It's the end of the decade and the seventh straight edition of 30 wishes for the New Year.
Flicking through some of the past editions -- from 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 -- it's evident how some wishes are basically Sisyphean tasks (you know, the guy pushing the boulder up the mountain and never quite getting there) and others are "evergreens" because, frankly, you can never have enough of a good thing.
Reading below, some stuff will be topical and some will sound familiar. If you love the game, you may find that you'll agree with some, but don't feel compelled to agree with all. Football is a broad church.
1. That the battle against racism in football continues. We must also remember two important things: that what happens in lower leagues, semi-pro and amateur football also matters and that simply because there are no evident racist actions, doesn't mean racism isn't there. Racism extends to prejudice, thought and denial of opportunity.
2. That every time we hear about financial skulduggery, backhanders, agents with too much power, dubious owners and executives taking money out of the game and so on, let's remember that transparency solves a lot of those problems. Often, you can't regulate your way to good governance. But simply making everything public -- starting with who owns what and who pays who, for what and how much -- would at least lead to scrutiny from fans and media. That in turn could lead to public shaming and better oversight than we're getting now. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
3. That we get some clarity over the case of Rui Pinto and Football Leaks. Even as the self-described whistleblower faces charges in his native Portugal, we're still no closer to definitively knowing whether he acted alone, whether he got his data from other hackers and whether anyone was ever extorted. This is a case with far-reaching implications that go well beyond football.
4. That folks realize that the expanded 2021 Club World Cup is just that -- a World Cup for clubs -- and, frankly, it doesn't really matter if some of the teams from lesser confederations aren't particularly good. There are some really bad countries at the real World Cup, too, and it doesn't ruin things, does it? If we take it as an opportunity grow the elite club game outside of Europe and South America, and not simply as some kind high-end rival to the Champions League, we won't be disappointed.
5. That despite what I wrote in the previous point, the Club World Cup doesn't become a money-spinning pawn in the seemingly endless feud between FIFA and UEFA.
6. That whatever your view is on video assistant referees (VAR), you leave this nonsense about "ruining the spectacle," "robbing fans of spontaneous celebration" and "killing football" to one side. It's true that VAR -- especially the way it has been implemented in the Premier League, with no pitch-side reviews and a maniacally obsessive focus on marginal offsides -- can be improved. (Explaining decisions in real time would be a start.) But this idea that "the spectacle" matters more than correcting obvious human error -- and thereby insuring something closer to justice -- in what isn't a spectacle but a sporting event is inane. As for "killing football," the sport is much tougher than that.
7. That people also realize that with all the flaws and problems we have today, football is pretty darn good. The players are better, stronger, faster and, on average, far more gifted. There are more opportunities for players from every corner of the world to reach the highest level than ever before, there is more choice than ever before, and it's our planet's lingua franca as much as anything else.
8. That the women's game, on the back of a phenomenally successful World Cup, be given a real chance to continue growing while finding its own path. It might not necessarily mean copying the men's game with its professional leagues and investors looking for financial returns. Above all, the priority ought to be access, something most women in the world do not yet enjoy.
9. That the Premier League revisit their holiday calendar. We've had managers complaining about fixture congestion, we've had rubbish games, we've had weird kickoff times. Yes, it's "tradition" but guess what? You can keep the tradition of playing on New Year's Day and Boxing Day -- just lose the fixtures in between. Professional footballers should be like airline pilots, with mandatory rest periods. Say, at least 72 hours between games.
10. That Manchester United regain their mojo. Even if you're not a fan and even if you hate them, you have to admit: you miss them just a little, don't you? Seven years in the wilderness haven't hurt the brand or their revenue -- heck, it might take 70 years to do that. But there are kids who are now teenagers who only know them as a fallen giant.
11. That folks beyond Spain start to give Karim Benzema the credit he deserves. He's endured Jose Mourinho saying that playing him was like "hunting with a cat," he's been frozen out of the France team (and yes, it was partly his fault) and he played Andrew Ridgley to Cristiano Ronaldo's George Michael for years at Real Madrid. But he's showing this season that he's not just about unselfishness and sacrifice. He can be a goal scorer and a leader, too.
12. That if (and, yeah, I'll admit, it's probably when, not if) Cristiano Ronaldo breaks Ali Daei's international goal-scoring record, it won't be used as a stick with which to beat Lionel Messi. It's been a great rivalry, but if you can only see Ronaldo through the lens of Messi, then you've got issues.
13. That if (and, yeah, time is on his side, so it's probably when) Messi wins another Ballon d'Or, it won't be used as a stick with which to beat Ronaldo. Yes, it's been a great rivalry but if you can only see Messi through the lens of Ronaldo, then you've got issues.
14. That if (and yeah, I can read the table, it's probably when) Liverpool win the title and end their 30-year drought, folks will remember that apart from Alisson and arguably Virgil Van Dijk (mainly because of his fee), not one of Jurgen Klopp's players joined as a bona fide superstar. Klopp, his staff and the club made them better, and that is the highest credit you can give a manager, more than silverware.
