Review of the year, Part One: Football, Rugby Union, Cycling, Motor Racing

The first of a series of retrospectives in which we ask our correspondents to select the ups and downs, the best and worst, the heroes and villains of 2015 in their chosen fields

Harry Kane celebrates scoring another goal for Tottenham
Harry Kane celebrates scoring another goal for Tottenham

Football - Mark Ogden

Favourite live moment of the year that you witnessed When Carlos Tevez stepped up to score from the penalty spot to put Juventus 2-1 ahead in the Champions League semi-final first leg against Real Madrid in Turin in May, the roar within the Juventus Arena was that of a giant finally awakening. Juve would lose the final against Barcelona, but the reaction to Tevez’s goal was unforgettable.

Favourite match Bayern Munich 6 Porto 1. Bayern needed to win 2-0 to progress to the Champions League semi-finals after losing 2-1 in Portugal, but with suggestions that Pep Guardiola’s future was at stake, the Germans raced into a 5-0 half-time lead with devastating football. Guardiola, so excitable on the touchline, ended the game with ripped trousers owing to his exuberance.

Disappointment of the year Manchester United. Whatever happened to the team built on cavalier flair, pace and the never-say-die attitude which embodied the club? Two and a half years have passed since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, but two managers and £300m of signings later, United are uninspiring also-rans.

Shock of the year Bradford City’s FA Cup run. Their 4-2 fourth-round victory against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge will rightly enter folklore as one of the greatest Cup shocks of all time, but they also dumped out Sunderland at Valley Parade in a game which typified how a Cup run can galvanise not only a club, but also a city.

Book of the year I Believe in Miracles by Daniel Taylor. It is not until you read the 320 pages of the story of Nottingham Forest’s double European champions that you grasp the magnitude of Brian Clough’s success at the City Ground. As Garry Birtles remarks about the absence of 1979 and 1980 on Liverpool’s European Cup winning banner at Anfield: “That’s us, that gap. We did that.”

Newcomer of the year Dele Alli. In April, I took my nine-year-old son to watch Rochdale against MK Dons at Spotland and it was the performance of 19-year-old Alli which caught his attention. Little did we know that, by the end of the year, Alli would be a standout performer for Tottenham and international goalscorer for England.

Player of the year Harry Kane. There is a temptation to go for Jamie Vardy in recognition of his incredible goalscoring run with Leicester, but Kane has shown true quality in 2015. A sensational start to the year, followed by a difficult few months earlier this season, and now back to his best again. Overcoming second-season syndrome is proof of his class.

Funniest moment of the year Despite his often stern image, Louis van Gaal is prone to moments of levity – intentional or otherwise – and he had a group of journalists stifling giggles when he responded to Sam Allardyce’s claim that Manchester United were a long-ball team by producing four sheets of data showing more arrows than a Met Office storm warning. And we’re still none the wiser…

Villain of the year Sepp Blatter. It is difficult to justify this selection in 50 words, but let’s just keep it to football and rejoice that the Robert Mugabe of Fifa is now being ushered ever so politely to the trapdoor. Goodbye, Sepp, and good riddance.

Saddest moment of the year Injuries are an occupational hazard for any sportsman, but the broken leg suffered by Luke Shaw while playing for Manchester United against PSV Eindhoven was particularly heart-rending, with the young defender being cut down after working so hard to adjust to life at Old Trafford. Fortunately, his recovery is progressing well.

Rugby Union - Chris Hewett

Favourite live moment Vereniki Goneva’s try for Fiji against Wales during the World Cup was a joyous expression of South Seas freedom, but for the thrill of the big play at the critical moment, how about Lloyd Williams’ inside kick for Gareth Davies at the crux of the England-Wales contest five days previously?

Favourite match The World Cup produced plenty of grand spectacles, but anyone requiring proof that union is the game they play in heaven would have found it on the banks of the River Avon in late May. Bath’s 47-10 victory over Leicester in the Premiership semi-final was undeniably a thing of beauty.

Disappointment of the year England. Who else? The exasperation was not so much rooted in their failure to win their own World Cup – or even to feature in it in any meaningful sense – as in the way the coaches prostrated themselves before the false god of conservatism and messed up selection as a result.

