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Dec 14, 2009

The biggest stories of the decade

Over the past decade, football has thrown up its fair share of controversy, comedy and tragedy, so here are ten of the decade's most noteworthy events.

2000 - The galacticos era begins

When Florentino Perez became Real Madrid president in 2000, he promised to transform the club's approach to transfers after the merengues had gone three seasons without lifting the La Liga title. Plenty of players had crossed the Real Madrid - Barcelona divide, but few moves were as controversial as Luis Figo's arrival at the Bernabeu. The Portuguese midfielder was snapped up for a world record fee of £37.2 million and was quickly the subject of abuse - including having a pig's head thrown at him during a derby game. One by one, Perez assembled a team of galacticos around Figo with Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, David Beckham all following to create the world's most talented side of individuals. Success was undoubtedly achieved with La Liga titles in 2001, 2003, 2007 and 2008, as well as Champions League glory in 2002. Figo's transfer was a watershed moment as it began the explosive inflation of transfer fees, with Madrid recognising players as a worthwhile investment to bring both on-field triumphs and off-field profit from worldwide marketing.

2001 - Five star England hammer Germany

When Sven Goran Eriksson was unveiled as the new England boss in January, there was a nationwide raising of eyebrows as the Football Association gave country's the top football job to a foreign manager for the first time. But, on September 1, in a World Cup qualifier, all doubts about the bespectacled Swede evaporated in an instant as England recorded their most famous international victory since beating West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final. It was not just the emphatic nature of the 5-1 win that was impressive but the importance of the occasion to put England's qualification hopes back on track. A win for the Germans would have sealed their place as group winners but the result gave England the momentum to go on and claim it for themselves. Germany took the lead in the game at the Olympiastadion in Munich through Carsten Jancker, but goals from Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard gave England the lead at half-time. Owen took centre stage after the break, netting twice more to claim his hat-trick and Emile Heskey completed the rout.

2002 - Keane sent home from World Cup

On May 23, just two weeks before the start of the 2002 World Cup finals, Ireland's inspirational captain Roy Keane was sent home from the team's training camp after a bust-up with manager Mick McCarthy. The Manchester United midfielder - who would court controversy again later in the year for revealing he had purposefully tried to injure Alf Inge Haaland - openly criticised Ireland's "unprofessional" preparations for the finals and despite an initial belief that he had cleared the air with McCarthy, he erupted at the Ireland boss during a training session. Keane admitted afterwards that he deserved to be sent home but showed little remorse for throwing Ireland's finals preparations into disarray. The Irish, without their captain, reached the second round in Japan/South Korea, losing on penalties to Spain.

2003 - The death of Marc-Vivien Foe

The football world was left stunned when Cameroon midfielder Marc Vivien Foe collapsed and died on the pitch during one of the 2003 Confederations Cup semi-finals in France. The 28-year-old fell to the ground unchallenged in the 72nd minute against Colombia in Lyon. He was treated on the pitch before being stretchered off and receiving further treatment, with medical staff trying to restart his heart for 45 minutes without success. It was later revealed that the midfielder, who had spent the previous season on loan to Manchester City from Lyon, had suffered sudden cardiac death due to an undetected heart problem. Cameroon decided to play the final in Foe's memory despite being given the option to pull out, and in an emotional game France beat the Indomitable Lions 1-0. Manchester City retired the number 23 shirt he had worn and Lyon did the same with their number 17 shirt, though compatriot Jean Makoun now wears the shirt as a tribute.

2004 - Greece win the European Championships

In one of the biggest underdog stories in international football history, Greece - ranked 35th in the FIFA world rankings before the tournament - claimed a remarkable triumph in their first appearance at the European Championships for 24 years. There had been signs during qualifying that Otto Rehhagel's side could make a decent account of themselves but no-one expected them to challenge for glory. After making an early impression by surprisingly beating hosts Portugal 2-1 in the tournament's opening game, an efficient and organised Greek side beat Spain but were beaten by Russia in the final group match, edging into the quarter-finals at the expense of Spain on goals scored only. France and the Czech Republic were dispatched in the quarter and semi-finals respectively before the incredible victory over the Portuguese courtesy of Angelos Charisteas' 57th minute winner.

