Most Passionate Fan
Diego Maradona: In a demoralising World Cup campaign, Argentina experienced fleeting jubilation with Marcos Rojo’s 86th-minute winner against Nigeria. The happiest of them all was Maradona, who flipped double middle fingers at the hecklers seated below and almost fell over in the process. During the 90-minute journey of self discovery, the Argentine legend resembled the subject of Renaissance art. The 58-year-old unfurled a banner with a picture of himself as a saint, celebrated Lionel Messi’s goal with a convulsive religious experience, fell asleep at halftime, danced with a Nigeria supporter, stumbled to the VIP lounge and was carried away by paramedics. AFP
The Cristiano Ronaldo worst footballer statue
Mo Salah: What is it with footballers getting the Avant-garde treatment in their home countries? The statue of Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah unveiled in Egypt drew comparisons with the much-ridiculed bust of Ronaldo at the Madeira airport. The sculpture featured Salah in his trademark celebration, albeit with an oversized head and unusually short and skinny legs. “I welcome all criticisms this statue received; this is natural because an artist is subjected to a number of tastes but I am personally not happy with the statue’s final product,” said artist Mai Abdel Allah.
Worst midfielder of the year
Manuel Neuer: Disciple of the Cruyff ‘In my teams, goalie is the first attacker’ school of Total Football, Neuer fancies himself as a bit of an outfield player. Seldom reckless, the keeper sweeps up to clear the ball and collect backward passes, enabling the backline to push forward. The chip over rushers, cheeky pull-backs, outside of the boot flicks and van Persie-style dives outside his penalty box have further added to his lore. So with defending champions Germany a goal down to South Korea and on their way out of the World Cup, Neuer decided to abandon his post in a Hail Mary attempt. Playing ahead of the two defenders, Neuer wandered aimlessly before squandering a throw-in with the heaviest of touches. Ju Se-jong swooped in, robbed the lumbering Neuer, spun back inside and launched a long pass towards the empty German goal. Son Heung-min did the needful as Neuer, a giraffe among deer, watched from 80 yards away.
Worst use of a pair of shoes
After Nike revealed Colin Kaepernick — the former San Francisco 49er quarterback who inspired the wave of player protest in the NFL — as one of the faces for the company’s latest ad campaign, many aggrieved customers went ‘full Murica’ and uploaded videos of sneakers and sportswear being set on fire while the Star Spangled Banner blared in the background. #IDontWearPolitics trended while Nike shares closed at record highs.
Honourable mention: French striker Olivier Giroud, who won the World Cup without a shot at goal.
Thinking outside the box moment
Khabib Nurmagomedov: Sometimes, winning a fight just isn’t enough. Especially, a fight promoted by thrown dollies and shattered windows, mocked families and alleged terrorist connections. So after cranking megastar Conor McGregor into a lump at UFC 229, Nurmagomedov leapt out of the cage, onto the Irishman’s outspoken trainer and into MMA folklore. The Dagestani, on a victory tour bordering on political puppetry since, recently spoke at a Q&A session in Saudi Arabia where he advised female fighters to “be fighter inside your home” and “finish your husband.”
Unluckiest teammate of the year
Valtteri Bottas: The Finn couldn’t catch a break this year. While Lewis Hamilton collected his sixth championship, Bottas failed to win a race. There was the last-gasp puncture in Baku and the loss of hydraulics pressure in Austria. The stinger came in Russia, when the team ordered him to move out of the way and let Hamilton pass for the win.
All-around performer of the year
Simone Biles: In January, Biles added her name to the list of nearly 160 women who spoke out about being the victim of sexual abuse by jailed US Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. In August, she won her fifth national championship wearing a teal leotard — the designated colour to represent survivors of sexual abuse. And in October, a day after USA Gymnastics hired Mary Bono as its new president, Biles called out Bono for protesting Nike’s association with Colin Kaepernick. Bono resigned less than a week into her job. At last month’s World Championships in Doha, Biles fell off the beam during the all-around event, failed to stick the landing on the vault and stepped out of bounds on floor exercise, and still handily won four gold medals, and six in total; the 21-year-old was in hospital on the eve of the event due to complications from a kidney stone and competed without passing, what came to be known as, the Doha pearl.