15. That Flamengo build on their success and it ends up lifting the entire Brazilian league. It was an unreal 2019 that ended with Jorge Jesus' crew nearly beating Liverpool for the world title. Don't leave it there. Yes, there are veterans who won't be around much longer, but if you have a formula that works, stick to it.
16. That if Milan is to be the last stop in Zlatan Ibrahimovic's seemingly never-ending career, he goes out with a bang and not a whimper. But equally, that Milan realizes that he can only ever be a Band-Aid.
17. That Manchester City's decision-makers (let's face it, that means one guy, Pep Guardiola) learn the lesson from the summer of 2019: injuries happen, you need an insurance policy. There's a parallel universe where Leroy Sane and Aymeric Laporte don't get hurt and they're neck and neck with Liverpool, but it's not the one in which we live. Failing to sign a central defender, even an average one, after Vincent Kompany left is akin to jumping out of a hot-air balloon with an umbrella rather than a parachute.
18. That Manuel Neuer thinks long and hard about what he wants to do, remembering that he owes Bayern very little. He hasn't been the same since his injuries and the days of being the best Germany keeper around, let alone the world's best, are long gone. But he's only 33 and the club bringing in Alexander Nubel to challenge for his place is a bit of a slap in the face. Maybe it's time for a new challenge elsewhere.
19. That Euro 2020 (live on ESPN+, June 12 to July 12) lives up to billing as a continent-wide feast of football. The doom-mongers who moan about travel don't seem to get that this is a chance to bring the Euros to countries and fans that would otherwise only ever see it on TV. It will feel different, sure, but that's OK.
20. That Mauricio Pochettino makes a rapid return to management at a club that suits him. The way things ended and the lack of silverware shouldn't mask the tremendous strides that were made and the impact he had on Tottenham. If he can adopt the mantra "I never lose, I either win or I learn," he'll come back stronger.
Why Dortmund didn't need Erling Haaland
Don Hutchison likes Borussia Dortmund's move for Erling Haaland, but says the club has more pressing needs.
21. That Erling Haaland remembers that even if things don't work out straight away at Borussia Dortmund he won't even be turning 20 until the summer. Strikers, especially target men, develop differently (and often in spurts). He'll find his level, sooner or later; there's plenty of runway ahead to take off.
22. That Chelsea's great youth experiment this season serve as a lesson to others -- without unrealistic expectations. The transfer ban has forced Chelsea to field eight academy graduates this season (it will be nine once Ruben Loftus-Cheek returns) and yet they're fourth in the table and through to the knockout phase of the Champions League. On the one hand, it shows what a strong youth program can do; on the other, some of their performances only underscore the value of patience and experience.
23. That the newer, kinder, gentler Jose Mourinho sticks around for a while. He's been on his best behavior and said all the right things. Time will tell whether he succeeds at Tottenham, but if he does, maybe he'll realize that you don't need to live in a permanent state of war and acrimony to keep your edge.
24. That Arsenal understands that if Mikel Arteta is going to work out, it may well be a case of needing to take a step back before you can take two steps forward. This squad is top-heavy with highly paid veterans, the club has limited room to maneuver, and it's not at all clear they're suited to what we imagine he'd like to do.
25. That Barcelona start thinking about a Plan B, because Messi won't be around forever. And ideally, it's a plan that doesn't involve assuming Ansu Fati will automatically replace him (the kid can't legally drive until Halloween) or bringing back Neymar (enough). Messi, Luis Suarez, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets will be 33 at the start of next season. It's time to think seriously, and realistically, about succession.
26. That Atalanta's experience -- top scorers in Serie A this year and last, third-place finish last year, fifth at the end of 2019 -- inspires other mid-tier clubs to be brave. Atalanta have done it without big spending and superstars (although on his day, Alejandro "Papu" Gomez comes close) but simply by being committed and going all out. Credit the club for finding the right mix of retreads and bargains, credit Gian Piero Gasperini for making it work, and above all, credit the owners for being brave.
27. That Chris Wilder continues to get love for his creativity and his football. He's exactly the sort who, supposedly, would never get a shot in the Premier League. He's English, he was a middling footballer, he took over a club filled mostly with no-names in the third tier and he's taken Sheffield United in the top half of the Premier League. What's more, he's done it with innovative tactics (not just the overlapping center-backs). Exactly what some thought couldn't happen.
28. That Matthijs De Ligt's critics chill out and remember that the list of 20-year-old central defenders starting and excelling for clubs at the very top is exceedingly short. For every John Terry and Raphael Varane you care to name, there are dozens of guys we consider among the best in the world today who were nowhere near a starting spot at a club the size of Juventus at that age. Patience, please.
29. That the United States Soccer Federation figure out how to harness the growth of the sport (and Major League Soccer) so that they can field a decent men's national team. They're co-hosting a World Cup in six years, and after missing out on the 2018 World Cup entirely, 2019 saw them beaten not just by Mexico (twice) but also the likes of Canada, Jamaica and Venezuela. And this is after nearly a quarter of a century of MLS on which to build.
30. That kids who fall in love with the sport be given the chance first and foremost to support their local club before jumping on the big juggernaut club bandwagon simply because it's pumped relentlessly onto their screens. Yes, this is cut-and-pasted from last year. But it's worth repeating. And it's the one wish over which we have the most control.