Every year adds a new thread to the intricate fabric of soccer’s dynamic history, connecting triumph, heartbreak, and unyielding passion. The year 2023 left a mark on soccer history. As we approach the beginning of a new chapter, it is fitting to look back upon the last twelve months.

We take you back in time for every ball kicked across the globe. Fans saw dramatic, brilliant, dramatic and unexpected stories. Along the threads of this historical tapestry, we will discover the euphoria that surrounded some international tournaments.

We will also discuss the individual genius that took our breath away and the heart-stopping stories that unfolded in domestic leagues. There have also been some stories that garnered great attention, but unfortunately, not always for the right reasons.

Top Soccer Stories in 2023

Cristiano Ronaldo to Al-Nassr

Cristiano Ronaldo officially moved to Saudi Arabia with Al-Nassr in 2022. However, he made his first appearance in 2023. His transfer to Saudi Arabia has been one of the most significant news this year, given his impeccable status in soccer.

After a string of awful performances with Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo decided to take this career-altering step. Anger and discord between him and Erik ten Hag represented the team’s dismal performance. Anxiety built up for months before the veteran famously went to Piers Morgan. The Portuguese said he did not respect the Dutch boss.

It was inevitable that United would address the allegations, and to that end, the club decided to release Cristiano. Al-Nassr of Saudi Arabia is the latest destination of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. His departure for the Middle East sparked a mass exodus of players, and the Saudi Pro League was all anybody could speak about this summer.

Barcelona and the Negreira case

Nobody can deny that Barcelona is among the most adored soccer teams ever. There are millions of people cheering for them since they are one of the best teams in Europe and Spain. However, they didn’t get off to a flying start of the year due to corruption charges.

Several companies linked to Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira allegedly received payments totaling around $8 million from the Catalan giants. He is the former vice president of the Spanish commission that oversees referees. What this means is that the referees have allegedly been “bribed” by Barcelona to favor them in games.

According to official data from Spanish prosecutors, Barcelona paid this sum over 17 years (from 2001 to 2018). A case was opened into the allegations of “corruption,” “breach of trust,” and “false business records” in March 2023. That’s when Sandro Rosell, Josep Maria Bartomeu, Negreira, and his son were all charged.

Juventus’ points-deduction scandal

Everyone who follows this sport may still remember the so-called ‘Calciopoli’ scandal that rocked Juventus and Italy over two decades ago. After enduring severe punishment, the squad recovered and resumed their dominance in Serie A. To that end, news of the Bianconeri’s involvement in a new controversy leading to point deduction came as little surprise.

A 15-point deduction in Serie A was handed down by the Italian soccer authorities due to allegations that Juventus were involved in financial misconduct. When this penalty was called, the club’s hopes of lifting the trophy were dashed.

Their January point deduction was reversed and they received 15 points back later in April. An appeal against the penalties imposed by the Italian FA (FIGC) was considered by the Italian Olympic Committee, therefore a new hearing was necessary to resolve the matter.

However, the FIGC’s Federal Court of Appeal once again punished Juventus points in the last twist of the saga. This time, they lost 10 points with two games remaining in the Serie A season. This final penalty proved to be fatal to their chances of qualifying for the 2023-24 Champions League campaign.

PSG’s abrupt Champions League exit

The 2022-23 UEFA Champions League season for PSG finished with a familiar sight. Following their unfortunate elimination from the tournament, the French giants continued their trophy drought in European competition.

In March, Bayern Munich defeated the Parisians 2-0. Coupled with the 1-0 loss in Paris two weeks before, it added up to a 3-0 aggregate score that eliminated them in the last 16. Christophe Galtier’s super-team consisted of Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Sergio Ramos, and many more.

In the club’s existence, they have competed in fewer than 150 Champions League matches without ever taking home the trophy. The French side disappointed European expectations for a second consecutive season, depriving their Qatari owners of the Champions League rewards they so desperately want.

Barcelona’s abrupt Europa League exit

The European sphere was where Barcelona’s 2022 summer signings had their strongest case. They believed that with Robert Lewandowski, Jules Kounde, Raphinha, and a slew of others, they would have a squad capable of competing with Europe’s top clubs.

However, Barcelona fell from the UEFA Champions League 2022–23 with two games remaining in the group stage. Their third-place result earned them a spot in February’s Europa League Playoffs. But the Europa League Playoffs didn’t treat them well either.

The Catalan team lost 2-1 at Old Trafford against Manchester United, resulting in a 4-3 aggregate loss and elimination from the Europa League. For the first time since the 1998-99 season, Xavi’s side exited European competition before reaching the round of 16.

