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The wait is finally over as the world's largest football website pulls back the curtain on the the hottest, most visited articles from January to December

It has been another year full of ups and downs in football, and yet again Goal.com has been on hand to provide the most comprehensive coverage of the beautiful game the world over.

Working tirelessly to deliver the best possible product to our readers, Goal.com prides itself on its unrivalled editorial knowledge, breadth of news coverage, match analysis, team and transfer news and much, much more.

And, with so much having gone on throughout 2012, our editorial staff are just as eager as our readers to find out which articles and editorials were the most popular over the calendar year.

So, without further ado, may we present to you the list of our 10 most-read articles of the year:

1. Goal.com salutes some of football's most unsung heroes


Xavi, you have company – Paolo Maldini, Thierry Henry, Raul & the greatest players never to win the Ballon d'Or

The awards for the 2011 Ballon d'Or – which were announced in January 2012 – saw Lionel Messi pick up the prestigious honour for the third year running. And with the free-scoring Cristiano Ronaldo firmly in the mix, it's not difficult to see why evergreen Barcelona midfielder Xavi missed out on the top spot.

To pay tribute to the Catalan dynamo, Goal.com compiled a list of fellow stars who also had to make do without the prize, including such greats as former Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, Dutch hero Frank Rijkaard and AC Milan legend Franco Baresi.

2. Madrid fans recoil as Ronaldo reveals he is unhappy


'I didn't celebrate because I'm unhappy' - Cristiano Ronaldo makes shock claim after Real Madrid win

Whether you're a Madridista or otherwise, it was hard not to take an interest when Cristiano Ronaldo refused to celebrate his 150th Real Madrid goal back in September, with the Portuguese ace citing "unhappiness" stemming from an issue the club were apparently aware of, but the attacker would not share.

Poor treatment of close friends within the club, anger at a statement made by Marcelo in which the Brazilian backed Iker Casillas for the Ballon d'Or or losing out on the Uefa Best Player Award to Anders Iniesta. All of the aforementioned were touted as reasons for Ronaldo's apparent sadness, although the true reason behind the star's malaise was never revealed.

3. Why Van Persie swapped Arsenal for Manchester United


Revealed: The £73m package that lured Robin van Persie to Manchester United

Just a day before the Dutchman completed his switch from Arsenal to Manchester United, Goal.com exclusively revealed the details behind the deal that saw Robin van Persie opt to swap the Emirates Stadium for Old Trafford.

Our UK edition's northern correspondent, Greg Stobart, understood that the striker would be moving onto a £235,000-a-week deal which would cost the Red Devils a whopping £73 million in total. Steep for a player with no resale value perhaps, but United fans will argue their top scorer was worth the fee.

4. Leo shows there's nothing Messi about his keeping skills


Is there anything he can't do? Puyol posts picture of 'little phenomenon' Messi - playing as a goalkeeper!

Lionel Messi hit the headlines back in March when he became the first player to score five goals in a single match in Barcelona's 7-1 Champions League demolition of Bayer Leverkusen.

However, despite the diminutive Argentine's awe-inspiring feat, a picture of Messi playing in goal during a training session – uploaded to Facebook by team-mate Carles Puyol – harnessed considerably more interest than his record-breaking goalscoring endeavours.

5. Who lit up the Champions League in 2011-12?

 
Champions League Team of the Tournament: Drogba, Gomez and Messi light up Europe in 2011-12

The 2011-12 edition of the Champions League proved to be one of the most surprising football occasions of all time, as Didier Drogba led unfavoured Chelsea to their first-ever title in Europe's most prestigious club competition.

Trawling back through each individual match, Goal.com assessed every player's performance to compile our team of the tournament, which stands such big names as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Petr Cech and Franck Ribery alongside the Cote d'Ivoire striker.

6. Mourinho's Madrid top football's rich list yet again

 
The top 20 clubs in football's money league

Assembling their list of teams in order of wealth accrued over the 2010-11 season, Deloitte's Football Money League findings saw Spanish giants Real Madrid take the top spot when details were released in February, with fellow Liga side Barcelona not far off in second.

Matchday revenue (tickets), broadcast revenue (TV contracts) and commercial revenue (sponsorship/merchandising) are all taken into account by the agency to give an accurate account of just how well off Europe's elite really are.

7. 'The greatest!' - Stand-alone Messi gets some company


Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt, Roger Federer & the equivalents of Lionel Messi in other sports

When asked by a journalist if Lionel Messi should be compared to Basketball legend Michael Jordan, former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola replied: “Maybe, yes. There have been very few like them in history who have dominated their sport in such a way."

With that in mind, Goal.com set about seeking out other equivalents to the Blaugrana dangerman, with greats such as Mohammed Ali, Tiger Woods and Michael Schumacher making the final cut on our list.

8. City begin preliminary talks to sign Cristiano Ronaldo


Manchester City ready to launch sensational bid to sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid this summer

A few months before the summer transfer window opened, Goal.com sources in both England and Spain exclusively revealed that talks had begun between Manchester City and Real Madrid over a possible move for Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Citizens were set to match the €96m transfer fee that Los Blancos paid Manchester United in 2009, although talks broke down with the Spanish champions and a deal between the European giants was never reached.

9. Cyberspace joins hands to berate Real Madrid star


Manchester United's Wayne Rooney labels Real Madrid's Pepe 'an idiot' for Clasico stamp on Barcelona's Lionel Messi

Yes indeed. Wayne Rooney – whom we all know is no stranger to on-field controversies himself – singled out Real Madrid defender Pepe for a chewing-out back in January, the England striker taking to Twitter to lambast the centre-back following an alleged stomp on Lionel Messi.

So convinced that the Portuguese's contact with the Blaugrana star was intentional, several others within the footballing world took to the social media site to share their own gripes over the Los Blancos hardman's supposed transgression.

10. Ballon d'Or


Barcelona's Lionel Messi beats Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo & team-mate Xavi to win third straight Ballon d'Or

As mentioned before, Lionel Messi picked up his third straight Ballon d'Or in January, rendering Michel Platini's record of three consecutive victories no longer unique.

The Argentine's exploits on the field helped massively to lead the Catalan side to a record-breaking trophy haul under then coach Pep Guardiola, which, in turn, saw Messi named the best player in the world yet again, topping the voting table with over double the votes second-favourite Cristiano Ronaldo had received.

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