Misery for Chris Robshaw (right) and England at the Rugby World Cup on home soil

Shock of the year This has “no contest” written all over it too. Japan’s victory over South Africa in Brighton less than 24 hours after the start of the World Cup ranks among the greatest upsets in any sport at any time. The Brave Blossoms’ energy, composure and mastery of their tactical brief was stunning.

Book of the year Richard Escot’s captivating Rugby and Art is drawn from a series of conversations with the great French flanker and captain Jean-Pierre Rives and is an antidote to all those bog-standard ghosted “autobiographies” clogging up the shelves. Rives understands more about the beating heart of union than a thousand tunnel-visioned coaches.

Newcomer of the year We knew he was on his way and he still has a distance to travel, but at this difficult moment in England’s troubled rugby history, the Saracens back-five forward Maro Itoje shows all the signs of being precisely what the country needs. Just pick him and have done with it.

Player of the year It is far too predictable to go for Daniel Carter, but to hell with it: let’s be boring. The All Black outside-half’s performances in the World Cup knockout stages were as good as anything we’ve seen from him, summoned under intense pressure from a deeply personal emotional maelstrom. Remarkable.

Funniest moment of the year Sam Burgess playing international rugby at centre was pretty hilarious, but Danny Cipriani’s claim that not one of the Wallaby starting XV would find a place in England’s side was true comedy gold. The outcome of the match? Australia won 33-13 to dump the hosts out of their own tournament.

Villain of the year Craig Joubert is hardly rugby’s Don Corleone, but the South African referee’s World Cup quarter-final performance should have landed him in the dock. Having cost the Scots a semi-final place with a bad penalty call against the Australians, he proceeded to flee the scene of the crime at the speed of light. Unforgiveable.

Saddest moment of the year The Premiership’s failure to bring anyone to book for salary cap abuse, and the subsequent decision to insult the intelligence of right-thinking rugby folk by refusing to discuss the issue on grounds of “confidentiality”, was scandalous. Nobody believes a word the authorities say on this subject. The trust has gone. Cycling - Alastair Fotheringham

Cycling - Alastair Fortheringham

Favourite live moment Alpe d’Huez. The Sky team principal, Sir Dave Brailsford, said he couldn’t bear to watch the final ascent of the 2015 Tour de France, when it looked as if Chris Froome might, at the last minute, lose the Tour. But the rest of us were happily glued to the television monitors at the finish as we witnessed an ill Froome courageously stave off Nairo Quintana’s dramatic final attack.

Favourite race The Vuelta a España. Cycling’s third Grand Tour had more twists and turns in 2015 than a Spanish mountain pass, starting with the 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali’s expulsion for taking a tow mid-stage, continuing with Froome’s spectacular crash-out and followed by the rise of a new stage-racing kid on the block, Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands. Dumoulin was only defeated at the last minute. In four words: never a dull moment.

Disappointment of the year What had been touted as one of the most open Tours in decades – and The Independent thought it would be too – dissolved into a one-man, one-team show of Chris Froome versus the rest as soon as the first major climb hove into view. All credit to Froome who, barring one spectacular wobble on Alpe d’Huez, neatly captured Sky’s third Tour de France title in four years. But his rivals were never as good as expected.

Shock of the year The upset of 2015 came at the Col de Mende in the Tour this summer, when British veteran Steve Cummings zoomed past two French stars, Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot, within sight of the finish to claim a huge triumph for his African squad, MTN-Qhubeka. Cue a textbook victory carved out of strength, cunning and racecraft, and some seriously embarrassed French riders.

Book of the year The Racer by David Millar. The retired Scottish rider provides a detailed analysis of his final year as a professional in 2014. Poignant, articulate and at times very funny, it’s a rare insight into how a top athlete handles the realisation that the time has come to move on.

Newcomer of the year Third in the 2015 Giro d’Italia, 26-year-old Spanish climber Mikel Landa provided a dramatic and unexpected challenge to stage-racing great Alberto Contador in cycling’s second Grand Tour. Now he is signed for Sky, it will be intriguing to see how, or if, Landa flourishes when no longer hampered by the overly rigid hierarchy in his 2015 squad, Astana.