The story of Will Still

Nearing the year’s close, 2023 was a watershed moment when the ‘Will Still’ virus hit the whole planet. The Belgian coach for Nice in the French Ligue 1 received a great deal of attention from social media, and rightfully so. Many started seeing him as an instant role model for up-and-coming coaches and still hold him in high esteem.

Nowadays, every manager in the sport must possess a valid UEFA coaching license. Typically, after a successful playing career, most managers enter the role, often in their late 30s or early 40s. Yet, Will Still is an exception to that rule.

Has not yet obtained a UEFA coaching license, and the fact that he is just 31 years old and already manages a team that plays in one of the top five leagues in Europe is unprecedented. Among the top five European leagues, Still is now the youngest manager in charge. But his 30 years of age were just enough to propel Stade de Reims into the top half of Ligue 1 at one point during last season.

He also guided them to a 17-game winning streak, which they lost to Marseille in March. Although Nice finished the season in ninth place with 58 points, their coach became famous for his fascinating existence.

Liverpool’s 7-0 thrashing of arch-rivals Manchester United

Records were rewritten as Liverpool demolished Manchester United 7-0 in one of the most exciting clashes of the year. United suffered their biggest loss in competitive play in almost 90 years at the hands of Liverpool, who slammed them to the ground with a 7-0 thrashing at Anfield.

The Red Devils suffered a 7-0 defeat only three times before, the most recent one had been in 1931 against Wolverhampton. Meanwhile, Liverpool won by their largest margin of victory in the match’s history. The result was higher than the Reds’ previous greatest triumph against United, a 7-1 triumph in 1895.

A flurry of second-half goals—two each from Cody Gakpo, Darwin Nunez, and Mohamed Salah—and another from Roberto Firmino brought the total to six.

The inspiring story of Wrexham

Wrexham, a legendary North Wales club, unexpectedly became a media darling. By 2023, they had reached their pinnacle of glory under the ownership of Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, two Hollywood stars.

The club’s unbelievable season of winning the National League and reawakening the dreams of its ardent following was riveting. Smart transfers and strategic shifts helped Wrexham get back on track. That set the stage for the squad to reach its peak performance, which led to the National League championship.

Fans and critics alike were captivated by Wrexham’s performances all season long. The squad displayed an exciting style of play defined by strong attack and unpenetrable defense. With a thrilling last-day victory, the historic side secured promotion to the EFL League Two, the fourth-highest tier overall in the country.

Leicester City’s fall from grace

They experienced something wonderful just to have the nightmare return. Leicester won the Premier League seven years ago in the most unlikely sports fairy tale ever. This past season, the Foxes fell to the Championship as the second Premier League winners to then suffer relegation.

They went through a terrible 2022-23 Premier League season. Under three different managers, Leicester lost 22 of their 38 matches. Even if pre-campaign expectations were low, their collapse has been tremendous.

This team’s precipitous decline is all the more shocking given that they stunned soccer fans worldwide. Leicester won the FA Cup in the 2020/21 campaign.

Borussia Dortmund’s heartbreak is Bayern’s treasure

Borussia Dortmund had a wild campaign in the 2022/23 season. It was enough to send supporters on an emotional trip from euphoria to heartbreak. It was the first full season with Edin Terzic.

Throughout the season, the squad displayed both their strengths and weaknesses. Thrilling offensive displays contrasted puzzling defeats that ultimately lost them the championship. When it came down to the title, it was Dortmund’s to lose on the last day. Their only remaining task was to secure a victory against Mainz in the season finale.

Their first Bundesliga championship in eleven years would have been theirs had they won, but they were unable to overcome the odds and ended up drawing 2-2. Instead, Bayern Munich won the championship on goal difference, ensuring their repeat as champions.

Napoli makes Diego Maradona proud

Napoli finally broke through in the 2022-23 Serie A season after decades of disappointment. With five games left to play, the Partenopei clinched the championship with a 1-1 draw against Udinese on May 4. They were 16 points clear of Lazio in second place.

The squad hailing from the Campania area won the ‘Scudetto’ 33 years after the club’s last. This was the first Italian championship for the club in 33 years; they previously won it in 1990, under Diego Maradona’s leadership.

None of the other teams could match their pace. Neither Juventus, Lazio, Inter nor AC Milan took the title away from them. After weeks of preparation, the city finally celebrated Spalletti’s team’s well-deserved championship with a wild party.

Newcastle secures historic Champions League spot

The first season of Newcastle United’s ownership by the Saudi Public Investment Fund saw a dramatic change for the hitherto impoverished club. A 0-0 draw in Eddie Howe’s squad’s last match of the 2023–24 season against Leicester City ensured their place in the 2023-24 edition’s group stage. This outcome ensured a spot in Europe’s premier cup tournament and a top-four finish.

