In Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, the poet recalls Horatius, a warrior whose exploits on the battlefield were so astounding that even the ranks of the opposing Tuscan army were moved to cheer him. Leo Messi’s exploits throughout the Qatar World Cup were every bit as dazzling. When he finally lifted the trophy on Sunday, after the greatest final in the competition’s history, vanquished opponents, not just in France, but the world over, surely raised a glass to salute him. Messi’s viral moment in the tournament occurred in the semi-final, when he danced through the Croatian defence to lay on his team’s third goal for Julian Alvarez. At 35 years old, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner wasn’t just a passenger in this Argentinian team. He took corners, penalties, provided assists and pulled the strings. He scored twice in the final, and converted again in the shootout that followed. Once known affectionately as the Flea, Argentina’s number 10 is, for now, undeniably the GOAT.
Even as Derry Girls went off the air after three seasons, the show continued to receive some jaw-dropping plaudits from heavyweight sources such as The Simpsons and Martin Scorsese. The show’s creator also recently became the first female recipient of the Freedom of Derry. Not too shabby.
Until recently, one might have assumed that the star of such not-exactly-evergreen 1990s blockbusters as The Mummy and George of the Jungle had been banished to the same celebrity graveyard as the band Hanson and the cast of Saved By The Bell. In fact, while he did take some time out to raise his autistic son, the actor had been rebuilding his career working with directors such as Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh and now looks set to pip Colin Farrell to the best actor Oscar for his role in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale.
In April, Macron become the first French leader since Jacques Chirac in 2002 to win re-election, defeating far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Since then he has earned (at best) mixed reviews attempting to play mediator between Russia and the West. At the time of writing, however, whatever top secret intelligence Donald Trump claims to possess about Macron’s sex life remains out of the public domain – so that’s got to make 2022 a net win for the French president.
His poll numbers remain in the toilet. Whether he will be a candidate in 2024, let alone be re-elected president, is far from a foregone conclusion. Yet somehow, even with all that said, 2022 was not a bad year for Joe Biden. First, the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision, which he was powerless to prevent, was blamed on the Republicans and actually benefited his own party. Around the world, his geopolitical rivals’ missteps (Russia’s military, China’s economic) helped arrest the perception of America as a superpower in terminal decline. And November’s midterm elections made Donald Trump, his likely opponent in 2024, rather than Biden look like a busted flush.
On the World Corruption Perception Index, Finland is usually reckoned to be about the planet’s most squeaky-clean country. While politicians elsewhere receive corrupt payments, instigate coups and invade sovereign nations, the biggest scandal rocking Helsinki this summer involved the country’s 35-year-old prime minister enjoying a raucous night out with friends. It made her arguably the most famous Finnish leader since Gustaf Mannerheim abroad, and did no lasting damage at home – where she is expected to win re-election this spring.
In July, the Republic of Ireland women’s football manager went public about sexual abuse she suffered during her playing career. In November, her charges qualified for the World Cup for the first time ever with a 1-0 victory over Scotland. It was a magnificent achievement. And as a former Dutch international, unversed in the minutia of Irish culture, she was one of few in that Hampden Park dressing room clearly blameless for the “Up the ‘Ra!” scandal that followed. Named Manager of the Year at the RTÉ Sports People of the Year Awards last weekend she said nothing should detract from her players’ “magic year” in a likely reference to allegations last week of her mistreatment of players while she was coach at US side Houston Dash. Pauw has denied the allegations.
To quote the title of a Megadeth album “Killing Is My Business – And My Business is Good!” By crappy 1980s heavy metal standards, the founder of the mercenary Wagner Group has had an auspicious 12 months. Besides recruiting convicted criminals from prison to fight in Ukraine, he has also become one of the names most commonly whispered when commentators tentatively discuss the possibility of a post-Putin Russia.
In February, while the Ukrainian media were preoccupied with a piffling Eurovision controversy, US intelligence accurately predicted not only that a massive Russian invasion of their country was imminent, but also where and when it would occur. Yet when the onslaught came, even the Americans seem to have been blindsided by the Ukrainian president’s resolve to resist it. Like Vladimir Putin, they assumed Kyiv would fall within days and promptly offered Zelenskiy safe passage to lead his government in exile. The former TV comedian refused, posting a video of himself and senior aides in military fatigues outside presidential headquarters. “We’re all here,” he wrote. “Defending our independence, our country, and it will stay this way.” The fightback had begun.
