for principles, not for schemes. We see this today in the big teams with big players.

"In the future, we will have players who are able to do many things, not just one. These things [Sheffield United's tactics] would be unthinkable with the players of 20 years ago. These players have to be athletic.

"In the future, we will have players who will be able to play here, there and in all parts of the field."

Thanks to their impeccable education and tradition, if feels safe to assume Coverciano's next alumni will lead these versatile stars with distinction, leaving their marks all over the 2020s as their predecessors did in the decade just passed.

If the 2010s were the decade of the veteran quarterbacks, the 2020s promise to be the next generation's era.

Ten years ago Peyton Manning met Drew Brees in the Super Bowl, Matt Schaub led the league in passing yards and Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning were all in the top 10.

Seven of that top 10 remain on teams in 2019 but only two - Rivers and Brady - featured among the leaders in that category this season.

Brees, Brady et al are used to completing passes, only this time it's the baton that is changing hands.

We take a look at why the future is now when it comes to the NFL's most important position.

 

Quarterbacks aged 27 or younger combined for a record 288 starts in 2019

Forty-somethings Brady and Brees may remain somewhere near the peak of their powers, but behind them there is a youth movement taking over.

The 2019 season saw QBs aged 27 or younger combine for 288 starts - by far the most since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Those young slingers combined for 145 wins too - again, another record broken by a large margin.

In Week 3, a record 20 of the 32 starting quarterbacks were 27 or younger. Draft classes after Brady, Brees and Rivers may not have produced players able to emulate their peers' achievements but playoff-bound QBs Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson have provided plenty of early encouragement.

 

Nine rookie QBs started a game in 2019, four did so in 2009

Remember the days when coaches wanted rookies to sit, learn the system and be thrown in when they were ready? 

Whether it was injuries (Gardner Minshew, Devlin Hodges, David Blough) or just pure curiosity (Will Grier, Ryan Finley) - teams turned to first-year players in 2019 in a way they never did a decade ago.

Only four rookies started games in the 2009 season - and three of those were first-rounders (Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman). 

 

The QB with the most rushing yards in 2009 had... 323

A decade ago CJ2K became a thing as Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson went over 2,000 yards on the ground.

The leading QB in that category also came from the AFC South, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard amassing 323 rushing yards.

He was one of only four QBs - along with Rodgers, Vince Young and Jason Campbell - to pile up more than 200 on the season. Two hundred rushing yards? That's practically an eight-day span for current Baltimore QB Jackson, who broke an NFL record with a whopping 1,206 on the ground.

MVP-in-waiting Jackson was one of 13 quarterbacks to rush for over 200 yards in 2019. Six of those beat Garrard's 2009 total and all bar Russell Wilson are 24 or younger.

For years dual-threat quarterbacks were seen as a quick fad that would burn out as you had to win from the pocket. Yet mobility at the QB position has proven to be a vital weapon in today's NFL.

 

This season, 75 per cent of head coaching hires came from offensive backgrounds

Eleven new head coach vacancies were filled prior to the 2009 season. Seven of those came from defensive backgrounds.

Eight new head coach vacancies were filled prior to the 2019 season. Six of those came from offensive backgrounds.

Call it the Sean McVay effect: NFL franchises want bright young minds to teach their promising-but-green QBs how to thrive at the next level. 

 

Goodbye, golden generation?

In the list for most touchdown passes of all time - a category Brees recently put himself at the top of - six of the leading 10 players are still active.

Aside from Rodgers, who should have a few years left in Green Bay, it is conceivable that the rest of that group - Brees, Brady, Rivers, Eli Manning and Roethlisberger - may head off into the sunset over the next couple of seasons.

Throw in Peyton Manning, who retired in 2016, and it is obvious we are seeing the last days of the golden generation that spearheaded the pass-happy revolution.

Luckily, there's a host of players ready to take over and take on the mantle in the 2020s.

The 2010s featured an abundance of drama in men's golf, but one triumph stands alone when assessing the most impactful moment of the decade.

A succession of nerve-shredding Ryder Cups, including Europe's astonishing victory in the 'Miracle of Medinah', will continue to live long in the memory of many, while the number of compelling major storylines has been remarkable.

Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Ernie Els, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Shane Lowry have all found themselves at the centre of thrilling finishes in the biggest events of the past 10 years. You may well fondly remember other stirring denouements.

Golf also made its long-awaited return to the Olympics, yet there can be no doubt Tiger Woods' success at the 2019 Masters tops everything else since the decade began.

In any circumstances, one of the world's most recognisable athletes ending an 11-year drought at the highest level would represent a significant storyline.

Woods' win at Augusta, though, was particularly remarkable due to the dark depths he had plumbed since last winning a major.

At the end of the 2009 PGA Tour season, Woods was the undisputed world number one and, with 14 majors to his name at the age of 33, he appeared highly likely to surpass Jack Nicklaus' record tally of 18.

No one could possibly have predicted the litany of setbacks that would follow, before he finally tasted major glory once again.

Only by reminding ourselves of Woods' pain can we fully appreciate the true enormity of his stunning redemption.

 

AN AURA STRIPPED AWAY

As he racked up win after win after win throughout the 2000s, Woods carried an air of invincibility few have ever attained. Even when he gave up a final-round lead at a major for the first time at the 2009 US PGA Championship, finishing second to the unheralded Y.E. Yang, it felt like no more than a surprising blip.

However, the man with arguably the most intimidating mentality in sport saw his aura shattered around the turn of the decade as a scandal involving his private life snowballed dramatically.

After suffering minor injuries in a car crash outside his home on November 27, 2009, as the first of several lurid allegations of infidelity surfaced, Woods apologised the following week for "letting his family down", adding somewhat vaguely that he regretted his "transgressions".

His first public appearance in the new decade was unforgettable. On February 19, 2010, Woods delivered an astonishing televised mea culpa, in which he revealed he was receiving therapy and solemnly stated: "I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. I knew my actions were wrong. But I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to."

Although he returned to compete again within two months, finishing fourth in the Masters, a newly vulnerable Woods - whose divorce from wife Elin Nordegren was confirmed in August - endured his first winless season as a professional on the back of his public humiliation, having claimed 64 titles across the previous 10 years.

 

THE INJURY HELL

Injuries had started to hamper Tiger in the previous decade, most notably when he somehow won the U.S. Open on one leg in 2008, but his fitness deteriorated sharply in the 2010s.

Following a truncated 2011 campaign that saw him drop out of the world's top 50, Woods looked to be back to his own self as he gradually recovered his form and won five PGA Tour events in 2013, reclaiming the number one ranking in the process.

A four-year injury nightmare followed, though, comprising four back surgeries and a succession of tournament withdrawals.

