1. Lionel Messi to win the Ballon d’Or
In 2015 the diminutive Argentinean forward was named World Player of the Year for a record fifth time, leading many to hail him as the greatest player ever. However, his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo beat him to the title in 2016 and 2017 to move level with him in the all time stakes. This year neither won it as Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric seized the honour, with Ronaldo second and Messi all the way down in fourth. It was the first time he has been outside the top two since 2007, and he will be desperate to return to the summit of world soccer next year. There is no big international tournament in 2019, so club form will solely dictate who is named the world’s best player.
Barcelona are just -500 with William Hill to win La Liga, and Bet365 has -500 on Messi to finish top scorer in the Spanish top flight. He is also +188 to finish as top scorer in the Champions League. If he can pull that off and fire Barcelona into the latter stages of the tournament for the first time since they won it in 2015, he could eclipse Ronaldo and gain a record sixth Ballon d’Or.
2. An English team to win a European trophy
Unibet and 888 Sport are offering +190 on an English team to win a European trophy in May and that looks like a really tempting option. Man City are the +300 favourites to win the Champions League, and Chelsea are the +400 favourites to win the Europa League, so that’s a pretty good start. Arsenal are also the +600 second favourites to win the Europa League, while Liverpool are fifth in the betting to win the Champions League after finishing runners-up last year. They have since spent a fortune bolstering their starting 11, while champions Real Madrid have gone backwards, so they are in with a great chance. You also get a strong Tottenham side led by Harry Kane thrown in, plus Man Utd, who might just improve after firing Jose Mourinho. That leaves six strong teams that could all seize glory, and Chelsea are the best team in the Europa League by a comfortable distance, so it looks like an attractive bet.
3. Mourinho to quit soccer and be put in charge of Brexit
The magic formula has dried up for Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese coach won the league in his second season in every previous managerial job he held, but he could not replicate that success at Man Utd. He was sacked this month with his team trailing Premier League leaders Liverpool by 19 points and his CV has been somewhat tarnished by the whole experience. He is +400 with the sportsbooks to go back to Real Madrid, but they may not want him after the trouble he caused last time around. Bayern Munich represent a possible option at +600, but he may not find the transfer budget to his liking there. No team in England will hire him now, and the likes of Barcelona and PSG are happy with their managers, while the Chinese Super League lacks prestige. Instead, he will quit soccer and be put in charge of handling the Brexit process as Britain tries to extricate itself from the European Union with as good a deal as possible. The country needs a tough negotiator, and Mourinho certainly takes no prisoners. However, when it all goes pear-shaped, expect him to heap blame on Theresa May, EU fat cats, anyone that held the role before him and Paul Pogba. He will tell everyone his star civil servant is useless, punch his chest, scowl a lot and walk off with a massive payoff after being fired.
4. Copa Libertadores final to be held in Seoul
This year’s Copa Libertadores final had to be moved from Argentina to Madrid after crazed Boca Junior fans twice forced delays by attacking rival supporters, players, buses and any other inanimate objects that looked at them funny. It seemed ridiculous for the final of South America’s premier club competition to be held in Europe, but it was the only way to quell the violence. Yet it is not too difficult for fans to fly from Argentina to Madrid, so they could happily beat the living daylight out of one another along the Gran Via as Boca secured an extra-time victory over River Plate. Instead in 2019 the final will be moved to Seoul, the South Korean capital, which is 19,435 miles away from Buenos Aires. It takes days to get there, so expect fewer South American fans and more of Kim Jong Un, who will come down from North Korea to show everyone how big his rocket is.
5. Wayne Rooney to fire DC United to glory
The former England and Man Utd superstar sparked a magnificent turnaround at DC United after joining the ailing MLS franchise earlier this year. When he arrived, it was bottom of the Eastern Conference table, but he scored 12 goals and provided seven assists in 20 games to drag them up the standings and into the playoffs. They fell just short of glory, but the transformation was remarkable and Rooney became a cult hero in the US capital thanks to his determination, his flair on the ball and some truly astonishing moments. Just think how dangerous DC United could be when they get a full season out of him. Competition is fierce, with Atlanta United firmly in the ascendancy, but Rooney could make all the difference in this league next season.