Top 10 men’s football moments of 2023

The men’s football moments that left their mark on the Al Jazeera Sport team in 2023.

Manchester City celebrate winning the Champions League
Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan lifts the trophy as he celebrates with teammates after winning the Champions League on June 10, 2023, in Istanbul [File: Molly Darlington/Reuters]

The FIFA World Cup in Qatar may have fallen in 2022, but 2023 went a long way towards matching last year for stories and events.

Here are Al Jazeera’s top 10 football moments from the men’s game for this calendar year:

1. Manchester City win the Champions League

Manchester City were finally crowned champions of Europe in June when they beat Inter Milan 1-0 in the Champions League final.

It was the trophy that had eluded City and their esteemed manager, Pep Guardiola, in his time with the club.

For the Spaniard, it was his third Champions League triumph after the two he claimed with Barcelona, but the wait to lead City to continental glory was becoming the elephant in the room.

The win secured the domestic treble for City as they won the Premier League for a third consecutive year. It also opened the door for City to challenge in two more competitions – the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.

2. Osimhen leads Napoli to Serie A glory

Victor Osimhen finished top scorer in Serie A to help Napoli to their first Serie A title since Diego Maradona graced the Italian top flight.

The Nigerian striker netted 26 goals in a stellar season that alerted all of Europe’s top clubs.

Napoli had to wait 33 years to lift La Scudetta once again, but thanks to Osimhen’s goals, they did it at a canter – finishing 16 points clear of Lazio.

Napoli’s 2023 story was far from simple, though, as we’ll explore in a moment.

Victor Osimhen playing for Napoli
Napoli’s Victor Osimhen was Serie A’s leading scorer as Napoli won the title [File: Alberto Lingria/Reuters]

3. Messi wins eighth Ballon d’Or

Lionel Messi was also on the move in 2023 as the former Barcelona star swapped Paris for Miami.

The Argentinean’s time at Paris St Germain didn’t quite go to plan, but a glamorous move to David Beckham’s Inter Miami is expected to help sprinkle some glitz on Major League Soccer in the United States.

It has hardly been a barren couple of years for Messi. After Argentina’s World Cup win at Qatar in 2022, the forward was handed his eighth Ballon d’Or.

He claimed his first in 2009 as his incredible club career began. The latest, though, must have been the sweetest award for Messi, who was rewarded for finally joining some of the game’s greats in holding aloft the World Cup.

4. Ronaldo moves to Saudi Arabia

Cristiano Ronaldo ended his European love affair when he switched Manchester for Saudi Arabia.

From Sporting Lisbon to United, Real Madrid, Juventus and Old Trafford again, Ronaldo decided to take up the challenge of the Saudi Pro League with Al Nassr.

The Portuguese had been linked to a host of Europe’s top clubs when his exit from United became apparent after his 2022 reveal-all TV interview with Piers Morgan.

The transfer was made on the first day of the year, and it opened the door for a number of top names to follow suit. You can read all about Ronaldo’s move and more in our Top 10 transfers of 2023 review.

5. Napoli’s smile is turned upside down

Having claimed the Serie A title, manager Luciano Spalletti immediately left Napoli to take time out of the game.

The 64-year-old, who said he was tired, was replaced by Rudi Garcia – but he lasted only 16 games before being sacked.

Walter Mazzarri took charge with the title defence in tatters, both on and off the field, given rumours of unrest – most especially for their prized-asset Osimhen, who deleted a series of social media posts venting his frustration at the club.

Matters weren’t helped by a controversial post by the club themselves seemingly mocking a penalty miss by Osimhen.

Although it was quickly removed, the player’s agent was quick to express his disappointment at what he described as disrespect for his client, and legal action was even threatened.

Perhaps Spalletti saw a storm brewing on the horizon.

6. Manchester City win the Club World Cup

A quadruple already in the bag, Manchester City headed to Saudi Arabia last week as heavy favourites for the FIFA Club World Cup.

A 2-0 semifinal win against Japan’s Uwara Reds appeared a stroll in the park, but that was nothing compared with the final.