On the few occasions Woods was able to take to the course during this period, it generally made for difficult viewing, the low point coming at the Phoenix Open in February 2015 when he shot a career-worst 82.

Increasing back trouble duly led to a 15-month absence starting in August of that year and when Woods' eventual return was cut short by another setback early in 2017, his future prospects looked bleak.

"The cycle needs to be broken," read an article on Fox Sports. "For the sake of the game and in fairness to his peers, he should see the writing on the wall and formally retire."

 

THE MUG SHOT

Woods underwent his fourth back operation in April 2017 - spinal fusion surgery that appeared to represent a final roll of the dice in terms of restoring him to full fitness.

A month later, he reached a shocking nadir.

After he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence at 3am close to his Jupiter Island home, a startling mugshot of a dishevelled and desolate Woods - together with police footage that showed him in an alarmingly confused state - was swiftly shared around the world.

Alcohol was not involved. Woods instead attributed the incident to an "unexpected reaction to prescribed medications", before later pleading guilty to a charge of reckless driving.

More than seven years on from the car crash that effectively heralded the start of his spectacular fall from grace, another vehicle-related controversy left Woods looking a forlorn and troubled figure. Given his prolonged injury nightmare, it was tough to see how he could compete at the highest level again.

 

THE COMEBACK

In September 2017, a recovering Woods was asked if he could see a scenario in which he did not return to competitive golf.

"Yeah, definitely," replied a man who had fallen out of the world's top 1,000. "I don't know what my future holds for me. As I've told you guys, I'm hitting 60-yard shots."

Twelve months later, at the end of a sensational comeback season in which he had repeatedly challenged for victories and come close in two majors, Woods was able to savour his first triumph since 2013 as he won the Tour Championship amid extraordinary scenes that saw spectators swamp the 18th fairway.

It was a truly special moment, but what followed was even better.

 

'THE GREATEST SCENE IN GOLF FOREVER'

As outstanding as Woods' 2018 was in the context of his previous struggles, one thing was missing. The man who won 14 majors between 1997 and 2008 had still not added to that tally.

That changed on April 14, 2019, as Woods held his nerve superbly to claim a fifth Masters crown and send an expectant crowd into raptures.

CBS commentator Jim Nantz fully appreciated the significance of the moment when Woods tapped in his winning putt on the 18th green. After announcing the champion's "return to glory", Nantz remained silent for two minutes and 42 seconds during the celebrations as deafening roars and shouts of "TIGER, TIGER, TIGER" echoed around Augusta.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Nantz said: "I've done 34 Final Fours, had Super Bowls, Peyton [Manning's] farewell. It's the best event I've ever covered. And I feel very fortunate to have been in that spot.

"There was no way I was going to say anything over those images of Tiger with his family. The chanting was in the background and the scene was rich. I knew instinctively I wanted to sit back and enjoy it. All I could do was ruin it."

When the commentary eventually resumed, co-commentator Nick Faldo - a six-time major-winner who has seen pretty much all there is to see in his sport - declared simply: "That will be the greatest scene in golf forever."

Considering the misery that engulfed Woods for much of the past decade, it is hard to argue.

 

Somewhat fittingly for the week between Christmas and New Year, when excess chocolate and cheese can easily become a meal, the Premier League looks to have overindulged.

The newest gadgets can become tiresome through overuse at this time of year and the most recent rounds of fixtures in England's top flight might come to be seen as the moment when VAR ate itself.

Teemu Pukki, Wilfried Zaha, Dan Burn, Neto and Lys Mousset all had goals disallowed over the weekend when either themselves or team-mates were shown to be offside by the barest of margins.

Video Assistant Referees were rolled out in the A-League, MLS, the Bundesliga and Serie A before their largely acclaimed use at the 2018 World Cup.

All the while, the Premier League watched and waited, observed trials in domestic cup competitions and came up with its method of operating VAR. "Maximum interference – maximum benefit" was the self-announced "philosophy" of the league back in July.

The reality could not be further from the truth. So how did we get to a situation where even demonstrably correct decisions using VAR are derided and how can it be fixed?

Armpit offsides

For VAR evangelists and members of the "game's gone" brigade alike, this unwanted entry into the footballing lexicon is an absurdity that must be swiftly banished.

Where the intention of VAR – and, it must be said, it's regular benefit – is to stop incorrect calls affecting the destiny of games, its implementation for offsides in the Premier League is too frequently adjudicating upon something no one thought was a problem in the first place.

Raheem Sterling and Roberto Firmino are among the players to have had goals ruled out for the positioning of their armpit in relation to the last defender, elevating a part of the anatomy previously irrelevant to football conversation.

"Armpit offsides" have best highlighted the problem of interpreting as absolutes the rules of a sport that have always contained huge scope for interpretation and subjectivity. When fans used to talk of the striker being "about level" or giving "the benefit of the doubt to the attacker" no one was looking at anybody's armpit.

Therefore, the whole thing feels alien. These infringements, if you can even call them that, are not what the offside rule was designed to prevent.

Things need to change quickly in this regard and waiting until 2020-21 feels far too late, considering the potential for weekend-to-weekend moaning and articles like this one in the meantime.

Graeme Souness' suggestion that any part of a player being level with the last defender should mean the attacker is onside could be the way to go. Even though this would simply shift magnified millimetre calls back a metre or so, it would bring most decisions into line with what most fans perceive to be onside and offside.

Another alternative would be a version of cricket's "umpire's call", where the assistant's onfield decision – Mousset being onside, for example – would be allowed to stand within a defined margin of error.

Using the Monitor

Remember the old riddle of what goes to every FA Cup final but is never used? Well, the pitchside monitor is the Premier League's modern-day equivalent of the losing team's ribbons.

From its pre-VAR ivory tower, the Premier League decided it disliked the spectacle of referees trotting over to the halfway line to pore over television replays.

That conclusion was not unreasonable. But referees standing with their finger pressed to their ear, while minimal information is presented to jeering and confused fans is worse.

There is no indication the Premier League's time-saving ploy of avoiding the monitor is saving any time. A referee contacting their video assistant and being seen to review the monitor before settling on their final decision is a more transparent process.

The omnipresent murmurs of "what's going on?" means many do not trust a system that might never be fully trusted.

Before Champions League games – where VAR has also been far from perfect – a video is played inside the stadium outlining which decisions might be subjected to review.

The Premier League should consider something similar, while also making good on its guidance that allows a "definitive video clip to help explain what has happened" in the event of a changed decision to be shown on stadium screens.

"It's not football anymore"

The Sheffield United fans were the latest supporters to break into this chant at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, a few moments before Manchester City fans – who had, of course, benefitted from Mousset being given offside – joined them in a more explicit chant at VAR's expense.

