“I just say ‘Abracadabra’ and the magic flows,” Luis Enrique insisted and for much of the season it did.
But then came their next trick: Abracadabra and Barcelona’s lead at the top disappeared. So too did their hopes of winning another treble. In six games in April they were knocked out of Europe by Atlético Madrid and were suddenly on edge domestically too. When Gerard Piqué headed them into the lead in the second clásico of the season, Real Madrid momentarily slipped thirteen points behind them. But then the stampede started: Madrid came back to win, something shifted, and three winless matches followed, meaning the title race was transformed. Meaning there actually was one, in fact. For months, there hadn’t been.
No longer a marathon, the league became a sprint. A single point separated Barcelona, Atlético, and Madrid as they began a five-game dash for the line, knowing that a single slip would end it. “People wanted an equal league; well, you’ve got it,” Piqué said. And it was certainly more exciting this way. When it came to it, it might even have been better for Barcelona too – the unexpected difficulty making celebrations more meaningful somehow – and there was triumph in their response, which had been superb. Only Atlético did slip, away at Levante. Madrid won five from five and so did Barcelona, an aggregate score of 24-0 taking them to a title that, as Piqué put it, they’d had to win twice. Barcelona were champions again, for the sixth time in eight years. Not that you’d know it if you read La Razón, the newspaper whose name translates as The Truth (stop giggling at the back) and whose headline on the Monday morning declared: “Zidane, league champion.”
The following week, Barcelona won the Copa del Rey against Sevilla. Madrid had been kicked out in the first round after fielding an ineligible player: this was a season to forget for poor Denis Cheryshev, who after all that ended it injured, although Álvaro Arbeloa did try to make it up to him by celebrating the Champions League in his shirt. Barcelona hammered Valencia en route, their fans cheering Cheryshev as he came on, and then defeated the recently-crowned Europa League champions, with 10 men and without Luis Suárez, to become the first team to win successive Doubles in over 50 years.
The Cup had gone into extra time in an epic night at the Calderón. In the league, Barcelona had been top of the table since week 10 and, despite the late challenge, they did hold on. Before them, the leaders had included Eibar, Celta Vigo and, for the first time in their 92-year history, Villarreal. “They’ll be surprised elsewhere in the world, but it’s more fun this way,” Simeone had said way back then. La Liga was about others, too, and even if it was the usual suspects who ultimately fought it out, it had certainly been fun. As if a league with players called Sid, Cúlio and Juankar could be anything but; a league with the best teams on the continent, too. That’s six out of the last six major European trophies taken by Spanish teams now.
Next year, they’ll try again. Villarreal returned to the Champions League, along with Barcelona, Madrid, Atlético and Sevilla, while Athletic Bilbao and Celta went into the Europa League, won by Sevilla for a third time in a row in Basel, their trophy now.
If it was good for the Spanish, a little further down it wasn’t much fun for British coaches, the experiment brief and unlikely to be repeated in a hurry. When Real Betis won in week 23, it meant that they had beaten just two teams at home all season: David Moyes’s Real Sociedad and Gary Neville’s Valencia. Both men faced difficult challenges at difficult clubs, the fault not all their own. But nor were they blameless and both were sacked, few lamenting their passing. In their absence, the improvement was not dramatic but Pako Ayestarán did manage as many wins in 11 days as Neville had done in his entire time in charge, and both they and Real Sociedad under Eusebio climbed to safety.
Also safe were the three recently promoted teams: Real Betis, Sporting Gijón and Las Palmas’s 80,000 noisy members will grace the first division for another year. The first division is a better place with them. Sporting, whose presence in primera was a miracle in the first place, survived on the final day, their manager Abelardo Fernández crying his eyes out and declaring it “time for cider”. At the same time, down in Vallecas a solitary tear ran down the right side of Paco Jémez’s face as Rayo Vallecano’s longest ever top-flight spell ended. There were more tears in Seville, where at half-time the Betis winger Joaquín had turned to Getafe’s pleading captain Pedro Léon and shrugged: “what do you want me to do, Pedro?” A win would have guaranteed survival but Getafe could not grasp it and they went too, 12 years after promotion to La Liga, unlikely to ever be back. Levante had already gone two weeks earlier.
