By Okeowo Oladapo
When the turn of the year saw the English Premier League table having Arsenal, the two Manchester clubs and Spurs as four of the top five, the question was when Leicester City were going to drop out of the Champions League spot they occupied at the time. I guess the boys at the King Power Stadium did not get that memo. Or maybe they did and tore the script. Maybe the fact it was not delivered in the voice of Andrea Bocelli did not allow Ranieri take it seriously. Lots of maybe but history only records that Leicester City, against all odds, somehow staved off the best efforts of club sides with more money, better pedigree and even followership to win the English Premier League. They did it with a game to spare. Talk about doing it right because it needs doing.
In a theme that stayed recurrent in 2016, it was the turn of Iceland, Wales and of course Portugal to turn all predictions on their heads. Rubbish punditry made by men with years of experience behind them. Portugal started out the tournament as indifferently as a team could and still qualified for the next round. That was when the party began. Not a party. The road to the final was all about grit and outlasting their opponents. It was constant stepping up of Cristiano and the support of the rest of the team. However, it was beautiful as one watched the ball fly off Eder’s boot into the bottom corner to gift the Selecao their first senior international trophy: The Euros. Second only to the World Cup. It was the biggest year yet for Ronaldo, still more famous than loved but so undeniably great at the global game.
In the United States, a local boy went home and made good. LeBron James. You need to say that name again. Let it roll off the tongue. It is a privilege to not have to watch YouTube clips to know who he is. From a 3-1 deficit in a best of seven game series, he pulled the Cleveland Cavaliers and made history. NBA 2016 Champions.
In Nigeria, Rangers International, a former African football powerhouse, shook off the dust of age and the lethargy of slumber and, after a 32-year wait, won the Nigerian Professional Football League. Heartland FC got relegated. Yes. They did. The former Iwayanwu Nationale, the Naze Millionaires. Then, this is 2016.
It was not all good news in 2016. We woke up to news of retirement of individuals who by measure of dedication to their craft, have brought us joy and awesome moments. Steven Gerrard decided no more clutch performances, so did Kobe Bryant, Micheal Phelps and Ana Ivanovic.
Then we woke up to other levels of tragic news. Ones involving the loss of life: the plane crash that killed players and officials of the Chapecoense football team, the Ugandan drowning that claimed 30 lives. 2016 took away the one who moved like a butterfly and stung like a bee, Mohammad Ali, and the man who imbibed and sold Total Football to the world, Johan Cruyff.
The year 2016 started as gloriously as it could. New year. New resolutions. New everything. But the sporting world was in constant flux. The old and the new and the not-so-new were jostling around for prominence. In the end, the underdogs roared and demanded to be heard. The world had no choice but to listen. 2016 is the year that saw Leicester do tha ting. The year we lost Muhammad Ali, the year we watched history being made. Saw LeBron James cry while still looking kingly. 2016, a year indelibly marked in the career of Cristiano Ronaldo when he won both individual and team accolades. The year Michael Phelps got his act together and showed us he is actually a demigod born of the union of Poseidon and some beautiful lady. 2016 was the year Usain bolted to his triple triple while making the rest of the field look slow. In 2016, the sporting world reflected the real world with the shocks, upheavals, the expected, moments of peace and those of tragedy. 2016 is a year like any other. A year like no other.
Have a happy 2017.