Phantom offsides and the various flaws in the Premier League's video assistants project mean such supporter anger is completely understandable. But the complaints from players, managers, pundits and others have become increasingly scattergun. Correct decisions are now also causing fury.

Take Sadio Mane disallowed and subsequently allowed goal for Liverpool against Wolves on Sunday. Anthony Taylor felt Adam Lallana handled in the build-up, while the replay showed the ball clearly struck the midfielder's shoulder. No handball, goal, job done.

Or - and we should sympathise with a Wolves team that must have walked under various ladders across broken mirrors this month -  the penalty incident in Manchester City's game at Molineux.

Referee Martin Atkinson rightly ruled Leander Dendoncker's upper-body contact on Riyad Mahrez did not constitute a foul. However, he did not see the Belgium international stand on the City winger's foot. The video official did, so a penalty was awarded. The system works!

Sterling's saved penalty was booted behind by Conor Coady, but the Wolves captain was within 10 yards of the ball when the kick was taken. That amounted to clear encroachment and an unfair advantage when it came to making the clearance. A VAR intervention meant another chance for Sterling.

After the Liverpool game, a justifiably frustrated Nuno Espirito Santo bemoaned a video official "miles away" who "does not feel the game". With the greatest respect, this is nonsense. When has emotional investment ever been a desirable quality for an impartial adjudicator?

Support for introducing VAR grew out of persistent complaints about decisions from fans, coaches and the media, along with exhaustive frame-by-frame analysis of perceived injustices from any given weekend. Anyone claiming they enjoyed being repeatedly whipped up into that lather is being more than a little disingenuous.

Proclaiming the death of football every time a decision is reviewed and framing clearly explicable calls as the latest huge controversy is a waste of everyone's time and energy. As is using VAR problems as fuel for your latest conspiracy theory.

The Premier League must do away with trial by geometric microscope quickly and bring greater transparency into its VAR process. However, fans, professionals and those of us in the media need to meet the authorities halfway and raise the level of conversation above frothing outrage towards something more constructive.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated the 2010s in terms of individual awards and moments of pure inspiration.

Future generations will look back on this past decade as a period obsessed with the two generational talents - their often-exaggerated rivalry exacerbated by spending such a long time on opposite sides of the Clasico divide.

But, while Ronaldo and Messi have filled more column inches than any other player on the planet, there are plenty of others who have been world leaders in their respective positions.

Having looked back over the last 10 years, using Opta data for inspiration, we have selected a Team of the Decade. But who makes the cut?

Is David de Gea selected in goal? Does Luis Suarez join Messi in attack? Has Virgil van Dijk done enough for inclusion? Find out below...

OMNISPORT TEAM OF THE DECADE

Manuel Neuer

There is not much more Manuel Neuer could have achieved over the past 10 years. For much of that time he has been one of the globe's most dependable goalkeepers, even if he has shown signs of decline since a spate of foot injuries. A veteran of seven Bundesliga title triumphs and a World Cup winner with Germany, Neuer boasts a save percentage of 74.2 per cent and has comfortably the most clean sheets (139) this decade in the German top flight.

Dani Alves

Has there ever been a better right-back than Dani Alves? The Brazilian stands to leave an impressive legacy, not just through his thrilling style of play, but with his record-breaking trophy haul of 43 after captaining Brazil to Copa America success this year. Despite being a right-back, he claimed 67 assists in league action through the 2010s, though his greatest contribution came in LaLiga with Barcelona, for whom he set up 51 goals. Marcelo (48) is the closest to him, but he has played 77 times more than the current Sao Paulo star.

Vincent Kompany

Although a brilliant player at his best, it is understandable to suggest Vincent Kompany never reached his ceiling due to injuries. Nevertheless, the Belgian will go down as a Premier League great such has been his impact with Manchester City, with whom he enjoyed four title wins. Kompany recorded 83 Premier League clean sheets in the 2010s, just 10 fewer than record-setter Kyle Walker, who has played 57 more matches. His leadership qualities have been missed by City this season.

Sergio Ramos

Sergio Ramos is a player who often polarises opinion, but he's one of only three players to have been at Madrid for the entire decade, so he must be doing something right. An undisputed leader and fierce competitor, Ramos is a big-game player like few others and boasts a goal-scoring record even many midfielders would be happy with, having netted 43 times in LaLiga since the start of 2010, more than any other defender. Over the past 10 years, he's helped Los Blancos to a remarkable four Champions League titles, while he won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 with Spain.

Jordi Alba

At his best, Jordi Alba was almost unstoppable. The flying left-back became a staple and key outlet for one of the great Barcelona teams, with his driving runs – on or off the ball – often creating havoc. A master at making a darting run into the box before cutting a pass back to create a chance, Alba has 38 LaLiga assists to his name for Barca, a record bettered by only Dani Alves and Marcelo among defenders. He gets the nod ahead of his Madrid counterpart as his assist haul is from 72 fewer matches.

Luka Modric

The only player to break the Cristiano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi Ballon d'Or duopoly, Luka Modric has enjoyed a wonderful decade. A vital part of the Croatia team that enjoyed an historic run to the 2018 World Cup final, Modric also played a big role in Madrid's incredible Champions League domination. Toni Kroos (11,260) is the only midfielder to have completed more passes in LaLiga than Modric (10,759), while he laid on 42 assists and created 522 chances.

N'Golo Kante

If there was an award for the most likeable player of the decade, N'Golo Kante would surely be a frontrunner. Sadly there is no such thing, so he'll have to contend with inclusion in this team. Arguably the key cog in Leicester City's remarkable Premier League title win, Kante followed that up with similarly impressive form at Chelsea and with France, winning the World Cup with Les Bleus last year. He has made 912 tackles and interceptions in the Premier League, putting him fifth among players with 200 appearances or fewer this decade, and each of those who rank higher have played at least 20 matches more.

David Silva

When David Silva leaves Man City at the end of the season, there will inevitably be a debate as to whether he can be regarded the Premier League's greatest 'import'. That this will even be suggested tells you the impact he has had. No one gets close to Silva's record of 89 Premier League assists in the 2010s, with the Spaniard almost certainly the most consistent creator the division has seen in the past 10 years. He was similarly important for Spain until his post-World Cup retirement last year, having previously lifted the trophy in South Africa in 2010 and at Euro 2012, eventually accumulating 125 caps.

Lionel Messi

Where does one even begin with Lionel Messi? If any single player has defined the 2010s – from an individual perspective – in world football, it is surely the Barcelona talisman. In LaLiga, Messi has amassed 505 goal involvements (369 goals, 136 assist) in 343 matches since the start of the decade, routinely carrying Barca to victory. He has won every trophy possible with the Blaugrana over the past 10 years and claimed five Ballons d'Or, with his 2019 victory giving him a record-breaking sixth. Although now 32, he remains frighteningly decisive – all that eludes him is international success with Argentina.