In one afternoon, Madrid lost two first division clubs. The other two, of course, were heading off to Milan. In the end – and it really was the end – Madrid were European Champions for the 11th time. It was cruel on Atlético: two minutes and two millimetres have now cost them three European Cups. El Pupas was supposed to have gone for ever but not in Europe, he hasn’t. At the start of the season, Diego Simeone had claimed that the league was “dangerously prepared for Real Madrid”, a comment that drew surprisingly little condemnation. It wasn’t, but Europe had been theirs again.
Atlético left San Siro broken, Simeone saying it was time to reflect on his future. As for Zinedine Zidane, he was celebrating his third European Cup with Madrid: as a player, coach, and assistant coach, all of them in his first season. This one had come after just five months. The man that began the campaign, dreaming of being in Milan himself, was Rafa Benítez but he ended it relegated with Newcastle. “We feel sorry for Rafa but you only have to look at the performances,” Luka Modric had said, not sounding like he felt that sorry at all. By the end, on the rare occasions Benítez was mentioned at all, it was to lay into him.
It had been wrong from the start, one dressing room heavyweight already deciding he was no good during preseason, and Benítez died with someone else’s boots on, fielding a team he did not truly believe in and one that only undermined his authority still further. After a few days at home on the Wirral – his “bunker”, they called it, a place where spending Christmas became “going to ground”, the sneaky coward – he returned to a draw at Valencia that confirmed the inevitable. There was something eloquent about the fact that when Madrid went 2-1 up late on, he leapt to his feet, called the players over and told them to keep it tight only for Valencia to score seconds later and end it all. The next day, Rafa was gone and forgotten, tossed away without a second glance as if he had never been there at all.
When Madrid defeated Barcelona in the second clásico, something shifted for Zidane. After the game, the players took a picture in the Camp Nou dressing room, “celebrating as if they had won a title,” sneered Sport – the same Sport whose cover before the game, back when they expected Barcelona to win it, had declared the clásico “another title.” Besides, they were soon winning the biggest trophy of them all. They’d been in crisis – a real, genuine crisis, with whistles and hankies and protests and complaints campaigns – and yet, somehow, they had ended it holding the cup, fans gathering at Cibeles for another party. They were not alone: by the season’s end, there had been parties all across Spain, Athletic, Sevilla, Barcelona and Real all celebrating success. Athletic had the Spanish Super Cup, Sevilla had the Sevilla Cup, Madrid had the European Cup and Barcelona had the league and cup double, plus the European Super Cup and the World Club Cup.
Everyone had enjoyed this. You’d think so anyway, but that didn’t stop them. Whose success mattered most, they asked. They asked and they answered. “Ours,” of course. And so it went round again, the usual, tedious battle. Those in the capital saying that the double was worthless because Madrid won the Champions League, others even claiming the league as their own; those in Catalonia saying the best team was Barcelona, and claiming that the Champions League had been devalued. The Monday after the final in Milan, Sport ran another my-dad’s-bigger-than-your-dad cover, declaring: “Barcelona win 4-1.”
But who had been the season’s real winners? This lot here, of course …
In a year of celebrations in Spain, from Bilbao to Barcelona to Seville to Madrid, plus Gijón, Granada and Villarreal, there was still no party like Halloween at the Coliseum, where a Zombie, Batman, King Kong, Shrek, Dracula, Frankenstein, and all their monstery mates burst into the press room, the Zombie stumbling into the middle, peering out from behind his mask and muttering “Shit, we’ve got this wrong”, before they bundled past journalists and the cameras and the cables lying about and out the back door where Barcelona’s players realised they were even more lost than they first thought, eventually making a break for it over a metal fence. Two days of righteous indignation later, Getafe opened the door to the dressing room to TV cameras to reveal the crime scene, blood and all.
