After 26 years of unparalleled success that came to define an era, Sir Alex Ferguson has left us with one last thing to thank him for this year.
His retirement as Manchester United manager has coincided with the tightest, most entertaining and most unpredictable title race in Premier League history.
The top seven teams in the table are separated by just eight points at the turn of the year, and clubs sense the incredible opportunity to pounce and claim the title this season.
It certainly won’t be United’s year. I stick by my assessment that the champions will struggle to finish in the top four this season and I’m not at all sure that David Moyes is the right man for the job in the long term.
While he handled the Wayne Rooney saga well and cannot be fully to blame for an awful summer transfer window, this is a man who failed to win anything in 10 years at Everton, now in charge of the most successful club in British football.
The fear factor is gone, especially at home, and that has been borne out as West Brom, Everton and Newcastle have all won at Old Trafford for the first time in decades.
United’s poor performances this season rule them out of contention for the Team of 2013 despite winning the title with four games to spare last term.
That leaves Liverpool and Arsenal as the two main contenders. The Merseysiders have played some blistering attacking football in 2013, building around Luis Suarez and scoring 84 times in the year, more than any other side.
|THE GOAL UK AWARDS 2013
|Best Team: Arsenal|
|Best Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson|
|Best Player: Luis Suarez|
|Young Player: Romelu Lukaku|
|Moment: Ferguson's final game at Old Trafford|
|Match: Man City 6-3 Arsenal|
|Best Signing: Mathieu Flamini|
|Best Goal: Kasami (for Fulham v Crystal Palace)|
|Dummy of the Year: Vincent Tan|
Now they need to produce consistently between the months that really matter - August and May - and actually win something.
The Gunners might have had more chance had they succeeded in their attempts to sign Luis Suarez, my Player of 2013. Despite an enforced 10-game absence for biting Branislav Ivanovic, the Uruguayan scored 29 goals in 2013, 19 of which have come this season alone.
He is a magical player, a genuine match-winner and edges out two players of similar ilk who were both better than him in the 2012-13 season in Gareth Bale (because he left for Real Madrid) and Robin van Persie (because of his injury-enforced absences under Moyes).
There have been some brilliant young talents player in the Premier League over the last year. Eden Hazard has, at times, been unplayable for Chelsea while Adnan Januzaj and Ross Barkley have defied their years since breaking into the team at Manchester United and Everton respectively this season.
But over the whole 12 months, Romelu Lukaku blows them all away as my Young Player of 2013. He is behind only Suarez in the goalscoring charts for 2013 with 20 goals and, most impressively, he has done it at two different clubs in West Brom and Everton.
If Suarez and Lukaku can continue to perform at anywhere near their current levels, both will be shoe-ins for the PFA awards in 2014.
As you might have guessed, my Manager of 2013 will not be David Moyes.
Arsene Wenger deserves so much credit for the way he steered Arsenal through tough times - from potential failure to qualify for the Champions League to potential revolt over a lack of signings.
The Gunners look better than any Wenger side since the Invincibles of 2004 and deserve to be top of the table at the turn of the year.
But the manager of the year has to be Ferguson himself. Just look at this United squad, with its invisible midfield and aging centre-backs, and ask yourself whether anyone else could have won the title so comfortably last season.
The answer is no. Ferguson was a genius and worth 15 points alone. His final Premier League title - number 13 for his trophy cabinet - was, for me, his most impressive given the squad at his disposal, especially in comparison to bitter rivals Manchester City.
|11/1||Arsenal are 11/1 with Paddy Power to beat Cardiff 4-0 on New Year's Day|
While the Premier League has produced some dramatic games and last-minute goals, my Moment of 2013 is also related to Ferguson: his spine-tingling final game in charge at Old Trafford against Swansea in May. And how fitting that it was won with a late goal.
The Goal of 2013 depends completely on taste. Some might opt for Jack Wilshere’s stunning team goal for Arsenal against Norwich, others for the technically perfect second goal of Suarez’s brilliant individual display against the same opponents.
You could go for Bale’s stunning last-minute 35-yarder for Tottenham against West Ham or Van Persie’s sumptuous volley against Aston Villa as United clinched the Premier League title in April.
But I’m going to go for Pajtim Kasami’s out-of-this-world chest and volley into the top corner for Fulham against Crystal Palace in October. It was totally out of keeping with the form and quality of the two teams on show but it was the kind of strike that deserved to immediately go viral on the internet.
There have been countless thrilling matches, from the classic 3-3 draw in the Merseyside derby to the incredible 5-5 draw between West Brom and Manchester United on the last day of the season.
But the Game of 2013 for me came earlier this month between the two teams occupying the top two spots in the Premier League table: Manchester City’s 6-3 home win over Arsenal.
It had everything. Breathtaking attacking, suicidal defending, comebacks and drama. But more than anything, it was a game of astounding quality and for any observer should have marked City out as the team to beat in the Premier League this term.
What about the Signing of 2013?
Fernandinho looks to have provided the combination of steel and craft to perfectly complement Yaya Toure in Manchester City’s midfield.
Tom Huddlestone looks international quality at Hull following his bargain £5m summer move from Tottenham while Loic Remy has scored 16 goals in the calendar year and fired Newcastle towards a European spot since his loan move from QPR.
Mesut Ozil dramatic £42m move to Arsenal on the final day could be argued as the signing of the summer not just because of the German playmaker’s quality, but also its significance for a club and manager who were under pressure and having their ambition questioned.
But while Ozil’s arrival was a game-changer for the Gunners, it still wasn’t their best piece of business of the summer. Matthieu Flamini has embodied the determination and discipline of this Arsenal side and played a vital role in the Londoners digging out vital wins, especially away from home, this season.
When the Frenchman has been absent, his presence has been sorely missed in a side that, for all its attacking talent, is built on the foundation of a solid defensive record.
And finally, the Dummy of 2013.
I admit it. This was supposed to be a list of 'awards' and 'bests' to reflect on a sensational year of football. But I added this one as an excuse to rip into Vincent Tan, the Cardiff owner who changed the club’s kit to red, knows nothing about football, sacked Malky McKay and booed his own team off the pitch.
Then I remembered Assem Allam, the Hull City owner who has told supporters they ‘can die as soon as they want’ as they continue to protest against his plan to change the club’s name to Hull Tigers.
There are far too many club owners who simply don't 'get it' when it comes to football clubs, their history, cultures, ambitions and importance to communities. For all the ‘fit and proper person’ guff, are there any proper checks being made by the authorities before clubs are bought and sold?
Tan and Allam prove that even millionaires and billionaires can be as daft as a brush.