Robert Lewandowski

A long list of immense strikers have starred throughout the 2010s, but arguably chief among them – Ronaldo aside – is Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski. Having moved from Borussia Dortmund, whom he helped turn into Champions League contenders, the Poland international has developed into a remarkable all-round striker. In 307 Bundesliga games he has 221 goals from 1,163 attempts, meaning he scores every 5.2 shots – by contrast, Ronaldo needs 6.4 efforts per goal. Although he is yet to win Europe's elite club competition, there is little doubt the Pole appears to be getting better with age having already notched 19 league goals this term, just three short of his total for 2018-19.

Cristiano Ronaldo

In the somewhat tiresome 'Ronaldo or Messi' debate about which superstar is "better", the former can at least point to his international successes with Portugal as something that sets him apart, having lifted Euro 2016 and the 2018-19 Nations League. That is just the tip of the iceberg for his brilliance in the 2010s, however. Across spells with Real Madrid and Juventus, Ronaldo has scored 335 league goals and laid on 95 assists. With Los Blancos he helped inspire four Champions League successes, also winning a couple of LaLiga titles. What a privilege it has been to see Ronaldo and Messi in the same era.

Liverpool ended 2019 with a 13-point lead at the top of the Premier League after extending their unbeaten home record to 50 top-flight matches with victory over Wolves at Anfield.

It was a happy end to the year for the Reds' local rivals too, with Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti making it two wins from two games in charge as his side beat Newcastle United at St. James' Park.

But uncertainty reigned in north London as the decade in football came to a close, with Arsenal letting slip the lead as they lost at home to Chelsea, and Tottenham being held to a draw by struggling Norwich City.

Our Opta-powered review features all the key stats and facts from a fascinating weekend of action.

CALVERT-LEWIN IS TOFFEES' TOP MAN

Dominic Calvert-Lewin's brace helped Everton to a 2-1 victory at Newcastle United and extended the Toffees' unbeaten Premier League run to five matches under caretaker boss Duncan Ferguson and new manager Carlo Ancelotti.

Calvert-Lewin netted either side of Fabian Schar's equaliser to take his tally to eight league goals this season and he is currently Everton's top scorer.

The result spread some additional festive cheer around the blue half of Merseyside following Everton's 1-0 win over Burnley on Boxing Day and made former Chelsea boss Ancelotti the fifth-fastest manager to reach 50 Premier League wins, doing so in his 78th match.

It was Newcastle's first home defeat in the league since the opening weekend, when Arsenal won 1-0 at St. James' Park, and Schar's goal was his sixth of 2019, making him the Magpies' top league scorer in the calendar year.

ERIKSEN AND KANE ADD TO IMPRESSIVE TALLIES

After falling behind to a Mario Vrancic goal in the 18th minute at Carrow Road, Tottenham dragged themselves back into the game only to be undone again by a Serge Aurier own goal.

Aurier's blunder was Tottenham's fourth own goal of 2019 - their most in a Premier League calendar year - but Harry Kane scored his 20th top-flight penalty for Spurs to earn his side a point from a 2-2 draw.

Earlier in the game Christian Eriksen scored his eighth direct free-kick for Tottenham to cancel out Vrancic's opener, netting from outside the penalty area for the 23rd time in a Spurs shirt.

Vrancic's strike came courtesy of an Emiliano Buendia assist, and only Kevin de Bruyne (70) has created more chances this season than Buendia's 57.

SCALE OF ARTETA'S TASK MADE CLEAR

Mikel Arteta was on course for victory in his first home game in charge of Arsenal but a late Chelsea turnaround left the Gunners with their worst run of home results in 60 years.

The last time Arsenal lost four consecutive home matches in all competitions was in December 1959, but goals from Jorginho and Tammy Abraham condemned Arteta to his first defeat and forced the Emirates Stadium crowd to endure a fourth loss on the bounce.

Jorginho's goal came courtesy of an error from Bernd Leno, whose attempted punch failed and allowed the Italian midfielder an easy finish.

That was Leno's seventh error leading to a goal since August 2018 and he has committed more than any other Premier League player during that period.

Abraham's winner, scored through the legs of Leno, took his league goal tally to eight away from home this season and only Raheem Sterling and Jamie Vardy (nine each) have plundered more on the road.

LIVERPOOL ACHIEVE UNBEATEN HALF-CENTURY AT ANFIELD

Liverpool were made to work hard for three points by a Wolves side who were left feeling hard done by after their 1-0 defeat at Anfield on Sunday.

Sadio Mane's goal in the 42nd minute was all that separated the two teams at the final whistle, condemning Wolves to their first defeat in eight Premier League away games.

Pedro Neto had a goal ruled out for the tightest of offside rulings, meaning Wolves failed to score in a league away game for the first time since they drew 0-0 with Leicester City on the opening day of the season.

For Jurgen Klopp's men it was business as usual and they are now unbeaten in their last 50 home league games - only Chelsea (86 between 2004 and 2008) and Liverpool (63 between 1978 and 1980) have gone more than 50 home games without defeat in top-flight history before this team.

The result was Liverpool's 17th consecutive Premier League home victory, and only Manchester United (19, ending in October 2011) and Manchester City (20, ending in March 2012) have had longer winning home runs in the competition's history.

Borussia Dortmund emerged victorious in the Erling Haaland transfer saga as they confirmed his capture from Salzburg on Sunday, seemingly beating Manchester United, Juventus and other major clubs to the Norwegian.

The 19-year-old had emerged as a supreme talent this season with the Austrian champions, starring in their domestic Bundesliga and in the Champions League.

In all competitions, Norway international Haaland scored 28 goals in 22 matches this season prior to confirmation of his impending transfer.

He is the latest in an impressive line of young players developed and sold on by Salzburg, following on from Sadio Mane, Naby Keita, Amadou Haidara, Dayot Upamecano and Takumi Minamino, whose January move to Liverpool was also confirmed this month.

But who are the next potential stars on the Salzburg production line? We asked Austrian football expert Simon Clark…

Patson Daka, 21 - Forward

With Haaland's scoring prowess no long something Salzburg can rely on, there will be added onus on Daka – luckily, the 21-year-old Zambian is already in electric form with 14 goals in 17 league games.

"He's fast and strong and has excellent movement off the ball, with late runs into the box his forte," Clark told Omnisport. "He can also play off the shoulder of the last defender and beat them for pace in one-on-one battles. He might need some improvement finishing-wise, but in this Salzburg team chances are aplenty."

