As 2022 begins, we already know how it will end: with the winter World Cup in Qatar.
The tournament is the biggest event in the 2022 football calendar – and the most controversial.
It has come to feel like a representation of the worst vices of the professional game, and the problems are already mounting for organisers FIFA ahead of the opening match on November 21.
With scarcely any time for squads to prepare, a potential accommodation shortage for fans and players increasingly uneasy about human rights, the football threatens to be overshadowed by off-field concerns, but England should be bullish about having their most successful tournament since 1966.
England will also be among the favourites for the delayed Women’s European Championship, to be held on home soil in the summer, although it has been difficult to judge their progress under new head coach Sarina Wiegman following a succession of one-sided matches.
A lack of competitive balance across women’s football remains a problem, although it is no less of a searing issue in the men’s game.
Manchester City finish 2021 eight points clear at the top of the Premier League table, with many predicting another stroll to the title, while Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid are all safely ensconced at the summit of their domestic leagues.
The hope in 2022 is that the game can begin moving towards a more egalitarian model after the remarkable success of the opposition to the Super League, which prompted Tracey Crouch’s fan-led review of the English game.
Manchester United’s shadow board of supporters will meet for the first time in January, and Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham are among the club to have proposed similar models. Crouch hopes to establish a shadow independent regulator for English football as soon as possible.
The African Cup of Nations, which begins on January 9, is the year’s other major event, although as usual the build-up has been undermined by European clubs bickering over losing their star players.
Among the capital’s leading clubs there are reasons for optimism in the New Year.
After largely underwhelming in 2021, north London pair Arsenal and Tottenham have finished the year strongly and belief is growing that both could challenge for a top-four place in the second half of the season, along with West Ham.
Crystal Palace and Brentford, meanwhile, are perhaps this season’s most uplifting stories in the top-flight and look well-placed to avoid a relegation battle.
Chelsea will be hard pressed to top their remarkable 2021 and finish the year having stumbled in the title race and with growing injury concerns, but they remain a genuine superpower in a European football landscape that is increasingly dominated by only a handful of mega-rich clubs.
The year begins with the English football calendar ravaged by a Covid cancellations, prompting fears about player welfare, fan safety and a lack of competitive balance, not to mention the depressing prospect of a return to matches behind closed doors.
All things considered, it is difficult to enter the New Year feeling wildly optimistic about the overall state of the game and yet Covid and Qatar are among the issues to have contributed to a growing sense that football needs a fundamental reset.
The game’s usually-silent majority demonstrated their power in opposing the Super League in 2021, and those calling for change no longer feel in a minority.
Perhaps 2022 could see supporters and rule-makers join forces to build on this platform and address some of the game’s most fundamental problems.