Ahead of the Neville & Negredo Show and Zinedine Zidane and his Magical Exploding Trousers is The Chirigota. Of all the places to make that kind of mistake, Real Madrid had to choose Cádiz, land of satire and carnival, down where everyone can see the funny side of everything. Cádiz-Madrid in the cup, and the game was about 20 minutes in, when a song ran round the Carranza. “Benítez, look at your Twitter”, Cádiz’s fans giggled. “Benítez look at your Twitter, look at your Twiiiiiter! Benítez look at your Twitter!” Had he done, he would have seen what they had seen: everyone was talking about Denis Cheryshev, and not because he had just scored for Madrid. Oh no; they were talking about Cheryshev because he was suspended and shouldn’t have been out there at all. Madrid were about to get kicked out of the cup and Cádiz’s fans were laughing their heads off. More chirigotas followed: “Benítez, bring on De Gea!” they sang. “Benítez, stay!” “Benítez, you wally, who’ve you called up?” And “Cheryshev, I love you!”
Cádiz, of course. Way above chants for Valencia manager Gary Neville to stay from Levante’s fans, Espanyol supporters appealing for Messi to pay his taxes, and Rayo Vallecano’s now familiar version of the Marseillaise belted out brilliantly. Above the time when Álvaro Arbeloa came on in the derby too and Atlético Madrid’s fans started chanting “Cono! Cono! Cono!”. To think there are still people who doubt the importance of that squiggly line above the ñ.
And, staying in Cádiz...
Best newspaper cover
“Another Cup thrown away”. Well played, El Periódico.
Most unwise chant
Well, not a chant exactly, but shouting “how bad are you?” and “fake” at Fernando Torres kind of rebounded on these Valencia fans. Five seconds later, the ball was in their net, Torres was off celebrating and they were feeling just a little bit silly.
And, continuing the tempting-fate part of this gala …
Most over-optimistic manager
Gary Neville, who, yet to win in the league, announced that he was “looking forward” to his side’s trip to the Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. Not that being pessimistic helps much: “If we let in nine, no one gets out of Vallecas alive,” Rayo manager Paco Jémez said before their meeting with Madrid. They let in 10.
Most over-optimistic player
“I hope we can win and screw the league up for Barcelona,” Betis’s former Real Madrid goalkeeper Antonio Adán said. Forty-eight hours later, he dropped a clanger, not so much screwing the league up as setting the league up for Barcelona.
Most over-optimistic newspaper
Over at Super Deporte, the shoutiest, whiniest and silliest of all the sports dailies, they never let you down. “This is not Anfield, this is Mestalla!” the Valencia-supporting paper roared on the eve of the derby. They were right too; Villarreal went to Anfield and lost; their reserves went to Mestalla and won.
Outside Valencia’s Paterna training ground a camera filmed a small, angry group of fans who were just coming to the end of chanting “Gary, vete ya” when there was a pause and from somewhere within the crowd a voice could be heard. “Hey,” it asked, “does anyone know how you say that in English?”
“We’re a really shit team and we’re going head first into the second division if we carry on like this,” said Getafe’s Mehdi Lacen, correctly as it turned out, but that was nothing compared to this from Sporting Gijón manager Abelardo Fernández – a rant so ranty you don’t even need to know Spanish to enjoy it. “Ban me for twenty-five games,” he implored. They decided that two would do.
Best matchday rating
AS gave one man of the match award to “Gareth Bale: the capital B in the BBC.”
Best free gift
In a year that boasted the usual Barcelona kitchen knives and plastic tubs (“more than a tupperware!”), Real Madrid slippers and pyjamas (“dream in white!”), and all that other tat you have to go back to the very start for the best of give-away of all, Marca outdoing themselves with a “beautiful souvenir”: a surreal fold-out-and-keep footballing version of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, complete with a handy description in case you didn’t get what was going on. Which, let’s face it, you didn’t. The ‘heaven’ of the Spanish league is represented by Messi and Ronaldo, while a load of footballers ride pigs and goats and horses and birds and stuff and a referee sprays a white line in the middle of the madness, an owl sits in the European Cup and Vicente Del Bosque has turned into some odd creature with his rear end open, surrounded by harps and torture implements. A masterpiece and no mistake. And all lovingly reproduced in bewilderingly bizarre detail on cheap newspaper.
Following a game in which Espanyol fans chanted that Shakira was a “whore” and held up a banner declaring: “Shakira is everyone’s”, in which another banner declared: “Pau, your foot shows us the way”, after the goalkeeper had trodden on Leo Messi, Gerard Piqué was called upon to do the pitchside interview. “They call themselves the marvellous minority,” Piqué said, pointedly. “I hope they at least manage to fill their stadium; they didn’t the other day.”