Karim Adeyemi, 17 - Forward

Everything points to Adeyemi making Salzburg a significant amount of money in the future. Having slipped through the net at Bayern Munich – reportedly owing to punctuality issues – he found his way to Salzburg via Unterhaching in 2018, apparently costing almost €3.5million as a 16-year-old.

"He's not even made a competitive appearance for the Salzburg first team, but has been linked with Barcelona," Clark commented. In fact, reports even claimed Barca had a €15m bid rejected for Adeyemi. "He's already among the top three highest-valued players in the Salzburg set-up."

Currently impressing on loan in the second tier, Adeyemi is well on track to become the next 'generational talent' to come through Salzburg's system.

Antoine Bernede, 20 - Midfielder

It was seen as a coup when Salzburg signed Bernede – then 19 – from Paris Saint-Germain in February, having emerged as one of their more promising youngsters. Although injury curtailed him earlier this season, the French midfielder has significant potential.

"In my opinion, Bernede was one of Salzburg's best players in the early part of the season before a terrible tibia fracture against LASK in September," Clark surmised. "He orchestrated the Salzburg midfield and was utterly sensational in the first Champions League match against Genk. He's an engine in midfield, has excellent positional awareness and breaks up attacks very well. [Coach Jesse] Marsch uses him as the deep-lying midfielder, and often kickstarts attacks with cross-field passes."

Dominik Szoboszlai, 19 - Midfielder

Arguably the most recognisable player on the list given his previous strong links with RB Leipzig and Arsenal, among others, Hungary international Szoboszlai is now Salzburg's most valuable asset.

"He has an astonishingly good right foot and can score David Beckham-esque free-kicks, play cross-field passes with distinction and pings balls in the box with ferocity," Clark said. "However, he can sometimes get lost, doesn't track back and is afraid to get stuck in. He's an immense – and mercurial – talent, but I feel like he doesn't 'fit' the Jesse Marsch system as well as other players do."

But at 19, he still has plenty of time on his side.

Enock Mwepu, 21 - Midfielder

Coach Marsch's all-action, pressing style of play requires real work ethic in midfield. Given the popularity for such systems in modern football, Mwepu may well become a sought-after commodity.

"He's the perfect player for Marsch's set-up," Clark says. "He's superb at winning loose balls and finds himself in the right position to break up possession, but he's also got a great range of passing. He's taken his chance after Bernede's serious injury and he was one of the standout performers against Liverpool at Anfield, showing he can impress on the biggest stage. I think he'll go on to play for one of Europe's top sides."

Sekou Koita, 20 - Forward

Like Daka, Koita will be expected to ease the exits of Haaland and Minamino, given their goal-scoring exploits. Although his season has been impacted by an abdominal injury, the 20-year-old Malian has still managed to get six goals in 10 appearances at an average of one every 82 minutes.

"He impressed in the Under-20 World Cup, but maybe now will have some proper playing time in Marsch's squad. A slightly smaller physique [than Haaland and Daka], but Koita has pace in abundance to terrify defences, great awareness, quick decision-making, precise finishing and he can play anywhere up front." Clark expects him to become a "star".

Borussia Dortmund have signed one of the hottest properties in European football by completing a deal for Salzburg star Erling Haaland.

The teenage striker sprung to prominence by claiming the Golden Boot at this year's Under-20 World Cup and extended his prolific vein of form in the Austrian Bundesliga and the Champions League.

Dortmund have completed a transfer coup and possibly secured a decisive boost in a wide-open battle for this season's German Bundesliga crown.

But, as ever when a sought-after player completes a major transfer, there are those pondering what might have been.

Here, we look at some potential winners and losers after the Haaland transfer saga reached its conclusion.

WINNERS

Bundesliga title race

Bayern Munich are chasing an eighth consecutive league title in Germany but their grip on supremacy looks to be loosening at the midway point this time around.

RB Leipzig (more on them later) lead the way from Borussia Monchengladbach, with Bayern four points off the summit.

Behind them are Haaland's new employers. Dortmund have struggled for consistency this season but the seven-point gap to Leipzig will suddenly feel a lot more bridgeable. We could see a thrilling run-in.

Jadon Sancho

If Haaland needed proof that a prodigiously talented teenager can thrive at Signal Iduna Park, he did not need to look any further than his fellow 19-year-old.

A veritable assists junkie, England international Sancho will now be supplying the ammunition for a player boasting 28 goals in 22 senior appearances this season.

Sancho's hopes of a first senior title have now increased. Perhaps more significantly in the long term, so seemingly have his prospects of a blockbuster move to one of Europe's super clubs. Dortmund getting hold of another prime asset means they may be more willing to cash in on Sancho at the end of this season.

Manchester United's forwards

Manchester United were one of the clubs heavily credited with an interest in Haaland. However, it is hard to argue a gifted forward line is the part of an unhelpfully thin squad that most needs attention.

On top of that, Anthony Martial has thrived this season when allowed to operate in a central striking role, and Mason Greenwood appears to be a rare goalscoring talent.

Both of those men might well have found themselves frustrated with Haaland in town.

Mino Raiola

He might have a forthcoming January saga concerning Paul Pogba on the agenda, but Haaland's high-profile representative is likely to be fairly pleased with his work here.

Numerous reports claim Raiola is a major beneficiary of the outlay being a relatively meagre €20million, stipulated in the player's Salzburg release clause, with other cash freed up for agent fees.

Additionally, Dortmund are unlikely to be Haaland's final destination. If all goes to plan, he might be looking at a €100million-plus move elsewhere in a couple of years that may allow Raiola to feather the nest all over again.

LOSERS

RB Leipzig

If RB Leipzig were to be denied a first Bundesliga title by a player who joined a rival from their sister club, it would certainly hurt.

A glorious second half of the season for Dortmund may mean some tough conversations within Red Bull's sporting operation.

Looking beyond this term, if Timo Werner's future lies elsewhere, Julian Nagelsmann's side have just missed out on a seemingly readymade replacement.

Salzburg

As a side from the Austrian Bundesliga, selling talents like Haaland for a handsome profit is a vital part of Salzburg's business model.

However, with this deal coming hot on the heels of Takumi Minamoto's similarly cut-price switch to Liverpool, events feel like they are progressing too quickly.

Salzburg's release clauses for the two players appear significantly below market rates, while Hwang Hee-chan is also reportedly on Wolves' radar. After making their mark in the Champions League, Salzburg's status as dark horses in the Europa League is no more.

Manchester United

Aside from the benefits for the likes of Martial and Greenwood, little else about this transfer represents good news for Manchester United.

A lack of success over recent years means it is harder for the 20-time English champions to dine at the top table in transfer terms. Here, there was a chance to secure an exceptional talent at minimal cost.

