It's a new year. It's a chance to make things right. Or, at least, better.
With that in mind, here are 30 personal footballing wishes for 2014. I'm realistic in that I don't expect many of these will come to pass in 2014. But even a few would do.
1. That the 2014 World Cup results in a clear winner. Like 2010. In fact, that it is played without head-butts and baseless accusations (2006), refereeing controversies (2002), the world's best player disappearing and then reappearing clearly unfit (1998), the most famous player in the world testing positive (1994), spitting (1990) or the Hand of God (1986).
2. That UEFA and the controlling bodies charged with applying Financial Fair Play manage to do so in a way that's not just fair, but is also seen to be fair. FFP is a tough enough sell as it is; the only way it will work is if folks accept it as good for the game.
3. That we come around to the idea that if FFP is here to stay, the fairest solution is some form of mega-fine for noncompliance, a bit like a luxury tax. It seems weird and twisted that as some clubs flirt with insolvency, other owners are willing to pump in cash but are prevented from doing so.
4. That we get more transparency at all levels -- starting with wages, transfer fees and agent/middlemen fees -- because there are enough crooks and leeches in this game that the best way to fight back is via crowd-sourced vigilance.
5. That people who should know better stop pretending that there is such a thing as a "retroactive sponsorship deal." And that we stop pretending that when the Qatar Tourism Authority, a public entity of an absolute monarchy like Qatar, pumps absurd amounts of money into a football club owned by the Qatar Investment Authority, Qatar's state sovereign wealth fund, it's anything but a "related-party transaction." It's still the same dude paying the bill: the Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
6. That because, in practical terms, banning "third-party ownership" is nearly impossible, we at least ban agents from also being third-party owners.
7. And, while we're at it, we also ban agents from representing both players and coaches or directors of football. It's a walking, talking conflict of interest.
8. That while big ideas/innovations are great, little ones everybody can agree on are nice, too. And that means introducing "vanishing spray" to mark out the distance on free kicks throughout the game. Immediately.
9. That rather than jumping on whatever the latest fad is -- the "German model" or the "Spanish model" and, before that, the "Dutch model" and "French model" -- we take a step back and try to figure out what about said model works in the context of whatever country's game we're trying to fix.
10. That people involved in governing football or playing football not be allowed to gamble on football. And that we never again have a situation where the long-standing head of a players' union gets involved in a "dispute" with a bookmaker, let alone racks up gambling debts of more than $150,000.
11. That Africa either gets more spots in the World Cup or, at least, gets the chance to be in a playoff for more places in the World Cup. And that, come 2018, it figures out a better format for qualifying than the current arbitrary and somewhat insane system.
12. That it's OK to call it soccer, just as it's OK to call it football, futbol, futebol, calcio or whatever else. And that the snobs who view the term as some recent Americanism may want to read a book once in a while. The game was invented in Britain and for a long time it was called "Association Football" to distinguish it from the other football, "Rugby Football." The term "soccer" comes from "association." And even today, in Britain, where the game was invented, the biggest broadcaster (and the one who bankrolls the Premier League) has shows called "Soccer Saturday" and "Soccer A.M." And guess what? It's not a big deal.
13. That we devote as much energy to fighting covert racial prejudice as we do overt racist abuse, despite the fact that it's a hell of a lot easier to pummel fans of mid-tier clubs than it is to ask why certain minorities remain so woefully represented where it matters.
14. That we acknowledge we all have biases and preferences when it comes to football and that they may color opinions ... but they don't necessarily determine opinions. Sometimes folks have their own views and they're genuine regardless of who they support or who you think they support.
15. That referees be given a chance to explain themselves -- as already happens in some leagues -- and that they do so with serenity, clarity and courage to admit mistakes. And that we, in turn, treat them for what they are: professionals who try to do their best, who aren't all equally competent, and who make mistakes, just like players and managers.
16. That more supporters realize that the best defense against bad ownership is an organized, active and united fan base. And when that fan base is also organized in a shareholding trust -- as is the case at a number of clubs, but not enough -- they wield real power.
17. That after false starts in past years, FIFPro, the international players' union, figures out how to be a legitimate, meaningful player in running the game and not merely the guys known for that annual World XI that seems to displease everyone.
18. That nobody else dies -- let alone gets injured -- in building a World Cup stadium. Or anything else, for that matter.
19. That holding on set pieces be punished. And if it means giving more penalties, so be it. Start giving them and they'll stop.
20. That Cristiano Ronaldo realizes that the stuff you personally achieve -- and he's achieved plenty -- is worth far more than the stuff people give you (like Ballon d'Or awards).
21. That Lionel Messi stays fit and gets better tax advice.
22. That Mario Balotelli finds some balance. On and off the pitch.
23. That Guus Hiddink, Giovanni Trapattoni, Zdenek Zeman, Marcelo Bielsa and -- yes -- Sir Alex Ferguson get to make at least one last contribution to the game (assuming they want to).
24. That the bodies of Rogerio Ceni, Ryan Giggs and Javier Zanetti continue to let them play for as long as they like but, also, when they feel it's time to go, they do so on a high.
25. That Sepp Blatter thinks twice (better yet, three times) before opening his mouth. And, equally, that the media be a little less juvenile in parsing his words: the man is 77 years old. Some of what he says is legitimately silly, while some of it sounds stupid only when taken out of context.
26. That more supporters realize that arguing about which league is "better" is pointless and stupid in this day and age. Enjoy what you enjoy without stereotyping. Every league has something beautiful about it. Every single one.
27. That more footballers realize that without their body they are nothing and learn not only to take better care of it, but also to seek independent advice when they get injured. Club doctors have a natural conflict of interest, making an independent second opinion a must.
28. That revelations of match fixing and gamblers influencing games often have much to do with where you choose to shine a light. And it's not something the game's governing bodies can do on their own. Unless governments and police decide to devote real resources to it -- and, I'll admit, these are scarce and there's probably a better case to go after murderers, rapists and terrorists if you have to make a choice -- it won't go away.
29. That those who moan about "illegal state aid" to Spanish or French clubs (or anywhere else) realize that sometimes a club is more than just a commercial business or a participant in the sports entertainment industry and that there is a real, tangible social value to keeping it alive.
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 into their televisions.
Happy 2014 to you and your loved ones!