Is ‘put-up’ a thing? Well, anyway, it’s Granada’s Javi Marquez, who called his newborn son Modric.
Álvaro Arbeloa and Gerard Piqué spent much of the season “your-mum”-ing each other, still going long after most people had given up on them, bored of it all now, but it turned out that the best mum of all was neither of theirs. The best mum was Jaume Costa’s, after the Villarreal player had complained that the refereeing against Barcelona had removed their will to compete. She responded to a particularly unpleasant Barça-supporting troll who had told the Villarreal goalkeeper “your mum lost the will to live the day you were born, you son of a bitch”, by tweeting: “Sorry, but no, no, I didn’t lose [the will to live]. I’m very proud, especially as he’s capable of offering an opinion with having to insult anyone.”
Most awkward moment
Phil Neville going for a ‘run’ on the beach.
Cristiano Ronaldo ran onto the pitch with Zaid, son of Osama Abdul Mohsen, the Syrian refugee who was infamously kicked by that Hungarian camerawoman. Zaid and his family are setting up home in Getafe. And Fernando Torres ran off the pitch in search of Miguel Briñas, the man who first discovered him twenty years ago.
Best dressed footballer
It takes something special to beat Barcelona’s double denim but Unai Emery’s golf club get-up was good, and Dani Alves is Dani Alves, while Leo Messi’s pyjamas were nice. Then there’s the Portuguese player Nuno Silva, who turned up for his presentation at Real Jaén wearing a t-shirt with Franco on it. “I didn’t know who he was,” Silva said, which isn’t so surprising. What is, is that no one at the club did either. The winner, though, was the entire Guijuelo team who ran out wearing a kit covered with ham . Still, at least it’s a kit: every week, Real Madrid’s little mascots run out wearing a cheap, plain white t-shirt with no badge and no name, just a petrol company written across the front. Oh, the romance.
“Come on presidente, let us play: we’re not Maradona.” So said Espanyol’s Burgui in the build up to his team’s visit to the Bernabéu to face Real Madrid, a game that he and Marcos Asensio were due to miss because of one of those cowardly crapping-yourself clauses. Better still was Roberto Soldado. Asked if he thought he had a chance of getting into the national team, he responded: “Saying that is a lack of respect to Aduriz.”
At Atlético Madrid even the ballboys are ready to break up a quick counter, but the winner is Javier Mascherano. No, not for the arse-tearing challenges or the take-one-for-the-team tackles, but for this. Sent off for shouting “your mother’s shell,” at the linesman – “shell” being Argentinian slang for a particular female body part – Barcelona sought to get him off by arguing that what he’d actually said was “your sister’s shell.” Which is fine, of course. Funny, too. Media debate raged as to which phrase he actually used and how best to translate it into Spanish-Spanish, no beeps, no censorship, no coyness, none of those cowardly, pointless stars this column is about to use. Imagine watching the BBC argue over whether Wayne Rooney had called the referee a t*** or a c*** and you’re still nowhere near.
The president of the league Javier Tebas, who urged everyone to live Christmas “the way it was lived in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago” ... by watching football on the telly. Oh, and who said that he missed a “Spanish Le Pen”. Like Franco, say.
Enrique Cerezo, the man with the permanent simpering grin who along with the Gil family took control of Atlético fraudulently, and who took time out before his side’s game at Rayo to invite fans to “come here and kiss it”.
Cristiano Ronaldo, tired of all the love. “I don’t need little hugs and kisses,” he snapped.
Most unwelcome guest
In the build up to the San Sebastián film festival, the phone rang in the manager’s office at the Maria Cristina hotel, the smartest in the city – a grand, elegant palace alongside the river and within a stroll of the bay. Cinema’s biggest names are coming and, as they do every year, they’re block booking all the rooms. All bar two ... the two under the name of Mr D Moyes. “Sorry,” they’re told, “we just can’t shift him.”