2005 - Liverpool's Champions League triumph

Twenty years after the tragic Heysel stadium disaster - Liverpool's last appearance in a European Cup final - Rafa Benitez led the club to a historic fifth European triumph. In Benitez's first season since moving from Valencia, he guided the club to an Istanbul final encounter with 2003 winners and then six-time champions AC Milan. Liverpool, who had only finished fifth in the Premier League after the distractions of European competition, weren't fancied but no-one predicted they would find themselves so comprehensively outplayed as the Italians raced into a 3-0 half-time lead. But showing an incredible spirit, Liverpool netted three times in six frantic second-half minutes to bring them level. The game went into extra-time and Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek thwarted reigning European Player of the Year Andriy Shevchenko with an outstanding double stop to send the game into penalties. And Dudek was the hero again in the shoot-out, saving twice as Benitez's side emerged triumphant after one of the greatest European Cup finals of all-time.

2006 - Calciopoli: Italian match-fixing scandal

Zinedine Zidane's headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final - a moment of madness on the grandest stage of all - stole many a column inch in the aftermath of the tournament but for sheer controversy, it's difficult to ignore the match-fixing scandal that rocked Italy in their World Cup-winning year. When Italian police revealed that some of the country's biggest clubs were being investigated for allegedly rigging games by selecting favourable referees, the credibility of one of the best leagues in the world was thrown into doubt. Serie A champions Juventus were implicated, while the likes of AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio were also embroiled in proceedings. Transcripts of recorded telephone conversations suggested that during the 2004-05 season, Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi was among several club officials to have had conversations with Italian football representatives in an attempt to influence referee appointments. Incredibly, the Italian national team claimed victory at the 2006 World Cup, but the Azzurri's success did not help the clubs involved escape punishment. Juventus were stripped of their 2005 and 2006 Scudetto titles and relegated to Serie B with a nine-point deduction. Inter Milan were awarded the 2006 Serie A title and Roma the second spot, while 19 individuals were reprimanded and faced court proceedings for their involvement. The fallout from the scandal is still being felt, with news that former Juventus director Antonio Giraudo is the latest Calciopoli figure to be handed a jail sentence.

2007 - Beckham's American dream

In one of the most unexpected transfers of all-time, Real Madrid midfielder David Beckham announced in January 2007 that he would be quitting the Bernabeu to join MLS side L.A. Galaxy on a five-year deal. Beckham's contract was running out and he was struggling to win the favour of Madrid boss Fabio Capello, but the announcement sent shockwaves through the world of football as Beckham became the biggest player to join the MLS since its inception and biggest player to play in America since the likes of Pele, George Best and Johan Cruyff graced the North American Soccer League in the 1970s and 80s. Beckham was accused of choosing money over on-field success after signing a massive $250 million deal, but he consistently defended his decision, highlighting his desire to take on a new challenge and to dramatically improve the profile of soccer in the U.S.

2008 - Moneybags Manchester City

When Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, he began the trend for foreign ownership of Premier League clubs and, in 2008, Manchester City were the most high profile side to reap the benefits of investment from abroad. But while the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool continue to repay the debts their owners accrued when buying the clubs, City were bought with money from the seemingly bottomless pockets of the Abu Dhabi United Group on transfer deadline day in September 2008. The new owners made an immediate impact by splashing out on Brazilian star Robinho in a £32.5 million deal that broke the British transfer record. City's cash-rich owners announced their intentions to help the club break the monopoly of the Premier League's 'big four' and bring trophies to Eastlands for the first time in 33 years. City became the richest club in the world overnight, though their 2008-09 season was characterised by inconsistency.

2009 - Real Madrid capture Ronaldo

The world transfer record was broken on four occasions throughout the decade, each time by Real Madrid. But the club broke new ground when they smashed the record twice to first bring Kaka to the Bernabeu for £56 million and then prise World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo from the grasp of Manchester United for the colossal fee of £80 million. Ronaldo had expressed an overt desire to join the Spanish club in the summer of 2008 - after a season in which he plundered 42 goals in 49 appearances - but United boss Sir Alex Ferguson resisted the overtures of Madrid and managed to convinced the Portuguese forward to stay. 34 goals in 66 games in the 2008-09 season kept Real Madrid's eye firmly on their prize and, in the summer of 2009, they finally made United an offer they couldn't refuse to seal the most expensive signing in football history.

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