Guardiola’s side secured a fifth trophy in 2023 with a 4-0 hammering of Brazil’s Fluminense.

The scoreline didn’t flatter City in any way whatsoever in what was a complete mismatch.

The Premier League and FA Cup in England were followed by the Champions League and the Super Cup in Europe. Now the Club World Cup.

Not only Manchester, England and Europe are blue – the world is now too.

Kyle Walker holds the Club World Cup trophy
Manchester City’s Kyle Walker celebrates with the trophy after winning the Club World Cup final on December 22, 2023 [Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

7. Europe’s elite face twofold threat to dominance

Europe’s top clubs were pushed into reverse in 2021 when fan outrage forced nine of the 12 founding clubs to pull out of a proposed European Super League.

It appeared to kill off any threat to the dominance that Europe’s governing body, UEFA, held over club competitions on the continent.

The Super Cup and the Champions League seemed safe.

But this past year, a threat came from outside the continent with so many of the world’s top stars following Cristiano Ronaldo to the Saudi Pro League, which has established itself as a serious rival to the elite level that Europe’s top leagues monopolised for so long.

A further threat to UEFA emerged late in the year when in December the European Court of Justice ruled that UEFA and FIFA are “abusing a dominant position” by banning clubs from joining a European Super League, which it deemed unlawful.

8. The tightest Premier League title race in history

Manchester City stormed to the treble in the first half of 2023, but the second half of the year seems to promise a much tighter Premier League title race.

City slipped out of the top four as Tottenham Hotspur leaped into the Champions League qualification spots.

Spurs had enjoyed top spot after a fine start – as did Newcastle United. Both are now challenging for the top four after a top three pulled clear.

The most unlikely of the trio of contenders to City’s crown has been Aston Villa. Under former Arsenal manager Unai Emery, the Villans have stormed the usual suspects’ party.

Manchester United have slipped away again as their troubles mount on and off the field, and they look set to scrap with Newcastle, Spurs and now West Ham for the nearly ran positions – which at the turn of the year doesn’t include a mid-table Chelsea side in yet another transition.

Liverpool and Arsenal seem to have recovered their houses, though, and Guardiola’s world champions will have to use all their experience from winning five trophies in 2023 if they’re to catch the pace setters in the first half of 2024.

There has never been such a wide open Premier League – it’s usually a two-horse race – and there are plenty of twists and turns still to come.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe outside Old Trafford
Ineos Chairman Jim Ratcliffe is pictured at Old Trafford in Manchester [File: Phil Noble/Reuters]

9. Manchester United’s sale saga

A story that has rumbled all year is the sale of Manchester United. Would they or wouldn’t they? The Glaziers put the club up for sale in November 2022, but then there were rumours that they had removed the “for sale” sign.

English businessman and United fan Jim Ratcliffe ended the year with his purchase of a 25 percent stake in the club and the assumption of control of footballing operations from the Glazers.

The main rival bid by Qatari businessman Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani was withdrawn, leaving the path clear Ratcliffe and his INEOS Group.

Al Jazeera has explored where and how the purchase will take the club from here.

10. Europa glory for the underdogs

Sevilla and West Ham made a case for the smaller clubs on the continental stage as the pair lifted the two Europa cups.

Both teams finished in the bottom half of their domestic leagues last season but enjoyed far greater success on the continent.

Sevilla beat Jose Mourinho’s Roma on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the Europa League final.

The Spanish club, who are perennial overachievers as seven times winners of the competition, beat both Manchester United and Juventus on their way to the final.

West Ham lifted the Europa Conference League title after a 2-1 win against Fiorentina in the final.

The Italians boasted the competition’s leading scorer, Arthur Cabral, who netted seven goals, but the Brazilian couldn’t come up with the goods to stop the Hammers.

Mohamed Said Benrahma opened the scoring from the penalty spot, but Giacomo Bonaventua levelled before Jarrod Bowen won it in the 90th minute for the East Londoners.

It ended a 43-year wait for the Hammers to lift silverware while Declan Rice was named player of the tournament – which set about the biggest transfer scramble of the summer window.

Source: Al Jazeera