Rightly or wrongly, the former footballer’s grand gesture in queuing like a commoner for 13 hours to pay his respects to the queen during her lying-in-state was widely dismissed as a publicity stunt. Whereas his decision to accept a £150 million ambassador role for Qatar quickly became a PR disaster, when comedian Joe Lycett, among others, called him out for his hypocrisy. The knighthood Beckham so desperately craves has never seemed further from his grasp.
Once admired as the world’s richest person, with plans to build a permanent human colony on Mars, the Tesla chief executive went badly off script this year. In October, after being egged on by his 120 million followers, Musk completed a $44 billion deal to purchase Twitter. He insisted he was doing so as a champion of free speech. But he plunged the company into chaos: initiating massive layoffs, alienating advertisers and posting deranged conspiracy theories. He also proved to have incredibly thin skin, blocking the Twitter accounts of journalists who reported on him. One tweeter quipped: “Elon Musk loves free speech so much he’s keeping it all for himself!”
CLARE DALY and MICK WALLACE
The maverick MEPs have long been outspoken critics of Nato and US foreign policy. But before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, what may have gone under the radar at home was quite the extent to which they have also become apologists in the European Parliament for authoritarian regimes around the world – becoming stars of Chinese, Russian and Syrian state media in the process. In April, Daly told the parliament that EU sanctions against Russia make her “sick”. By November, Wallace was defending a brutal crackdown by security forces against women-led protests in Iran, saying such demonstrations “would not be tolerated anywhere”. What voters at home make of these antics remains to be seen.
When the crypto bubble burst this year, lots of people lost out. But in terms of anyone you’ve heard of whose comeuppance was hilarious, Matt Damon’s October 2021 ad for Crypto.com is undoubtedly the one to relish. In it, he compared crypto investors to astronauts and space explorers. Will this spectacularly ill-advised advert hurt the Hollywood actor’s career in the slightest? No. But will it give us, the target audience, pause the next time we’re tempted to give credence to a dubious celebrity endorsement? Also, no. We’re idiots. It’s a wonder we can tie our own shoelaces.
In footballing terms, at least, the Qatar World Cup was a resounding success. But whether he was lecturing LGBT fans about avoiding public displays of affection, or dismissing a migrant worker’s death on the grounds that death is a “natural part of life”, the tournament’s chief executive managed to spread bad vibes whenever he appeared on our TV screens.
This was the year when time finally caught up with CR7. Without a club after being dumped unceremoniously by Manchester United, Portugal’s World Cup captain was then dropped by his country for their last-16 clash with Switzerland. He could only look on from the bench while his 21-year-old replacement scored a hat trick. Both club and country were punishing him for precisely the sort of prima-donna behaviour they had tolerated during his pomp. Of course, even while this was happening, a capacity crowd was chanting his name and a club owner was preparing to offer him $400 million over two years to finish his career in Saudi Arabia. Which only went to prove that Ronaldo’s worst day ever is still better than anyone else’s best.
In all likelihood, Liz Truss’s abysmal six-week tenure as British prime minister will earn her a mention, not only in this end-of year blooper reel, but also in similar lists to be compiled at the end of this decade, and perhaps even this century. She campaigned for leadership of the Conservative party promising tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. But these measures proved so disastrous when her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng introduced them that the pound immediately crashed to an all-time low against the US dollar and her relationship with voters, who were already struggling with high inflation, was irreparably damaged. In the ensuing turmoil, Truss fired Kwarteng and replace him with her old rival Jeremy Hunt. Within a week, she had followed Kwarteng out the door.
It shows what reverence America has for a billionaire that, even as he was plunging headlong into anti-Semitism and white supremacy, the news networks remained careful always to note that the rapper born Kanye West prefers these days to be known as Ye. But when he’s gibbering to Alex Jones about how Hitler invented highways and the microphone, maybe it doesn’t matter what we call him. Maybe we just don’t need to hear from him any more.
She is a talented director, and a graduate of the Gaiety School of Acting, so it seems almost vindictive to recall that in only her second outing helming a film, she had to part with her lead actor Shia LaBeouf during production; she fell out with her female lead Florence Pugh; she was served with custody papers by her ex-Jason Sudeikis during film promotion, and her replacement leading man Harry Styles allegedly spat on co-star Chris Pine at the film’s Venice premiere.