Sam Wallace: In a year of World Cup misery at least Bale's brilliance gave us something to smile about

Talking Football: Barcelona love the 'Mes que un club' stuff, but it is starting to wear a bit thin. Their football is excellent, but can they stop all the preachy stuff?
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Sadly, it will be the bad stuff for which we remember 2010: England's dismal performance in South Africa, the failure of the 2018 World Cup bid, the success of Qatar's 2022 bid. You can blame Sepp Blatter for most of life's annoyances but the limitations of Fabio Capello's team were not his fault. This was not a vintage year but it had its moments.

Best player

Xavi and Andres Iniesta were the obvious standout players at the World Cup. The Champions League belonged to Wesley Sneijder. But of the players I watch week in, week out it was Gareth Bale who shone. He runs at players, scores goals and creates chances. What else do we turn up at games every week to see?

Best manager

Tough one. Carlo Ancelotti seems to have got hardly any of the credit we would usually accord a first-season Double-winner. Ditto, Vicente Del Bosque. Winning the World Cup seemed to be the minimum required from him. But my choice is Steve McClaren. Yes, he is struggling at Wolfsburg but he had the courage to go to the Netherlands and take on an unfashionable team, FC Twente, who everyone thought had peaked with their fourth place in 2008. Lots of English managers and players talk about going abroad. Few have the balls to do it.

Snake in the grass

Even when he knew that the Fifa executive committee was going to stitch up the English 2018 bid, Blatter still picked out Sir Bobby Charlton before the presentations and laid it on thick about how much he revered Charlton and how he had played youth football against him in the 1950s (a dubious claim, still unverified). It was patronising, insincere tosh and Charlton, above all in the English delegation, deserved better.

The best game I saw

Germany's win over Argentina in Cape Town had its moments. Newcastle United v Sunderland last month felt significant because it was part of a famous football club coming back to life (with apologies to Sunderland). Barcelona's 5-0 win over Real Madrid is the popular choice but I was not at that one. So Tottenham's 3-1 win over Internazionale at White Hart Lane takes the prize. Open, attacking and devil-may-care.

We're still waiting

Whatever happened to those City investors and private equity types who gave themselves the moniker "the Red Knights", the kind of title that any self-respecting eight-year-old with a plastic sword and a bin lid would be proud of? None of them ever admitted to it in public but there were lots of dramatic briefings in private about how they were going to rescue United from the Glazers and gift a portion of it to the fans. Because that is what rich people do. Not much from the Red Knights of late. Although, if the Qatar royal family really do want to buy United we await the Red Knights' next move with interest.

The award for not understanding the modern generation

Loved Harry Redknapp's confused attempts to explain how he admired William Gallas for throwing a strop after that Arsenal game against Birmingham City in February 2008. "He could have just walked off the pitch and asked the lads, 'Where are we going tonight? Tramp's or somewhere?' But he didn't, did he?" While the Spurs manager might have fond memories of Tramp's it certainly isn't there that Ledley King is often photographed being carried out of these days.

Unsung heroes

Unlike the men over whom they officiate, Howard Webb and his linesmen Darren Cann and Mike Mullarkey are not on the kind of wages you can retire on after 10 years in the job. Yet they do it because, basically, they love football. They started at the very bottom and worked every step of the ladder to Soccer City in July. As Webb himself always says, Cann and Mullarkey are brilliant at their jobs. We normally only notice assistants when they make a mistake. Let's, for once, celebrate them for their excellence.

The greed award

Barcelona love the "Mes que un club" stuff, but it is starting to wear a bit thin. Their football is excellent, no question, but can they stop all the preachy stuff? They have a shirt sponsor like everyone else now. And, along with Real Madrid, they do not share the television rights with the rest of the league. For every euro the likes of Real Zaragoza earn, Barcelona earn 80. The ratio between the top premier League clubs and those at the bottom is £1.50 to £1.

The best signing of the year

Who it was at Tottenham who actually made the decision to sign Rafael van der Vaart seems to be a matter of doubt. Like all the best signings, everyone wants to take the credit. When he arrived at the end of the summer transfer window no one could quite see where Van der Vaart would fit in but that was not the point; he was so good that Spurs fitted round him. Not much pace, not exactly a hard worker either but what a joy to watch.

I'm glad we didn't go down that road

When the Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda and his linesman Mauricio Espinosa failed to give Frank Lampard's goal against Germany at the World Cup their careers as top-level referees were over. Before that they were short odds to get the World Cup final itself. No consolation for the English, but at least as a nation we did not spend the rest of the year blaming Larrionda. That would have been the easy option. Instead there has been a lot of soul-searching over the past five months. Painful but worth it.

Reason to be cheerful

The England Under-17s' victory in the European Championship in Liechtenstein in May has been forgotten in the avalanche of self-loathing that followed the senior team's failings in South Africa. But it should not be forgotten that it was Spain whom they defeated in the final, a country that had the kind of sporting year of which we could only dream. Hope for 2011: that the likes of Josh McEachran, Connor Wickham and Andre Wisdom get their chances in the Premier League.

Liverpool's 2016 deadline

The vanquishing of the Hicks and Gillett regime at Liverpool after one of English football's most depressing transfer sagas was a highlight of 2010. The John Henry ownership should bear in mind that should Liverpool fail to win the league by 2016 it will mean the club will have the same 26-year gap since their last title in 1990 that elapsed during Manchester United's drought between 1967 and 1993. Given that this season is probably a write-off, that gives Henry five seasons to deliver. No pressure.