The revitalized team enjoyed a remarkable 2022–23 season, losing just once all season before taking a midseason break for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. They came back stronger than ever, extending their league undefeated streak to 17 games before falling to Liverpool and Manchester City.

It had been exactly two decades, since 2003, that they last participated in the Champions League. The club’s fourth season in the competition saw them placed in the notorious “group of death” with Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan, and Paris Saint-Germain.

Manchester City winning it all under Haaland’s wings

Pep Guardiola’s hunger for invention and insistence on never being satisfied led Manchester City to their long-awaited UEFA Champions League victory. Following their acquisition by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008, City had harbored aspirations of becoming its champions. Those dreams have only grown since Guardiola took over as coach in 2016.

City finally achieved their long-held goal and is now, after 15 years and almost £2 billion in expenditure, unquestionably the finest team in Europe. With the win, they were able to finally shake off the Champions League trophy and join an exclusive group of just two English teams to win the Premier League, FA Cup, and Europe’s top award all at once.

The treble was a source of great satisfaction for Manchester United, but City had now equalized it. But the success is due to more than just the Spanish manager. The Etihad side would not have achieved their feat without their record-breaking striker. Not only had Erling Haaland scored an incredible 52 goals in one season, but he had also given the team a fresh perspective.

Lionel Messi’s bizarre apology video

In the world of soccer, Lionel Messi has an impeccable reputation. He made sure things remained that way while at PSG. With an Instagram apology, he sealed the deal for good after one of his conducts resulted in Paris Saint-Germain’s historically banning him before the end of the season.

Once the 36-year-old returned from his unapproved vacation to Saudi Arabia in May, the French club banned him indefinitely without pay for two weeks. As the ambassador for the Middle Eastern country, Messi was required to make the journey. Due to the customary off day after a victory, the forward had hoped that the squad would have had Monday free from training. Unfortunately, no such vacation was given as PSG fell 3-1 at home to Lorient the day before.

All of this took place in a shaky period for the club. PSG supporters had already been booing the Argentine great, adding to the mounting pressure he was feeling due to his lackluster performance since returning from the World Cup.

A 38-second video apologizing, featuring Messi in a black jacket and button-down, was posted to Instagram Stories and disappeared from his feed the next day. He said: “I thought we had a day off after the game, I had organised this trip and I could not cancel it. I had canceled it before. I apologize to my teammates and I am waiting for what the club wants to do with me.”

A large number of fans were quick to point out that the Argentine seemed uneasy in the video, drawing amusing parallels to hostage situations or being held at gunpoint. “Blink twice if you need help” is a humorous way to put it, and the references to the movie “Taken” make it more dramatic and serious, but in an exaggerated way.

Lionel Messi to Inter Miami

The summer of 2023 in America will go down in history as the year when Lionel Messi joined Inter Miami and Major League Soccer with his extraordinary abilities. Six months after winning the World Cup with Argentina, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner will don the famous pink shirt of Inter Miami.

After his contract with Paris Saint-Germain expired, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner opted to begin a new phase of his incredible career away from European sport. The decision will have far-reaching effects on the future of the sport in North America.

In Florida, Messi had an instant effect, leading his team to a historic Leagues Cup victory and increasing American soccer’s global prominence. Not only that, but the Argentine was instrumental in the club acquiring his ex-Barcelona colleagues, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, and a slew of promising South American players.

Jude Bellingham to Real Madrid

The day has come when paying $100 million for a soccer player is seen as inexpensive, even a bargain. The case of Jude Bellingham is quite instructive in this regard. Surely Real Madrid scored a steal on this one. While there is never a completely risk-free move, it’s now safe to say that acquiring the Englishman was unquestionably one of the wisest decisions they have made in recent times.

At the start of the summer transfer season, Real Madrid got their man Jude Bellingham in a massive deal that sent him from Dortmund to Madrid. The 20-year-old has proved to be an exceptional transfer since he is a full-suite player in addition to being a complete midfielder. In only 11 appearances for Los Blancos, he has scored 10 goals, making him the club’s leading scorer as of December.

With their nine-figure investment, Madrid gained a proven player who has helped the squad progress. He has not only filled the gap created by Benzema’s departure, but he has also helped senior superstars Luka Modric and Toni Kroos out at the moment.

Saudi Pro League’s shopping spree

As fresh seasons started all around Europe, the Saudis’ interference in the sport was front and center.  A long-lasting revolution may have started in Saudi Arabia thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo. The January signing of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner at Al-Nassr began a slew of high-profile players to Saudi Arabia.

