Football in 2023: What can we expect from the world's most popular sport this year?
Football in 2022 went out with a bang, and there's no time to catch our breaths as the sport refuses to rest and continues to bring us plenty of drama and excitement in 2023.
It's a calendar year with many exciting events and developing stories on the horizon, beginning with the return of the FIFA Club World Cup being held in Morocco.
The announcement of Morocco being the hosts came shortly after their fantastic campaign at the 2022 Men's World Cup in Qatar. Walid Ragragui led his team to the semi-finals, making them the first African and Arab side to make it that far in the tournament's history, beating Belgium, Spain and Portugal before eventually being knocked out by 2018 winners, France.
In recognition of this achievement, FIFA announced that Morocco would host the tournament, which will kick off on February 1st. The tournament should be competitive again this year, with 14-time European champions Real Madrid heading into it as favourites. They'll be joined by first-time qualifiers Seattle Sounders, the MLS side that won the 2022 CONCACAF Champions League in May 2021. Sounders are the first side from the USA ever to qualify for the tournament, signifying how much football in the United States has improved over recent years.
So who will be crowned World Champions in Morocco?
Madrid are one of the favourites to win a fifth trophy in nine years, but Seattle and Brazilian side Flamengo, who made the final in 2019, will be out to cause an upset.
Back in Europe, some of the continent's top leagues are seeing some exciting title races this year. Over in Italy, Napoli has a comfortable lead over the rest of the pack in Serie A. The last time they won the Scudetto was 1990, but Luciano Spaletti's side has played some electric football this season and has proven they have what it takes.
"He's really one of the most underrated coaches when it comes to developing players and getting them to take that final step," Roodsari continued, "he's got them playing brilliant football. He himself said that Napoli have an 'obligation to their history'. This is a club where Diego Maradona played. So he feels they have an obligation to play and win, using this brand of football, this progressive brand of football.
In England, Arsenal is in pole position to win a first league title since 2004 but will need to hold their nerve to stop Pep Guardiola's Manchester City from closing down their lead. City has won four of the last five Premier League titles but may have one eye on trying to win the first European Cup in club history on June 10th, when Istanbul hosts the showpiece final for the second time since 2005.
Undoubtedly, Australia and New Zealand will host the most anticipated event of the year, the women's World Cup finals. Euro 2022 winners, England, will be hoping to go from European champions to world champions this summer, but they will face fierce opposition by title holders USA.
The USA beat England in the World Cup semi-final in France in 2019, but the Lionesses have had the upper hand in more recent meetings. So who will hold their nerve in this summer's tournament?
"They played each other at Wembley at the end of last year, and that was a close encounter. But England came out on top," revealed Emma Sanders, a digital journalist for BBC Sport.
"So I think it'll be interesting to see whether the USA have learned from that match. But for me, it's those two that are outright favourites. I'd love for that to be the World Cup final."
From a business perspective, 2023 could see the sale of two of England's biggest football clubs. For the first time in their history, Liverpool and Manchester United, both owned by American consortiums, are listed for sale simultaneously.
Boston Red Sox owner FSG has owned Liverpool since 2010. While the Glazer family, who are also in charge of the NFL team Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have had a majority stake in United for nearly 20 years. For various reasons, neither set of owners is particularly popular with their respective fan bases, but both could be ready to sell up in 2023. But why is this?
"I think Liverpool and Manchester United are both considering outright sales simply because of the Chelsea sale, which not only took place quickly but presented a yardstick price." explained Ben Jacobs, online journalist for CBS Sports.
"Chelsea are now majority owned by Clearlake Capital Group, who believe that due to the circumstances of sanctions and Roman Abramovich's forced departure, the £2.3billion they paid was a very strong deal, with the potential to get value if they can modernise the football club. So when you see that not just one, but a variety of credible suitors are circling, mostly from the North American region, you start to realise that a sale at the price you were always prepared to take is attainable."
So, plenty is happening on and off the pitch in 2023. Two of the world's biggest clubs could find new owners. The title races of the best leagues are heating up, and we have another exciting World Cup tournament to look forward to in the coming months. It's going to be another year to remember.