“Benítez is not the problem, Benítez is the solution ... he just needs to be given time,” Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez insisted. Thirteen days later, Benítez had gone. But even that was slow compared to Sergi Guardiola, whose Barcelona career lasted barely six hours after they discovered some old tweets of his that were not exactly complimentary to his club or to Catalonia. Tweets that he said he hadn’t written himself. Of course not.
Pepe Mel found out about his sacking via Twitter , while David Moyes was back in the UK at his daughter’s birthday, and late on the afternoon when the media were told that Benítez was sacked (weeks after they had been told that he would be), Rafa still hadn’t been told. That evening at the announcement, he wasn’t there but Zinedine Zidane was. There were no questions, no explanations, and no contrition. And when institutional director Emilio Butragueño was asked if he could explain the decision the next day, he said: “That doesn’t matter now.”
One reason offered up for James Rodríguez screeching round the motorway and into the club’s Valdebebas training ground without stopping was that he was scared that the police car following him at 200km/h with its lights flashing was actually a kidnapping, while he insisted that he hadn’t heard the sirens or the order to pull over because he had the music on so loud. Which poses the question: what was he listening to? The Benny Hill theme?
Cheer up, my love, it’s only a game of football.
Best pre-match entertainment
In the theatre in San Sebastián, two teams of Bertsolari were competing in a Basque poetry-off before the derby – as they do every year –while outside Anoeta, you could chuck an egg at the student of your choice for a euro – two in Athletic shirts, two in Real shirts. Which beats Gazprom themed fun and all that Super Bowl stuff, any day. And the game kicked off on time, too, not that that turned out to be such a good thing ...
There was a touch of class in the Basque derby when the ball dropped near the right wing and a neat, first time flick with the outside of the foot set la Real on a swift counter. It was just a pity that it had to be David Moyes that produced it and that it had to be such a one-off, El Diario Vasco describing the game as “turgid”, Marca calling it “nothing”, and El Mundo going for “insufferable.” The return of the Seville derby wasn’t much better, either. They’d waited over six hundred days, tickets had sold out in hours, and Estadio Deportivo had produced forty-six pages of breathless build up, including a Star Wars cover with Rubén Castro and Kevin Gameiro holding lightsabers alongside the headline “may the derby be with you!”, but they soon wished it wasn’t with them at all. It began with the ball going out after two seconds and went steadily downhill from there: stop, start, dive, foul, complain, repeat for ninety tedious minutes.
There was something about Celta this season: Real Sociedad-Celta, Celta-Eibar and the two Celta-Barcelona matches were all fun. Before the first meeting at Balaídos, Nolito was asked: “If Messi, Neymar and Suárez are the MSN, what does that make Aspas, Nolito and Orellana?” It was a risky enough question anyway – a, n and o spells anus in Spanish – but Nolito went a step further, responding: “A turd ... a turdy turd”. It also turned out he was wrong. If Messi, Neymar and Suárez are the MSN, the turdy turd was better, beating Barcelona 4-1 in a game that could have ended 10-7. “If I have to lose, let it be against a team that plays like Celta,” Luis Enrique said. “We’ve honoured football,” the Celta manager, Tato Berizzo, added. The last 15 minutes of the return game in Barcelona were absolutely outrageous, the Catalans barely believable, but what’s been forgotten is that for most of the match Celta were excellent too – odd though that sounds when it finished 6-1.
All six Barcelona goals were fantastic that night and if it was goals you wanted, El Molinón tended to deliver and Rayo were always worth watching. Well, Rayo’s opponents were, anyway – and Rafa Benítez scribbling away at his notebook and still shouting instructions at his players at 10-2 said more than it probably should have. He was writing something in his notebook in the final minutes of the first clásico too: “Shit,” presumably. Another of the season’s outstanding performances, it finished 4-0 with some in the Madrid media complaining that Gerard Piqué was “unashamedly seeking the fifth,” the monster. Better days lay ahead for Madrid, the most enjoyable of them perhaps the 3-2 win in the rain at Rayo, although they were impressive against Sevilla.
