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Europe's best and worst - The Phil Awards

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Phil Minshull | 16:52 UK time, Thursday, 23 December 2010

It's that time of the year again when the unofficial "Phil Awards" get handed out for club successes and failures.

Last year I concentrated just on Spain but this time around I've widened the scope to the whole of continental Europe.

You might be wondering, or maybe not, why I am concentrating just on clubs and not individual players.

Well, next week I'm going to turn my attention to the Uefa Team of the Year 2010 and put forward some thoughts of my own.

Top team of the year - Inter Milan, at least while Mourinho was still there

Winning the Champions League after a gap of 45 years, and also getting an unprecedented treble by an Italian club, means Inter get this accolade.

Of course, some will say that this should go to a team that has shown consistency at the highest level over a 12-month period and Inter's nose dive since Rafa Benitez took over means that Barcelona could have a case to be named as the winners.

The Catalan club won La Liga last season and they finish the year on top of the Spanish first division. Into the bargain, many would say that if they hadn't have met a rampant Inter in the Champions League semi-finals then they would also have retained the trophy they won in 2009.

However, there are no hard and fast criteria. The Champions League is the ultimate prize in European club football and that clinches it.

An honourable mention must also go to Bayern Munich, who made the Champions League final back in May and brought back some respectability to German football on the continental stage, as well as winning the Bundesliga and German Cup.

They didn't make the best of starts to this season, domestically, but they now look as though they are getting into their stride and have qualified with ease for the Champions League knockout stages, winning five out of their six matches.

Biggest surprises: Olympique Marseille and FC Copenhagen

Marseille won Ligue 1 for the first time since 1992 thanks, in part, to the 18 goals provided by Mamadou Niang. (Ardent and blinkered Marseille fans still claim they won in 1993, but that year they were stripped of their title after the famous corruption scandal)

They ended last season six points ahead of perennial challengers Lyon and since the start of the season they have shown that it was far from a fluke, holding off the challenge of Spartak Moscow and beating Chelsea 1-0 two weeks ago to qualify for the Champions League last 16.

Not only did Copenhagen retain their Superliga title last season - and they are a whopping 19 points ahead after 19 games this time around after going unbeaten since the start of the season - but they have also become the first Danish club to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League. They came out comfortably ahead of Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos who, back in August, I certainly would have rated as being the better sides.

Chelsea are odds-on to beat the Lions in the next round but with the sporadic form of Carlo Ancelotti's men and the combination down the left flank of ex-Chelsea midfielder Jesper Gronkjaer and Senegalese striker Dame N'Doye, Copenhagen could maybe, just maybe, pull off the biggest surprise in recent history in the Champions League.

Biggest disappointment 1: Inter Milan since September

Despite winning the World Club Cup last weekend which, frankly, was not much of an achievement at all even though it added another bit of silverware to the trophy cabinet of club president and owner Massimo Moratti, Benitez managed to completely unravel all the work done by Mourinho. Inter now look very unlikely to win Serie A for the sixth consecutive year.

Benitez paid the price on Thursday by being sacked. Don't say I didn't tell you this was on the cards!

In another blog, Phil McNulty posed the question, "Where Next For Benitez?" I'd like to ask "Who next for Inter?"

After his comments in September about how easy Inter or Real Madrid would be to manage, Sam Allardyce is probably sitting by the phone at the moment. However, the Italian media on Thursday seem to think that Moratti is looking more in the direction of either former Milan coach Leonardo or the former Italian international goalkeeper Walter Zenga, whose current job is coaching the Saudi club Al-Nassr.

Biggest disappointment 2: Juventus

Apologies for picking on another Italian team but Juventus's seventh place in Serie A last season, and their failure to progress beyond the group stage of the Europa League, is a humiliation for a club with La Vecchia Signora's history, prestige and, especially in the current social and cultural climate, their financial resources.

Admittedly, Luigi Delneri's team is still involved in this season's Serie A title race, lying in fourth place with 31 points after 17 games, although they are five points behind leaders Milan.

However, they will need to do much better at the back after the winter break. Despite banging in 32 goals, Juve are leaking an average of exactly a goal a game, a situation exemplified by throwing away two points last Sunday when Chievo got a 1-1 draw thanks to a goal from Sergio Pellisier two minutes into injury time.


The last two weeks have also seen the deaths of two significant figures in European football from a bygone era.

Many of you will have read that Italy's 1982 World Cup-winning coach Enzo Bearzot passed away on Monday and there have been plenty of obituaries for a man who can be honestly said to have had a revolutionary effect on the way the Azzurri played.

Two of the best tributes I have read were those that appeared in the Guardian and Daily Telegraph on Wednesday.

Sadly, the internet version of the latter is significantly shorter than the one that appeared in print.

A much less well-known figure in Britain and in many other European countries was the French goalkeeper and coach Marcel Domingo, who died on 10 December.

Domingo, of Spanish extraction, spent much of his playing career in the land of his forefathers and so was only capped once by his native country.

In 1949, he won the Zamora prize, which goes to the best goalkeeper in La Liga, when he was playing for Atletico Madrid, who he helped to two titles in 1950 and 1951.

After a year at Nice, one of the powerhouses in French football during the 1950s, where he also won a French league winners' medal, he returned to Spain in 1952 to play for Espanyol and won the Zamora again at the end of that season.

During a varied coaching career which spanned 31 years, he coached at 15 Spanish clubs but perhaps his most famous stint was at Atletico between 1969 and 1972.

Like Bearzot, Domingo changed the way Atletico played and, with the help of Luis Aragones on the pitch, introduced a new attacking style.

In his first year at the helm, Atletico won the Spanish league title and the following year they reached the European Cup semi-finals, only succumbing to the Johan Cruyff-lead Ajax who went on to beat Panathinaikos at Wembley.

"When I took over there were only 20,000 people watching Atletico games, when I left there were 40,000 fans," said Domingo a few years later. For once statistics don't lie.


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