Jump directly to the content

The story of the footballing decade in five alternative moments

So that was the 2010s.

Real Madrid monopolised the Champions League, the balance of power shifted in Manchester, and Leicester defied odds of 5000/1.

But you won’t find any Sergio Ramos headers or late-gasp Sergio Aguero strikes here; this is the story of decade in five alternative moments.

2011 – Wayne Rooney threatens to fight himself


Social media has taken hold of football in the last ten years.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow for fans to communicate with players and, because social media is a reflection of society, many interactions are unsavoury.

The distance and anonymity of digital profiles means players are subjected to abuse that falls outside the realm of (apologies for using this phrase) good-natured banter.

That’s why most high-profile players’ accounts have become sanitised to the point of mind-numbing tedium.

Even those abundant in personality (Michy Batshuayi, Benjamin Mendy, etc) are generally the work of well-paid social media managers.

Rooney’s famous faux pas at the start of the decade, in which he gave oxygen to the fire of pathetic trolling while exhibiting a limited understanding of the mechanisms of Twitter, is an example of how fan interaction has changed with advancing technology — generally, for the worse.

And yet, as an isolated incident, it was incredibly funny.

2016 – Hal Robson-Kanu momentarily becomes Johan Cruyff

Kansas City Shuffle

Times Newspapers Ltd
Kansas City Shuffle

“If Lionel Messi had scored that goal we’d be talking about it for years!”

That’s what some people said of the Welshman’s goal against Belgium at 2016 — a line which has been repeated all decade (along with its Cristiano Ronaldo variant) to accompany great goals scored by unexpected sources.

In practice, the catchphrase doesn’t hold up.

Both Messi and Ronaldo have scored dozens of goals better than Robson-Kanu’s Cruyffian effort and had they been responsible instead it would slot in nicely 75% of the way through the many YouTube compilations of their best moments.

But for Robson-Kanu, a 30-year-old forward who is yet to score more than seven league goals in a season, his deception of Marouane Fellanini, Jason Denayer and Thomas Meunier is likely to be the most widely-recognisable moment of his career.

If anything, this goal is more memorable because it was scored by a player not known for their ability to produce such a moment.

The point is loosely: Messi and Ronaldo’s decade of dominance has created a filter through which all greatness passes, regardless of whether its logically sound to do so.

Speaking of which…

2017 – The spotlight shift that exploded football

It’s one of the most iconic sports photos of the decade; Messi stood on the advertising hoardings of the Nou Camp as fans reach for him in the manner believers hail their saviour.

The image became the enduring visual of the night Barcelona beat PSG 6-1 to complete one of the most remarkable comebacks in football history.

What’s curious is that the Argentine No10, so often Barca’s hero, was not the chief architect of Remontada.

Neymar was the Catalans’ best player that fateful night: scoring twice, winning a penalty, and assisting Sergi Roberto’s dramatic winner with a beautifully weighted left-foot chip.

Fans and pundits acknowledged the Brazilian’s primary role in the miracle but the widespread photo of Messi’s celebrations was a symbol of what Neymar privately feared — no matter what he did, he would never escape the shadow his team-mate casts over Catalonia.

Neymar’s talent comes with a certain degree of ego and so when PSG (narrative dictated the victims of Remontada had to be involved again) proposed a redefinition of the global transfer market, he saw an opportunity to lure the spotlight upon him.

His £198million switch to Paris broke the world record transfer by doubling it.

From that point on, every agent has used it as a reference point during negotiations: if Neymar is worth £200million then my client must be worth at least such and such.

Transfers haven’t been the same since.

And that’s why the most important moment of March 8th 2017 was not Roberto’s winning lunge, but the click of Santiago Garces’ camera shutter.

2011 – Kenny Dalglish wears a t-shirt



The 2010s was the decade tribalism in football reached a toxic level.

Facilitated by social media, following a team became just as much about hating rivals as supporting your chosen club.

Serious incidents were seen as point-scoring opportunities to tip the balance of the rivalry in their club’s favour.

Worse still, fans excused the inexcusable and engaged in unhelpful whataboutery when faced with difficult issues centring around their club.

This has translated to those within the game.

No moment encapsulates this more than when Kenny Dalglish and his Liverpool players wore t-shirts in support of Luis Suarez the day after the Uruguayan was found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra.

What should have been an issue of clamping down on racism, became about Liverpool vs Man United, with some Merseysiders becoming experts overnight in the field of South American colloquial language.

Refreshingly, Jamie Carragher has since reflected on the incident with regret and admitted Liverpool were wrong to back their player when something much more significant than the club’s reputation was at stake.

Sadly, some people still think they should defend their club in all situations.

They think such an attitude makes them a better fan; it doesn’t.

2018 – The most famous forward roll in history



Iran’s Milad Mohammadi provided one of the most replayable moments in World Cup history in 2018.

In need of a goal with seconds remaining, the Akhmat Grozny winger kissed the ball as he coiled for a long throw into Spain’s box.

Then, caught in two minds, he half-attempts an acrobatic flip-style throw only to perform a tame forward roll.

A brain fade at the world’s most-watched sporting event — the textbook recipe for a global viral.

Mohammadi instantly became a meme and the story of the game was overpowered.

While it’s natural for an unusual, funny moment to be widely shared, it was a microcosm of how football has been consumed in the last few years.

A player can play brilliantly for 89 minutes but if they’re nutmegged by a much-hyped youngster in 90th minute (regardless of what it leads to) they’ll be the antagonist of five-second clip that gets millions of views across multiple social media platforms.

Most people are able to take such a moment for what it is but many will weaponise such clips in propaganda campaigns.

Messi’s mega fans circulate clips of Ronaldo mishitting a shot and portray it as evidence of the Portuguese’s poor finishing while Ronaldo fanatics reply with GIFs of Messi crying at Copa America 2016 and claim the Argentine is useless in international football — both blatant lies.

General consensus has been skewed by memes based on viral clips and it’s lead to extreme opinions being taken as truth.

There are people who judge a player’s performance based on what rating out of ten they get on an app, adopting that view as their own in place of judging for themselves by watching the game.

Attention spans dwindled this decade and football consumption morphed as a result.

“You see clips on Instgram that last ten seconds. That’s not football for me.”