This time last year, I gave you my 30 wishes for 2014.
Some of them came true. We had a clean winner at the 2014 World Cup. We got that vanishing spray to mark out distances on free kicks. And folks really did realize that there's no such thing as a "retroactive sponsorship."
Many did not, mainly because they were never likely to happen overnight. And others can't really be measured in real time. They still apply, though. I still wish for more transparency, more accountability and hard-and-fast rules to ward off conflicts of interest.
Still, we hope. And, with that in mind, here are 30 new(ish) wishes for 2015.
1. That somebody credible stands against Sepp Blatter in the FIFA election. Somebody other than Jerome Champagne, I mean. Somebody who can take him to task, properly discuss issues and ensure that whoever the voting FAs choose (and yeah, it will probably be Blatter) won't have the excuse of being duped because there was no proper campaign and no time to prepare a debate.
2. That nobody in UEFA will complain about Michel Platini's platform. The fact that not a single one of UEFA's 54 member associations nominated someone to stand against Michel Platini (yep, same rules apply to UEFA as FIFA) is hard to reconcile. You can't sit it out and then moan later.
3. That if someone does run against Blatter, he (or she) realizes just why he keeps getting re-elected. And it's not just because a majority of FAs don't care about whatever corruption may or may not have taken place on his watch. It's because most of the folks running national FAs in impoverished countries who don't have a prayer of qualifying for the World Cup care less about Russia/Qatar voting issues than they do about the fact that before Blatter came along, they barely saw a penny.
For all his faults (and there are many) FIFA began seriously redistributing income to tiny FAs whose annual budgets are less than Wayne Rooney's monthly salary once Blatter took power. Before that, they were ignored by what was purely a Europe-South America "old boys' club." Anybody wishing to unseat Blatter needs to understand this.
4. That if (as appears likely) FIFA's International Board (IFAB) votes this spring to abolish "triple punishment," they come up with something logical to replace it. And, perhaps, they remember why the trifecta of a red card, penalty and subsequent ban for denial of obvious goal-scoring opportunity was instituted in the first place: to curb cynical play, whether it was the "last man" horse-collaring a goal-bound opponent or a player suddenly turning into a second goalkeeper, like Luis Suarez against Ghana in 2010.
You don't want players running a "cost-benefit analysis" in their minds and figuring it's in their interest to commit an infraction. If the "triple punishment" is too much, I'd rather they consider doing away with the ban; why should subsequent opponents benefit?
5. While we're at it, maybe it's time to reconsider the make-up of the IFAB. I know FIFA loves its traditions but Northern Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland get to sit on it as permanent members simply because they were on it when FIFA was formed. Maybe it's time to revisit that. (The United Nations Security Council also has permanent members, but at least they have nukes ...)
6. After years of sitting on their hands -- pardon, setting up repeated blue-ribbon committees to "report back" to the Executive Committee -- FIFA decided summarily to ban third-party ownership, starting this spring. Here's hoping they also came up with a rational system to police and enforce the ban because there are tons of ways to finance transfers and exert influence covertly. I'm not holding my breath on this one...
7. That folks realize that having additional assistant referees (those guys behind the goal in UEFA competitions) and goal-line technology are not mutually exclusive. And that both make the game better while also limiting refereeing errors. There is plenty of evidence for both, no matter how often someone moans "but the guys behind the goal don't do anything!" The only possible counterargument is cost in the case of goal-line technology and live bodies in the case of additional assistant referees.
8. That everyone stops measuring the health and well-being of football in a country by success in international competition. Sheer dumb luck and probability play such a huge part that going out in the quarterfinal compared to the first round means next to nothing. There are far better ways to assess whether an FA is doing its job.
9. That the FIFA Club World Cup have a spot set aside for the holders. It won't match the Champions League, but an extra top team would add some additional lustre and revenue. (And, for the umpteenth time, the European team doesn't always win. Just ask Rafa Benitez and Chelsea.)
10. That the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations takes place with minimal fuss and disruption despite the fact that Equatorial Guinea, the hosts, had virtually no time to prepare and that there are serious doubts over two of the four venues. (Heck, even the fact that they're playing 31 games in 22 days in four stadiums is screwy enough.) African football deserves better.
11. That UEFA takes another look at how Champions League and Europa League revenue is distributed and, in particular, the market pool. Yeah, I get the realpolitik of a team from a bigger, wealthier nation bringing in more TV revenue and therefore getting more back from UEFA than a club that advances just as far but happens to come from Israel or Croatia or Latvia. It's just not fair, though.
