The story of downfall is spellbinding when it besets those who have abused their power.

Its narrative grows more poignant when it confronts honourable people who have done their best and acted without self-aggrandisement but have fallen short. Sport does not discriminate. The hubristic and the self-effacing, it took them both down in 2015.

A sporting year that saw great tales of triumph like the All Blacks winning back-to-back Rugby World Cups, Andy Murray leading Great Britain to their first Davis Cup crown since 1936, Tyson Fury's achievement in the ring of winning the world heavyweight title and Jessica Ennis-Hill securing World Championship gold in the heptathlon in Beijing 13 months after the birth of her son, Reggie, will be remembered more for those who plunged from the pedestal.

Jose Mourinho was among them. This was the year he lost the dressing room at Chelsea and was fired because of it. Think about that. The man whose genius was supposed to be in man-management and commanding the devotion of his men could no longer motivate the ramshackle mob of sulking millionaires he had assembled at Stamford Bridge.


His fall mocked his self-reverence and provided useful ammunition for those who had recoiled at his description of Arsene Wenger as a 'specialist in failure'. His own failure damned him but many felt it damned the modern footballer more.

Lord Coe has not lost his job as IAAF president but he has lost his lustre. He was British sport's shiniest, happiest person for so long after winning the right to host the Olympics for London and masterminding a triumphant Games in 2012 but he has stumbled from one horrible misstep to another since he took over as the head of athletics.

His year got worse the longer it went on. His most trusted aide stepped down last week after the publication of a damning email about the Russian drugs scandal. Athletics is fighting for its life and, sadly, Coe has already started to look like part of the problem, not the solution.

The fall of FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA boss Michel Platini, banished from football for eight years for their murky financial dealings, was met with rejoicing although there was some sadness that Platini, once such an elegant and bewitching player, had lost his way so spectacularly he will now be remembered as one of the villains of the game instead of one of its heroes.

There was no equivocation about the fall of Blatter, whose malign and venal presence had crouched over football for so long. For two decades, the game was in thrall to this ridiculous little Caesar and the corrupt brown envelope culture he employed to keep a grip on power by misusing the immense riches that football brought his organisation, an organisation that became a byword for the ugly side of the beautiful game.

Blatter had turned football governance into a Kafkaesque nightmare. He was the bad dream we could never quite wake up from, masterminding a series of obscene decisions that may yet sound the death knell for international football as it struggles to maintain its relevance against the incursions of the club game.

The most obscene of all these was FIFA's decision, backed by Platini, to award the 2022 summer World Cup to a desert nation, Qatar, a move so horrifically misguided that the foul stench of bribery and corruption emanating from it made everyone who loved football feel sick. When Swiss police descended upon the Baur au Lac Hotel in Zurich in May and arrested some of FIFA's crooks, the dominos began to fall. FIFA were so institutionally corrupt they still re-elected Blatter as their president a couple of days later but this time not even he could survive. Platini's disgracing soon followed. Football breathed a long sigh of relief.

But if there was no equivocation about the fall of Blatter, there was a great sense of regret and sadness about one of the year's other central stories, the abject failure of the England team at the Rugby World Cup and the resultant resignation of their coach, Stuart Lancaster.


The tournament was supposed to have been a wonderful showcase for English rugby and Lancaster's dream was to field not just a winning side but a team of men worthy of the adulation they would receive if they lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy in October. I spoke to him at England's base a couple of weeks before the tournament began and Lancaster mentioned that his teenage son had become disillusioned with football after reading about the misdeeds of a prominent player who was one of his heroes.

He didn't want that for rugby. He made great play of creating a side who would reconnect with the English public, a team who would work off the pitch to deserve their profile. When players fell foul of his disciplinary code, however important they were to the team, they were sent into exile.

It was a brave plan. It was admirable in many ways. But some of the wiser analysts began to fret about the amount of talent that was being denied to England and about the lack of responsibility being accorded to the players in what they said was a schoolmasterly regime.

There was also disquiet among rugby union's traditionalists about the faith Lancaster was placing in rugby league convert Sam Burgess and, after an opening victory against Fiji, the wheels were wrenched off England's chariot with a shattering defeat by Wales at Twickenham.

Lancaster reeled. He did not seem to know his best team. The pressure was intense and the coach seemed to freeze in the spotlight's glare. When England were crushed by Australia a week after the Wales defeat, England became the first sole host nation to exit the Rugby World Cup at the pool stages.

Lancaster was excoriated for his failings. The criticism was unsparing but most of it was fair. Some of us hoped he would be given the chance to see his young team mature into a side who may be a force at the 2019 World Cup in Japan but that was fanciful. Several tortured weeks after the tournament finished, won by Dan Carter and the mighty All Blacks, Lancaster was out.

What does that kind of failure do to a man, to get to the top of your profession, to lead your country into a home World Cup and then to see the ground fall away from beneath your feet? My guess is Lancaster deals with it better than Blatter copes with his fall.

Lancaster always had a life outside the England rugby team whereas FIFA was Blatter's fiefdom. The picture of the fallen president arriving at a Press conference last week with a plaster on his face was a neat symbol of a wounded man. I don't know if he ever loved football but, like all petty despots, he loved power and his power corrupted him.

Sport has witnessed many great victories this year but Blatter's influence had become so destructive that his downfall felt like the greatest of triumph of them all.

From Blatter and Platini, to Lancaster and Mourinho, it was 12 months when reality bit for the great and not so good.

- Daily Mail