Rider of the year Lizzie Armitstead’s victory in the Road World Championship in the United States this September marked the culmination of a brilliantly hard-fought race, at the end of a season in which she also took the World Cup series for a second year running and a third national road title – and the latest chapter in the Yorkshirewoman’s steady and hard-fought rise to all-time greatness in her sport. After taking silver at London 2012, will she go one better in Rio?

Funniest moment of the year Geraint Thomas, somehow uninjured despite having come off his bike and slammed into a telegraph pole on a hair-raisingly dangerous descent in the Tour de France, managed to provide a classic example of his deadpan humour at the finish. “I guess the doctor will ask me my name and date of birth soon.” Can you remember? “Chris Froome.”

Villain of the year This category is won handsomely by the idiotic “fan” in the Tour de France who decided he would express his dislike of Froome by throwing urine over him.

Saddest moment of the year On a purely sporting level, last week, when an 18-year-old junior racer in Great Britain, Gabriel Evans, announced he had bought and used the banned blood booster EPO. A deeply troubling reminder that cycling’s fight against doping is far from over.

Motor Racing - David Tremayne

Favourite live moment Max Verstappen overtook Felipe Nasr at 190mph round the outside at Blanchimont – one of Spa Francorchamps’ most demanding corners. The astonishing move at the Belgian Grand Prix was confirmation of the 17-year-old Dutch rookie’s massive talent, commitment and confidence – all extraordinary in one so young – and a clear sign of his huge potential.

Favourite race The weather did its best to ruin the United States Grand Prix in Austin, but Lewis Hamilton drove a fabulous race to beat his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg and set all of America talking again about the good side of Formula One as he achieved his boyhood dream of emulating idol Ayrton Senna’s three World Championships.

Disappointment of the year Without the efforts of founders John Booth and Graeme Lowdon, Manor Marussia would never have emerged from administration and survived. Honourable and intelligent, these pure racers resigned over differences with new owner Stephen Fitzpatrick concerning the team’s future direction. The sport can ill afford to lose such high-calibre characters.

Shock of the year Hamilton was utterly dominant in Monaco. So dominant that his Mercedes team’s strategists were stunningly misled into bringing him in for an unnecessary late pit stop that cost him one of his most deserved successes of the campaign. The only upside was the dignity with which the Briton handled the fiasco.

Book of the year Aussie Grit: My Formula One Journey by Mark Webber. The former racer’s atypical autobiography lifts the lid on the political machinations within the Red Bull team and pulls no punches describing how it felt to be on the opposite side of the garage as Sebastian Vettel drove ruthlessly to claim his four world titles.

Newcomer of the year The critics – among them the former world champion Jacques Villeneuve – predicted that a 17-year-old rookie would be a liability. Verstappen proved them wrong with his performances for Toro Rosso. He made some mistakes, but his blistering overtaking moves in a midfield car bore the stamp of a future world champion.

Driver of the year Hamilton was the outstanding driver of the year once again. A further 10 victories took him beyond the scores of any other British driver and placed him third overall, and 11 pole positions were testament to his confidence and speed. His Senna-matching third title was richly deserved.

Lewis Hamilton after winning his third Formula One World Championship

Funniest moment of year Vettel’s baiting of Rosberg in press conferences was amusing, but Fernando Alonso’s wry comment, “I love your sense of humour”, when told he was “racing” Williams’ Felipe Massa in his uncompetitive McLaren Honda in Russia, took some beating. As did the Spaniard’s description in Japan of Honda’s engine as a “GP2 motor”.

Villain of the year Jean Todt failed to behave with apposite sensitivity in Brazil, in the immediate aftermath of the Parisian terrorist atrocities. The president of the Paris-based FIA, motor sport’s governing body, refused initially to acknowledge the victims while remaining obsessive about a minute’s silence on the grid for his pet road safety project.

Saddest moment of the year Tragedy touched Formula One for the first time since May 1994 when Jules Bianchi succumbed in July to head injuries sustained during the 2014 Japanese GP. The sport was rocked again in August when former Minardi and Jaguar racer Justin Wilson was killed after being struck by debris during the Pocono 500 IndyCar race.

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