Football has gone through massive changes on and off the pitch over the past year. Here, theScore ranks the people who had the biggest impact on the sport in 2018.
Former Leicester City and Barcelona striker Gary Lineker has become one of football's most outspoken celebrities, taking aim at anything from Brexit to racism and simple rule changes. His thoughts generate thousands of retweets on Twitter and even more debate. As a presenter and host on BT Sport and BBC's Match of the Day, Lineker is omnipresent. He's often the first to address a talking point, and he's beloved as one of the Premier League's biggest and most respected personalities. Many looked to Lineker when news emerged that Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha had died in a helicopter crash.
As president of CONMEBOL, the governing body for South American football, Alejandro Dominguez was tasked with relocating the now-infamous Copa Libertadores final. He and his team came up with the idea of playing the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, a decision that drew the ire of supporters of both finalists, River Plate and Boca Juniors. Many decried the move, castigating Dominguez as a power broker who found a way to profit from a situation that embarrassed both Argentina and South America. The second leg had been postponed after River fans threw debris at Boca's bus, shattering windows and causing injuries to players on board.
With a combination of goodwill, accountability, and transparency, Gareth Southgate managed to repair England's rocky relationship with its national team. His work paid off at the World Cup, leading the Three Lions to an unexpected semifinal finish. Not only was Southgate affable and kind to the media, he was also inclusive with his players, creating an atmosphere that bred confidence and joy. His charm offensive encouraged disenfranchised fans to re-engage with the Three Lions. The football was pretty good, too. Southgate earned rave reviews for his painstaking preparation and overall compartment, making England uncharacteristically likeable throughout the World Cup.
Major League Soccer is growing exponentially under the watch of commissioner Don Garber, who's more than doubled the number of teams since taking over in 1999. The league has attracted bigger and better talent over the years, and Garber has encouraged that growth with the introduction of the Designated Player rule and allocation money. Atlanta United's unprecedented success - winning the MLS Cup in just their second year of existence - is a testament to Garber's vision. MLS is entering and thriving in nontraditional markets, with Cincinnati, Miami, Nashville, and Austin, Texas, expected to follow.
Amid reports that he's ready to sell a piece of the club, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has decided to leave the day-to-day operations to close confidant Marina Granovskaia. She first began working for the Russian billionaire more than 18 years ago, and has now become one of the most important people at one of the world's richest clubs. She made several power moves when Antonio Conte was manager, and ultimately pushed the Italian out of the club after significant pushback on transfers. She now has the tough task of convincing Eden Hazard to stay long-term. The next few months could change the football landscape in Europe.