Once again Cristiano Ronaldo dominated the world scene with a record 193 million followers on Instagram, some fifty-five million more than his arch nemesis Lionel Messi.
On the domestic front Benfica regained the Primeira Liga title whilst their former manager Jorge Jesus weaved his magic in Brazil. After almost a year out-of-the-sport, following his sacking by Manchester United, José Mourinho has resurfaced at Tottenham Hotspur.
The European Champions were keen to impress on home soil in the Nations League finals and in the semis Cristiano Ronaldo made his return to the team scoring a hat-trick against Switzerland to secure the host a spot in the final. Four days later, in the finals at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto, Portugal defeated the Netherlands 1–0, with the only goal being scored by Gonçalo Guedes.
Later in the year Ronaldo netted four goals in an international for the second time in his career as Portugal beat Lithuania 5-1 in Vilnius in a Euro2020 qualifier. Two months later, in the return fixture, he was on song again as he bagged a hat-trick in the 6-0 demolition at the Algarve Stadium. The last fixture of the group stages saw the maestro net his ninety-ninth international goal in the 2-0 win in Luxembourg.
Ronaldo was also enthralling the highly excitable fans at Juventus and when in March he scored a hat-trick in a 3–0 home win against Atlético Madrid in the second-leg of the Champions League round of 16, helping Juventus overcome a two-goal deficit to reach the quarter-finals, his legendary status in Turin was assured. A month later Juventus clinched their eighth successive Serie A title as Ronaldo became the first player to win league titles in England, Spain and Italy.
In October, he reached several milestones in Juventus’s 3–0 group stage win over Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League: his goal during the match saw him score for the fourteenth consecutive Champions League season, equalling Raúl and Messi’s record; he also broke Iker Casillas’ record for most Champions League wins of all time, and equalled Raúl’s record of scoring against thirty-three different Champions League opponents.
In May Benfica secured their thirty-seventh Primeira Liga title and in September they won the Super Cup (Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira) with a 5-0 thumping of arch-rivals Sporting. To highlight the disparity of crowds in the top flight, the Eagles attracted a crowd of 64,064 for their game against Santa Clara (Azores) at the Estadio de Luz whilst a mere 298 fans passed through the turnstiles for the visit of Moreirense at Belenenses.
One of the revelations of the year was 19 year-old João Félix. In April he scored a hat-trick in Benfica’s 4–2 UEFA Europa League win over Eintracht Frankfurt. In doing so, he became the youngest ever player (aged 19 years and 152 days) to score a hat-trick in the competition. On 3 July, Félix signed a seven-year contract with Atlético Madrid for a transfer fee of €126 million the third highest ever paid in football. It was Benfica’s biggest transfer and Atlético’s most expensive signing as well as the second highest for a teenager after Kylian Mbappé. In November he won the Golden Boy Award as the best under-21 player in Europe.
Further afield, former Benfica and Sporting manager Jorge Jesus was appointed manager of Brazilian club Flamengo. Despite a negative reaction by fans and sports commentators he went on to win Copa Libertadores (the south American equivalent of the Champions League), defeating Argentina’s River Plate 2–1 with a late comeback in the final in Lima, Peru. In November he became the first foreign manager to win an international trophy with a Brazilian team. Jorge Jesus, who forty-five years ago played for Olhanense and ten years later for Farense, then took Flamengo to the final of the FIFA World Club Championship where they lost 1-0 to Liverpool in extra-time.
Portuguese managers are spreading their magic throughout the globe including José Mourinho (Spurs), Nuno Espírito Santo (Wolverhampton Wanderers), André Villas-Boas (Marseille, France), Paulo Sousa (Bordeaux, France) and Carlos Quiroz (Colombia national team). South Korea won the E-11 Football Championship recently after beating defending champions Japan 1-0 giving Portuguese boss Paulo Bento his first silverware since taking charge last year.
The Algarve’s top three teams have had mixed fortunes. Primeira Liga SC Portimonense end the year just one place above the relegation zone and will do well to avoid the drop. SC Farense are two points clear at the top of the Segunda Liga but more importantly are ten points ahead of third place; the top two gaining automatic promotion to the Primeira Liga. In the Campeonato Portugal high flying SC Olhanense ended the year with a 5-1 away win at third place Pinhalnovense and failing a disastrous run should make the play-offs.
Finally, let us all marvel at a recent moment of magic by Cristiano Ronaldo in the Juventus game against Sampdoria. The 34 year-old produced a leap of 71cm as he met Alex Sandro’s cross at the back post at a height of 8.39ft (2.56m) - higher than the crossbar (8ft) - before heading home. His waist was at the height of the defender’s head. It was the sort of skill seen by the likes of LeBron James and James Harden in basketball.
Ronaldo has now scored fifty-five league headed goals over the past ten seasons, which is at least fourteen more than any other player in the continent’s top five leagues.
Happy New Year!