Best counter-attack of the year
Virat Kohli: After his first series loss at Centurion in January, Kohli was getting an idea about the scrutiny a defeated Indian captain goes through. Quizzed if the team, which had failed to chase 287, was India’s best XI, Kohli, part philosopher, part troll, fired back with “What’s the best XI?” “Was it your best XI?” the journalist further pressed, to which Kohli responded “But if we had won this, was this the best XI?” Captain ended another testy exchange with “Doesn’t matter. Wherever we play, we try to do our best. I’m here to answer your questions, not to fight with you.”
Honourable mention: Belgium scything through Japan in less than ten seconds to win the Round of 16 clash 3-2
Best Indian cricket team in the last 15-20 years award
Virat Kohli and Co: “I can’t see any other Indian team in the last 15-20 years that has had the same run in such a short time,” said national coach Ravi Shastri after India suffered its second straight series defeat, this time in England. Former captains and stats disagreed, but Kohli had his coach’s back at a press conference. “We have to believe we are the best side. Why not?” said Kohli, before launching another counter-attack. “What do you think?” The reply was “I am not sure,” and Indian captain ended the chat with, “That’s your opinion. Thank you.” There might be something to the claim however, as India won their first Boxing Day Test in Australia and Kohli joined Sourav Ganguly as joint-Most successful Indian captain away from home.
The 2018 Tom & Jerry award
BCCI: The BCCI officials continued to disagree with the SC order. Vinod Rai and Diana Edulji, the two CoA, continued to disagree with the BCCI officials. Edulji didn’t agree with Rai on the Rahul Johri #MeToo issue. Edulji said Johri’s presence made all women in the BCCI uncomfortable. Rai didn’t agree. When the committee cleared Johri, Edulji didn’t agree. A BCCI official wanted to travel to Australia but both Rai and Edulji didn’t agree. Rai and Edujli gave special status to Puducherry Ranji Trophy team, the BCCI officials didn’t agreeing with them. Mithali Raj didn’t agree with coach Romesh Powar. Captain Harmanpreet and Edulji didn’t agree with Mithali. Rai didn’t agree with Edulji on Powar being retained as coach. Edulji quoted the Virat Kohli-Ravi Shastri precedent but Rai didn’t agree. Edulji didn’t agree with Rai on forming a committee to pick a new coach. Johri got a legal opinion, Edulji, questioning his mandate, didn’t agree. Meanwhile, Rai didn’t agree with Edulji, and over-ruled her. Edulji didn’t agree with Rai, asking who gave him the veto. Disappointed by this bizarre power tussle, Justice RM Lodha, the man whose reforms Rai and Edulji were brought together to implement, said, “they were making a spectacle of themselves”.
Employee of the year
Cristiano Ronaldo: Ronaldo is being sued by a teacher from Nevada, who claims the footballer sexually assaulted her and then dispatched a team of ‘fixers’ to manipulate her into keeping quiet. It’s an ongoing investigation, but employers Juventus issued a character certificate in October. “Ronaldo has shown in recent months his great professionalism and dedication, which is appreciated by everyone at Juventus,” tweeted the Italian club. “The events allegedly dating back to almost 10 years ago do not change this opinion, which is shared by anyone who has come into contact with this great champion.”
Reporter of the year
Shubhankar Sharma: At the World Golf Championship-Mexico in March, Phil Mickelson was busy honing his already formidable short game on the practice green when the five-time major winner was approached by a couple of — or so he thought — members of the media. With the business end about to get underway, Leftie curtly told them to buzz off and come later for interviews. Only, he soon realised, the duo was tournament leader Shubhankar Sharma and his caddie and former pro, Gurbaaz Mann. The mix-up was understandable as the 21-year-old Sharma, though top of the leaderboard, was making his debut on the PGA Tour. Mickelson apologised and got to know Sharma better when the duo paired up in the final round.
Worst inside scoop of the year
Jorge Mendes: With Manchester United free-falling under Jose Mourinho, the manager’s all-powerful agent Jorge Mendes issued a rare statement to dissuade pessimism. “There have been more rumours of Jose Mourinho leaving Manchester United. It’s totally untrue. Jose is very happy at the club and the club is very happy with him,” said Mendes, whose list of clients includes Cristiano Ronaldo and David de Gea. “He has a long-term contract and is fully committed to the club in building a solid winning project.” Mourinho was sacked eleven days later.