Then we should consider Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's role. If the manager cannot persuade a player he helped to nurture at Molde, who hails from a country where he is a national hero, how much weight is his talk of United "DNA" likely to hold in future transfer negotiations?

It was little wonder Mikel Arteta had his head in his hands - and that was before Chelsea grabbed a late winner in a 2-1 victory at Arsenal on Sunday.

The new Gunners head coach had seemingly produced a masterclass, outmanoeuvring Frank Lampard a week on from the Chelsea boss' own breakout tactical display away at Tottenham.

But then Bernd Leno, one of Arsenal's more consistent performers in this miserable season, failed to intercept Mason Mount's deep 83rd-minute free-kick and instead left an open goal for Jorginho, who might have been sent off six minutes earlier and was fortunate to escape a second yellow card for wrestling Matteo Guendouzi to the ground.

As has so often been the case for Arsenal this term, worse was still to come.

Tammy Abraham led a counter-attack, took a return pass from Willian and shot through Leno's legs, clinching another stunning away London derby victory for the Blues.

On a day when optimism filled the air at Emirates Stadium, when the fans roared and the players ran - yes, even Mesut Ozil - Arsenal were left with that all-too-familiar sinking, losing feeling.

Arteta's grand plans to prove Arsenal are "the biggest football club in England" - a bullish pre-match claim - looked more realistic than most would have imagined for an hour of his home coaching bow.

The man who helped hone Pep Guardiola's dazzling Manchester City side made swift progress with a disharmonious Arsenal outfit.

The front four were especially dynamic, Ozil joined by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette - a trio Unai Emery could not get working in unison - alongside the speedy Reiss Nelson.

Nelson stayed high and wide on the right, as Arteta's Leroy Sane of sorts, while Aubameyang and Lacazette traded the Raheem Sterling role on the opposite flank, the former scoring as the latter harried hapless Chelsea.

Lampard's defensive three, which was certainly a horse for the Spurs course but faltered against Southampton, quickly looked a one-trick pony.

Chelsea's boss hooked Emerson Palmieri before half-time and switched back to a 4-3-3, yet still his side struggled, Fikayo Tomori bullied by Lacazette at right-back until Tariq Lamptey's impressive introduction shortly before the hour mark.

Ozil, so often derided for a perceived lack of effort, led Arsenal for distance covered until late in his 76-minute shift. Jeered as he made way against City in the Gunners' previous home game, there were cheers as he ambled off this time, the lead still intact.

Meanwhile, the tireless Aubameyang made three tackles, two clearances and two interceptions to go with his early opener.

But this was still Arsenal in 2019. They ended the previous calendar year beaten 5-1 at Liverpool and, while there were certainly now positives, their latest reverse is still perhaps even more painful.

Calum Chambers started well before injury, yet surely only investment will fix a defence that battled for a time but eventually gave way to the type of performance we have come to expect from a David Luiz-Shkodran Mustafi combination.

The late collapse leaves Arsenal 12th, nine points behind Chelsea in fourth, having lost three straight home top-flight matches for the first time since 1977.

Arteta's primitive tenure may have briefly brought hope, but pessimism was evident again as the stands emptied in the final minutes and Arsenal failed to win for the 14th time in 15 games in all competitions.

All eyes will be on Erling Haaland when the Bundesliga season resumes after Borussia Dortmund won the race to sign the much-coveted 19-year-old from Salzburg.

Dortmund confirmed the capture of Haaland on Sunday, having beaten off competition from a host of leading European teams.

We take a look at the Norwegian's most notable achievements to date, which illustrate why his new club have described him as "the most exciting centre-forward talent in Europe".

 

GOALS GALORE IN 2019-20

After joining Salzburg in January 2019, Haaland barely featured for the club in the second half of last season, although he did score in one of his two league appearances in May.

It was a totally different story in the first half of this term, with the teenager scoring a remarkable 28 goals in 22 appearances across all competitions.

A tally of 16 goals in 14 Austrian Bundesliga games is impressive, but Haaland's most notable performances came at the highest level of European club football.

 

A CHAMPIONS LEAGUE RECORD-BREAKER

Haaland scored a hat-trick on his Champions League debut against Genk on September 17, becoming the first teenager to score more than once on his maiden appearance in the competition since Wayne Rooney in 2004, but he was not finished there.

Further goals against Liverpool and Napoli took his tally to seven - a record haul for a teenager in a Champions League campaign - from just four games, Haaland swiftly surpassing the previous benchmark of six set by Raul and Kylian Mbappe.

He went on to become only the third player, after Alessandro Del Piero and Diego Costa, to score in his first five matches in the competition when he grabbed another goal against Genk on November 27.

No player has ever scored in their first six Champions League outings, a statistic that remains true after Haaland failed to find the net against Liverpool in Salzburg's final group game.

 

NINE GOALS IN ONE GAME!

Prior to his Champions League heroics, Haaland made quite the impression at the Under-20 World Cup in May.

In a shockingly one-sided 12-0 win for Norway against Honduras, Haaland scored nine goals, breaking the previous individual record of six held by Brazil's Adailton.

It was a decade full of skill, unforgettable moments and remarkable storylines.

Grand slam titles, Olympic Games gold medals, Rugby World Cups, Women's World Cups and more.

However, the impact and influence of some athletes proved more transcending than others.

We look at the most influential sports people of the past decade as we prepare to farewell the 2010s.

 

COLIN KAEPERNICK

Kaepernick has never swayed from his beliefs, even if it cost him a career in the NFL.

Following five years with the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick hit the headlines when he kneeled during the United States national anthem in 2016.

The quarterback cited racial injustice and police brutality. He filed a grievance against the NFL in 2017, accusing owners of colluding to keep him out of a job. Kaepernick settled that grievance in February.

Despite some backlash, the 32-year-old inspired a nation – receiving support from Nike, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Megan Rapinoe and others. He even refused to meet the NFL's demands for a workout in November – all but ending his career. For Kaepernick, it has always been about more than American football…

SIYA KOLISI

South Africa captain Siya Kolisi lifted the Rugby World Cup in November. However, his influence stretches much further than a rugby pitch.

In a country embroiled in economic turmoil and racial unrest, Kolisi – the Springboks' first black captain in their 127-year history – is a beacon of hope.

Having come from an area marked by unemployment and lack of opportunity, Kolisi has become a household name and a genuine inspirational star, who can help unite a nation.

MEGAN RAPINOE

Outspoken on and off the field, Women's World Cup winner and United States star Rapinoe has transcended football.

From LGBT rights, gender equality and racial quality, Rapinoe has led the fights.

The 34-year-old has drawn the ire of US president Donald Trump, and even called out FIFA over the gulf in prize money for the women's and men's World Cups as she strives to make football and the world a better place, while maintaining her dominance on the pitch – winning the 2019 Ballon d'Or Feminin, last year's Golden Ball and Golden Boot.