Several other A-list players accompanied him by relocating to Saudi Arabia. Popular players like Fabinho, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez, Malcom, Ruben Neves, and many more made the switch this summer. The Saudi Pro League attracted attention from European superstars like Neymar of Al-Hilal.

But the SPL also managed to recruit highly regarded free agents to its ranks. Three stars flourishing in Europe—Roberto Firmino, N’Golo Kante, and Karim Benzema—signed lucrative deals to play in the Kingdom.

The Luis Rubiales scandal

In August, Spain won the World Cup final against the Lionesses, 1-0, despite an outstanding performance by England. While Spain did win the title, the controversy surrounding the kiss between then-president of the Spanish FA Luis Rubiales and star scorer Hermoso during the presentation utterly eclipsed their success.

Manager Jorge Vilda was fired and Rubiales was compelled to quit three weeks after the kiss due to the enormous criticism he received. Players from Spain vowed to pull out of September’s national team matches unless the women’s soccer setup was drastically altered in response to accusations levied by Hermoso and the Spanish prosecutor.

Additionally, FIFA prohibited the ex-president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), who is now facing sexual assault charges, from participating in any activity pertaining to soccer for three years.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic says goodbye

This summer, after AC Milan’s last match of the season, a visibly distraught Zlatan Ibrahimovic shocked the sports world by declaring his retirement effective immediately. In the moments leading up to the Swedish striker’s last game for the club, fans at the San Siro said their goodbyes.

The San Siro crowd said their goodbyes to the Swedish striker in the last game with the club, even though he was unable to play because of an injury. He had previously ruled out retiring since other teams were interested, but the 41-year-old finally announced his departure in the Rossoneri’s last home game.

Beyond the club, he was bidding farewell to soccer as a whole. Ibrahimovic had a remarkable 24-year career that began in 1999. He totaled 988 appearances for club and country. After the 2022/23 season, he decided to hang up his boots. During his passionate halftime speech to the AC Milan fans and teammates, the veteran brought a tear to almost every face at the Italian stadium.

Paul Pogba suspended for doping violation

The Italian National Anti-Doping Tribunal reported in September that Paul Pogba, a top player for Juventus, has been provisionally banned after testing positive for elevated testosterone levels. The test was conducted after the August 20 encounter against Udinese, in which the Frenchman did not participate.

The first analysis by the Italian anti-doping organization (Nado) found testosterone metabolites. The results of the midfielder’s second sample analysis confirmed the first positive result. Again, Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a prohibited drug, was in Pogba’s system. Instead of increasing testosterone levels, it promotes the body’s natural synthesis of the hormone.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned the substance. Athletes found guilty of knowingly using the substance face a maximum punishment of four years of ban. As a result, a suspension of up to four years is now very likely for the France international.

Italy’s betting scandal

Italy has an ugly history of illegal betting in soccer. For example, in 1980, the Totonero scandal involved match-fixing. Calciopoli also had a massive impact on Italian soccer. A recent case that made news worldwide involved 40 Italian players. That includes several stars who placed illegal bets.

Among these practices is the practice of players wagering on their own matches. This is both unethical and detrimental to the sport. Athletes in Italy are subject to stringent betting regulations; any caught betting on their own games face three-year suspensions at the very least.

There have been several mentions of prominent figures in the betting scandal. Three of them faced further investigation. Two of these players, Nicolo Fagioli of Juventus and Sandro Tonali of Newcastle picked up seven and ten-month suspensions, respectively. Therefore, they will not be able to participate in the remainder of the 2023-24 season.

As part of the investigation involving illicit gambling, Aston Villa player Nicolo Zaniolo will receive a financial punishment. The player maintained his denial. He says he engaged in illegal poker and blackjack and had nothing to do with betting on soccer events.

Ballon d’Or 2023: Lionel Messi wins battle against Erling Haaland

Lionel Messi earned a record-breaking eighth Ballon d’Or on a momentous evening in Paris at the end of November. After a fantastic year on both the club and international stages, he earned the esteemed prize for the 2023 edition.

The word had already broken about what was to come. Any speculation had been quelled, and there was no evidence to suggest otherwise. Still, the sight of the current Inter Miami star hoisting his eighth Ballon d’Or remains a source of amazement.

He has only added to the long list of honors bestowed upon him over his illustrious career. Even among his many records, this one may be unbeatable—at least for this generation. Many have questioned the award’s validity in light of Erling Haaland’s remarkable performance during Manchester City’s treble-winning season. However, the World Cup in 2022 played a role in the voting process. The Argentine undeniably had a significant advantage for that reason.