Most anticipated press conference
David Warner: While a tearful Warner dodged questions regarding his specific involvement in the Sandpapergate that saw him stripped of vice-captaincy, slapped with a 12-month ban and removed from any leadership position with the national side for the rest of his career, a certain Englishman got all he wanted from the press conference. “I literally stayed up until 1:30 in the morning to watch him cry live on TV. What a pleasure that was,” said former England keeper Matt Prior, who had many run-ins with the Aussie opener.
Most confounding metaphor
Mauricio Pochettino: Asked to explain the pressures of Champions League football ahead of Tottenham’s clash with Inter, Pochettino used a weird bovine analogy to set the moo’d. “It is like a cow that every day in 10 years, sees the train cross in front at the same time. If you ask the cow, ‘what time is the train going to come’, it is not going to know the right answer.”
Overshadowing of the year
Naomi Osaka: After a remarkable tournament, Osaka outplayed a 23-time major champion to win her first Grand Slam at the US Open. But the presentation ceremony began amid thunderous boos and her acceptance speech with an apology. Serena Williams’ outburst was a longtime coming, after the seeding and catsuit rows. But the timing, after three code violations, was unfortunate. Like Sam Stosur at the 2011 US Open, Osaka’s first major victory will be remembered more for Serena’s meltdown.
Comeback of the year
Omar Abdullah: A month before his retirement, Gautam Gambhir took to Twitter to chide politicians after the death of Manan Wani — a research scholar-turned-terrorist. Former chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir clapped back. “This man wouldn’t be able to find Manan’s home district on a map much less his village & yet he presumes to know what drives young men in Kashmir to pick up the gun. Mr Gambhir clearly knows less about Kashmir than I do about cricket & I know almost nothing.”
Honourable mentions: Vinesh Phogat, Novak Djokovic, Tyson Fury and Tiger Woods.
Halo: Received with skepticism at the start of the season, the “ugly, annoying” Halo device won over its harshest critics at the Belgian GP when it saved Sauber’s Charles Leclerc from Fernando Alonso’s McLaren. “I have never been a fan of the Halo but I have to say that I was very happy to have it over my head today,” said Leclerc. “I felt the impact and looking at the image of my car it is quite spectacular.”
Bat flip: Big Bash League outdid itself this season after scrapping ‘head’ or ‘tails’ of a coin toss for ‘hills’ and ‘flats’ of a bat flip. And if you’re a seasoned backyard cricketer who would favour ‘hills’ thinking that the bat will roll over, think again. “You’d be surprised at the science that’s gone into this. It is a specially weighted bat to make sure that it is 50-50,” said head of BBL Kim McConnie. “I’d also challenge people to say when was the last time anyone watched the coin toss or really focused on it to a great extent? Now we are making it much more relevant to families.” Nothing says wholesome family fun like chucking a piece of wood in the air.
Unreal moment of the year
Real Kashmir: Formed four years ago in the aftermath of the deadly Srinagar floods, the club reignited hope of the locals who have been battered by decades of violence in the Valley. In mid-2018, Real Kashmir won the second division league and became the first team from the region to qualify for the I-League. It wasn’t the final frontier for Indian football, but when Real Kashmir kicked off the match against Churchill Brothers at Srinagar’s TRC Ground, it felt like that. It was the first time a national league match was being played in the Valley. And in a breathtaking backdrop, Real Kashmir – the surprise co-leaders of the league – continued to script their fairytale.
Honourable mention: England win a penalty shootout.
Face-saver of the year
Mary Kom: With eight quarterfinalists at the AIBA Women’s World Championships, India looked set to record their best haul since 2006, which also incidentally were held in New Delhi. But when the dust settled, Mary emerged as the only one with gold around her neck, a record sixth world title. Spirited performances and favourable judging in their backyard yielded two bronze and a silver, but without Mary, the hosts would have ended with an egg on their face. The 36-year-old summed it up best. “Mere jaisa koi aur toh paida nahi ho sakta.” —With inputs from Daksh Panwar, Mihir Vasavda and shahid judge