ANDY MURRAY

A three-time grand slam champion and former world number one, Murray's lasting legacy may be his fight for gender equality – not just his on-court achievements.

Not one to keep quiet, just watch him play tennis, Murray has championed against sexism, especially after hiring Amelie Mauresmo as his coach in 2014. 

In 2015, Murray wrote: "Have I become a feminist? If being a feminist is about fighting so that a woman is treated like a man then I suppose I have."

SIMONE BILES

This decade saw the emergence of a gymnastics sensation, yielding four Olympic gold medals in 2016 and 19 World Championships golds - 25 in total - over the past six years.

Biles is the most decorated artistic gymnast of all time at just 22 years of age, establishing herself as one of the best athletes in the world in the face of adversity.

The once-in-a-lifetime talent won five gold medals in Stuttgart, while dealing with the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.

In 2018, she claimed she was sexually abused by ex-Team USA gymnastics sports doctor Nassar, encouraging others to do the same. She continues to influence the sport in innumerable ways. 

ANTHONY JOSHUA

In a decade dominated by UFC and the emergence of mixed-martial arts, Joshua has stood tall for boxing. Flying the flag in the ring, the heavyweight champion consistently attracts crowds that have never been seen in British boxing.

A game-changer for the sport, Joshua has broadened boxing's appeal beyond traditional audiences. For his bout against Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley in April 2017, a post-ward record crowd of 90,000 attended.

An estimated 80,000 spectators also took in his clash with Carlos Takam in Cardiff six months later. Joshua also took a title fight to Saudi Arabia in December - regaining his belts.

ALEX ZANARDI

Zanardi survived one of the most horrific non-fatal crashes in the history of open-wheel racing. The Italian lost both his legs in 2001, while he was also red his last rites.

However, Zanardi – who said he went 50 minutes with less than a litre of blood and his heart stopped beating seven times – was not done.

The former CART champion turned to paracycling and won two gold medals in his 2012 Paralympics debut, followed by another two in 2016.

CASTER SEMENYA

A two-time Olympic Games gold medallist and athletics star, it has been a tough end to the decade for Semenya but the South African inspired a nation in 2019.

She missed the World Athletics Championships in October after the IAAF proposed regulations regarding athletes with differences of sex development (DSD).

The new rule instructed athletes such as Semenya – who compete in events from the 400m to a mile, to take medication to lower their testosterone levels to take part in women's track events.

Despite lengthy legal battles and years of questions, Semenya continued to fight for her rights, leading to a Nike video in which she spoke about acceptance, self-love and respecting people for who they are. "I'm one kind of an athlete. I run my own race. It's all about me," said Semenya.

It was a decade dominated by the 'Big Three' and they delivered on multiple occasions on the biggest stages.

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic dominated the decade in men's tennis, winning 33 of the 40 grand slams on offer.

Djokovic claimed 15 of those, while Nadal (13) and Federer (five) built on what they had started in the early-to-mid 2000s.

And, when they matched up in deciders, the trio of greats produced some epic finals.

The women's decade was far more varied despite Serena Williams' dominance – the American winning 12 majors since 2010 – as they too delivered some enthralling deciders.

We take a look at some of the best major finals of the decade.

 

2012 Australian Open: Novak Djokovic bt. Rafael Nadal 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5

In arguably the most gruelling grand slam final ever, Djokovic outlasted Nadal in a five-set thriller in Melbourne.

The all-time greats produced an epic battle that lasted five hours and 53 minutes – the longest slam final in history.

Nadal needed a comeback in the fourth-set tie-break just to stay alive in the decider, famously dropping to his knee in celebration after getting to a fifth.

But the Spaniard would cough up a break lead in the final set as Djokovic claimed an incredible win for his fifth grand slam crown.

2014 Wimbledon: Novak Djokovic bt. Roger Federer 6-7 (7-9) 6-4 7-6 (7-4) 5-7 6-4

A Federer-Djokovic final at the All England Club always delivers.

This one looked set to be a little more straightforward as Djokovic led two-sets-to-one and held a 5-2 advantage in the fourth.

However, Federer reeled off five straight games to force a decider.

Both players had their chances in the fifth set but Djokovic took his to clinch the title.

Federer finished with 75 winners and 29 unforced errors, while Djokovic had 68 and 27 respectively in a match he described as the "best quality grand slam final" he had played in.

 

2017 Australian Open: Roger Federer bt. Rafael Nadal 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3

This was quite the occasion as two of the best ever went head to head in a grand slam final for the first time since 2011.

Its importance was also highlighted by the fact Federer held 17 majors to Nadal's 14 heading into the match, and can be understood even more greatly at the end of 2019 now that the pair are on 20 and 19 respectively.

As expected, the pair produced in front of an adoring Melbourne crowd.

After a to-and-fro battle to begin the final, Federer came from 3-1 down in the deciding set, having taken a medical time-out after the fourth.

2017 French Open: Jelena Ostapenko bt. Simona Halep 4-6 6-4 6-3

A stunning run at Roland Garros was completed in fine fashion – with an incredible comeback.

The unseeded Ostapenko may have accepted her run to the final was an achievement enough after the Latvian fell a set and 3-0 down to the tournament favourite.

Ostapenko may have levelled the match, but she then found herself 3-1 behind in the decider.

But, she produced another response, her first WTA Tour title coming at the French Open.

 

2019 Australian Open: Naomi Osaka bt. Petra Kvitova 7-6 (7-2) 5-7 6-4

Ostapenko may have delivered a huge comeback, but Osaka's ability to keep her cool against Kvitova at Melbourne Park earlier this year was even more impressive.

The Japanese star's maiden major win had been overshadowed by Williams' outburst at Flushing Meadows just months earlier and it seemed a potential second major title had been thrown away.

Osaka took the first set and led 5-3 with three championship points in the second, only to somehow drop the set altogether.

That would be enough to break even the greatest, let alone a 21-year-old on one of the sport's grandest stages.

Instead, Osaka composed herself, closing out an amazing victory for her second major title.

2019 Wimbledon: Novak Djokovic bt. Roger Federer 7-6 (7-5) 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 13-12 (7-3)

A history-making decider lasted just under five hours and, once again, Federer was left to rue a missed chance against Djokovic at the All England Club.

Djokovic saved two championship points in the fifth set as the two greats went to a final-set tie-break – the first in singles at Wimbledon. 

The Serbian edged it to win a 16th grand slam title, as not even 94 winners from the Swiss superstar were enough

Federer won 14 more points, hit 40 more winners and created 13 break points to eight, but was beaten.