12. That Michael Garcia's report into possible corruption in the bidding for the 2018/22 World Cups be made public. In full and for real. I don't care whether it's a leak or Blatter and the ExCo changing their minds (after he's re-elected, of course). I just want to know what Garcia knows.
13. That if the 2022 World Cup really is to be held in Qatar, and I remain the minority who thinks that it is still not a done deal, it will be in April-May as the clubs suggest and not in November of the year before.
14. That FAs and leagues thoroughly vet prospective owners before allowing them to buy a football club. And that means finding out exactly who's behind the investment, how much money they're putting in, where it's coming from and how much more is available to be invested. Buying a football club isn't like buying a ball-bearings factory. At the very least you need to be who you say you are, you need to have real money and you can't be a shell company in some offshore tax haven.
15. That some wealthy folks (ahem, Qatar) out there pay to have temporary grass pitches laid down for the Women's World Cup in Canada this summer. It wouldn't cost that much, arguably far less than what they pay some of their global ambassadors, and it would show a further commitment to women's sports. It would also get them some brownie points and some valuable publicity. Most importantly, it would end this distracting diatribe between FIFA and the women footballers who took them to court.
16. That the combination of Western sanctions, the free-falling rouble and crumbling oil prices don't cause the implosion of Russian clubs with the 2018 World Cup three and a half years away. Politics and sports shouldn't mix, of course, but they inevitably do. The way everyone has been focused on Qatar when Russia 2018 is comparatively right around the corner and has plenty of question marks about it as well is rather baffling.
17. While we're at it, that Fabio Capello gets paid the money owed to him. Not because he has done a good job as Russia manager (he hasn't) or because he needs the money (he most certainly does not) but because the Russian FA signed a contract. And it's the right thing to do. If you're going to organize a World Cup, you can't simply decide you're going to stop paying someone because you no longer like them.
18. That Real Madrid president Florentino Perez finally realizes that managers matter too. And that if you're going to chuck millions at a guy to run your star-studded team, whether it be Carlo Ancelotti or his predecessor, Jose Mourinho, you may as well let him run it.
19. That the Court of Arbitration for Sport's decision to uphold Barcelona's two-transfer window ban for violating rules governing the transfer of minors be a starting point and not a finishing line. If you're under the age of 18, you shouldn't be moving to a different country to play football, except in certain very specific cases. And yes, that applies to moves within the European Union as well. Time to get the old "specificity" clause out and figure out a way to ban those as well.
20. That Jose Mourinho realizes that he doesn't need to be in a state of perpetual war to keep his "edge." His "edge" comes from his understanding of the game, his experience and, most of all, his relationship with his players. The siege-mentality stuff jumped the shark a long time ago.
21. That folks understand that Gedion Zelalem's decision to get a U.S. passport might just be because he wants to keep his options open or because he likes America or because it's his right to do so. It's not a "victory" for U.S. Soccer. This is a guy who has played 65 minutes of professional football. Let him grow and let him make his own decisions. And that applies to all young footballers eligible for more than one country.
22. That if Borussia Dortmund are relegated, Jurgen Klopp sticks around to bring them back. Because it would be fun to watch and it strikes you as the kind of thing he would do.
23. That Mike Ashley visits a Newcastle fans' forum and explains what his plan for the club is. In fact, that should be a requirement for every owner.
24. That Marcelo Bielsa's Marseille don't run out of steam in the second half of the season. It doesn't mean I necessarily want them to win it (may the best team in Ligue 1 win it all) but I just don't want them to fall apart as a result of the breakneck style they displayed in the first half of the campaign.
25. That if and when Arsene Wenger leaves Arsenal, it will be with his head held high. Hopefully, it's not as a result of an owner deciding that the Gunners aren't quite the cash cow they once were.
26. That Milan bite the bullet, ditch the short-term fixes and accept there's a major rebuilding job that will keep them from being competitive for a while. The sooner they realize that and show the courage to keep giving playing time to the kids, the sooner they'll return to their past glories.
27. That even if Louis van Gaal fails to restore Manchester United to Sir Alex Ferguson-esque standards he sticks around a while longer without folks breathing down his neck. Not everything he's tried has worked out so far but he's shown plenty of courage both in his personnel selections and in his formations. And that makes him worth a chance.
28. That the perennial status quo in the Premier League (seven of the top eight have been the same in each of the past five years) get subverted this year, if only to prove that the size of your wage bill isn't the only predictor of success.
29. That Kevin Strootman returns to the level he was at before rupturing his ACL. The same goes for every player like him, cut down savagely by injury.
30. That more clubs see the benefit in considering fans as stakeholders and not just customers. Because customers switch brands. Fans do not. And they'll still be around when the owner, players and managers are long gone.