Novak Djokovic led the way in a decade of dominance in men's tennis but it was a very different story in the women's game, as 20 different players claimed grand slam titles.

Djokovic won all but one of his 16 majors in the previous 10 years, with Rafael Nadal adding 13 to his tally to move just one adrift of Roger Federer's record haul of 20.

Only six men were grand slam champions in the past decade; Federer on five occasions, Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray securing three apiece and Marin Cilic winning the 2014 US Open.

It has been much more difficult to predict which women will land the big prizes in the game, summed up by the fact there were four different winners in 2019.

Ash Barty and Bianca Andreescu claimed maiden major titles, while Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep won their second to prevent Serena Williams from matching Margaret Court's record total of 24.

We look back at how the leading lights have measured up in the 2010s and take a glimpse at what might unfold in the next 10 years.

 

RAFA CLOSING IN, SWEET 16 FOR DJOKOVIC

Nadal won three of the four majors in 2010 and added another two this year, further trimming Federer's advantage.

World number one Nadal only failed to win the French Open twice in the decade, while Djokovic was a six-time Australian Open champion and scooped a quintet of Wimbledon crowns.

Federer has been stuck on 20 grand slam triumphs since going back-to-back in Australia in 2018, with the most recent seven won by either Djokovic or Nadal.

Not since Wawrinka's success at Flushing Meadows in 2016 has a player other than Nadal, Djokovic or Federer won a men's grand slam singles title. 

 

SERENA WINS A DOZEN, BUT SHORT OF COURT

Williams confirmed her status as one of the all-time greats by winning a further 12 major singles titles since the turn of the decade.

The 38-year-old has remained on 23 since defeating her sister, Venus, when she was pregnant in the 2017 Australian Open final.

Williams has lost all four major finals since the birth of her daughter, Alexis Olympia, including the past two against Halep and Andreescu at Wimbledon and in New York respectively.

Angelique Kerber claimed three grand slams in the 2010s, while Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova, Li Na, Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova, Halep, Garbine Muguruza and Osaka won two apiece.

 

ONUS ON NEXT GEN MEN TO STEP UP

While there had been concerns over what was to come with so many legends heading towards, or already in, the twilight of their careers, exciting talent has emerged in both the men

While there were concerns over what was to come with so many legends heading towards, or already in, the twilight of their careers, exciting talent has emerged in both the men's and women's game.  

Canadian teenager Andreescu capped a breakthrough season by winning the US Open, while world number one Barty is only 23 and the likes of Halep still have plenty of time on their side.

With Federer aged 38, Nadal 33, Djokovic 32 and Murray - hoping to work his way back up the rankings after recovering from hip surgery - also in his 30s, there will be a changing of the guard in the next decade.

Stefanos Tsitsipas gave another example of his huge potential by winning the ATP Finals title, while Dominic Thiem has been beaten by Nadal in the past two French Open finals.

Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov will also be hoping to come of age in the 2020s.

The past 10 years has seen a number of extraordinary footballers hang up their boots.

In fact, so many have ended their playing careers between the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2020 that you could quite feasibly create an entire league of teams and have them compete for the crown of the greatest ever. Now there's an idea, Mr Infantino...

While we wait for FIFA to cotton onto that concept, we'll have to make do with a single XI - plus a manager - of those who have stepped away from football this decade

Have a look to see who made the cut for a most difficult selection...

 

GOALKEEPER: EDWIN VAN DER SAR

A winner of eight league titles with Manchester United and Ajax, twice a Champions League winner and the second-most-capped Netherlands international ever, Van der Sar called time on his career in 2016. He is now Ajax's CEO.

DEFENDER: JAVIER ZANETTI

A candidate for the greatest right-back in history, Zanetti ended his 22-year career in 2014 after winning 16 trophies with Inter, including the treble of 2009-10, and 143 Argentina caps. Practically a one-club man, he is a vice-president with the Nerazzurri today.

DEFENDER: FABIO CANNAVARO

The last defender to win the Ballon d'Or, earned by leading Italy to the 2006 World Cup with some of the finest defensive performances ever seen in tournament football, Cannavaro was also twice a LaLiga champion with Real Madrid. He is Guangzhou Evergrande head coach these days.

DEFENDER: CARLES PUYOL

Centre-back supreme for the best Spain and Barcelona teams of all time, Puyol won 20 major honours for club and country, including the 2010 World Cup, where he scored the semi-final winner. He retired at the end of 2013-14, for once without lifting a trophy with Barca.

DEFENDER: ROBERTO CARLOS

Four LaLiga titles and three Champions Leagues with Real Madrid, plus the 2002 World Cup and two Copas America with Brazil, but *that* free-kick back in 1997 is probably enough on its own to get him into this team. Roberto Carlos retired with Delhi Dynamos in 2015.

MIDFIELDER: CLAUDE MAKELELE

So good, they named a position after him, even though hardly any midfielders now play as he did. Makelele was the master of defensive midfield, a league champion with Real Madrid and Chelsea and a Champions League winner. He now has a youth coach and mentoring role at Stamford Bridge.

MIDFIELDER: XAVI

Perhaps the best ever central midfield metronome, Xavi passed his way to 25 major honours with Barcelona, plus one World Cup and two European Championships in 133 Spain appearances. He also won four trophies with Al Sadd, where he retired to become head coach this year.

MIDFIELDER: RYAN GIGGS

Arguably Manchester United's finest ever player, Wales boss Giggs amassed 963 appearances for the club. He won 25 trophies, including 13 top-flight titles - more than every club in England, except United, Liverpool and Arsenal. He retired in 2014, at the age of 40.

FORWARD: RONALDINHO

Barcelona's brilliant Brazilian led their revival from 2003 to 2008, winning two LaLiga titles, the Champions League and a standing ovation from Real Madrid fans in the Clasico. A Serie A title with AC Milan followed, as did the Copa Libertadores with Atletico Mineiro in 2013.

FORWARD: RIVALDO

The 1999 Ballon d'Or winner and FIFA World Player of the Year, Rivaldo was a star for Barcelona from 1997 to 2002 but was still playing in 2015 in his homeland, 24 years on from his professional debut. He also won the 2002 World Cup with Brazil, alongside Ronaldinho and...

FORWARD: RONALDO

'O Fenomeno' completed Brazil's magical trident of 2002. Ronaldo won trophies with Cruzeiro, PSV, Barcelona, Inter, Real Madrid and Corinthians, where he retired in 2011. Without his injuries, he would likely be thought of as history's greatest number nine. Some think he is anyway.

MANAGER: ALEX FERGUSON

Manchester United rather went off a cliff after Ferguson retired in 2013, having won league title number 13 to add to 25 other major honours for the Red Devils and Aberdeen. The famous hairdryer still blows from time to time from the stands during United matches.

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