Speaking of whom, this season’s best game was probably Sevilla-Villarreal, a match that went from 1-0 to 1-2 to 2-2 to 3-2, and almost 3-3 before José Antonio Reyes made it 4-2 in the last minute, and which had it all: twenty-eight shots, six goals, wonderful assists, brilliant finishes, and even an own goal that was pretty tasty. It had a player so fast that everyone else seemed to be going backwards, an overhead kick off the line, and songs sung so loud they were still ringing long after Yevhen Konoplyanka released his inner Vasily Rats, sending the ball travelling through three times zones to win it. “Football is all about these moments, about the journey: that’s the nicest thing of all,” Unai Emery said. “This was a great game against a great team. I’m proud of the players and I’m proud of the match. Let’s forget the result; this was a really, really lovely game. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a match as much.”
Quique Setien. “How can we tell players not to dribble?” he asked. “Dribblers are an endangered species.” He also said he was a “Rolling Stone”, but didn’t say which. Keef, probably.
Pepe Mel, who admitted: “I promised the players three days off if they beat Sporting and Rayo Vallecano, because I didn’t seriously think they would ... but these guys will kill for a holiday.”
One Sunday morning in January, the league ran a story that declared: “180 minutes are all Zidane needed to be the best coach in the history of Real Madrid ... break[ing] all the records set by all the coaches in Real Madrid’s long and legendary history.” Which quite apart from the fact that of course 180 minutes are all it takes to break a record for the best debut from a manager when “debut” means the opening two games, wasn’t really much of a record and was soon gone. By Sunday night, his record was worse than Rafa Benítez’s. And yet in the end Zidane made a compelling case: 12 wins in a row, a title unexpectedly taken to the final day, and the European Cup, players falling over themselves to love him.
As for Luis Enrique, he won the double to go with his treble, kept everyone on their toes, in the press room as much as on the pitch, and probably should lead this list. After all, that’s five of the last six major titles he has won. And Diego Simeone, well, he was Diego Simeone, the revolutionary who turned Spanish football on its head and had Gazetta dello Sport turning him into Che Guevara. After the final in Milan he said it was time to reflect and think about his future and Atlético’s supporters took to the Calderón to plead with him to stay, terrified that he might not. Which kind of says it all. “He has everything a manager needs,” Zidane said.
Unai Emery won a treble of his own, making it three Europa Leagues in a row and a Copa del Rey final. Ernesto Valverde took Athletic to fifth and their first trophy in 30 years. Javi Gracia did it again with Málaga; over the last three years no team has taken more points off the top three. Juan Merino quietly saved Betis for the second time, and for the second time was moved on for someone else – Gus Poyet this time. Abelardo Fernández brought Sporting Gijón up and kept them there, a miracle that meant survival, actual survival. And José Luis Mendilíbar led Eibar to safety with weeks to spare: it was almost too ‘easy’ for people to appreciate the size of the achievement, but he is certainly a candidate for this award.
Yet this year’s winner might just be Quique Setien, you know. Las Palmas: from down and out to just like watching Brazil. Back when Brazil were good.
71 minutes into their fifth game of the season, the only team in Spain’s top three divisions and the only team in Europe’s top leagues without a goal finally scored. It was a beauty too, Tissone burying a superb diving header past the goalkeeper. It was just a pity it was his own goalkeeper the ball went flying past. When they weren’t doing it to Carlos Kameni, he was doing it to himself. That was week six; 21 weeks later, Málaga’s goalkeeper leapt to reach a cross, leant back, stuck out an arm and slapped the ball into the net to give Valencia a 2-1 win. If those don’t count, nor did Joaquín’s attempt to score direct from a corner, which the referee said hadn’t crossed the line, when it might well have done. It was deliberate, too.
So how about these instead? Ivan Rakitic’s goal against Athletic was Neymar’s really, all about the assist. Likewise, Escudero against Valencia, which was finished nicely and beautifully made by Éver Banega. Álvaro Medrán scored a beauty against Betis which did nothing to stop his team going down on the final day, while up in Asturias, Sergio Álvarez’s shot screeched through the air and in off the bar, taking the whole stadium with it. When it comes to rockets, nothing beats Konoplyanka, though. Just ask the team-mate doing that just-trapped-fingers-in-a-drawer gesture down on the bench.
Karim Benzema on the bounce was beautiful, so was Morales’s glide past Getafe, and Burgui against Sporting. Borja Bastón belted one past Betis. Jonathan Viera against Granada was nice. Antoine Griezmann raced past his former team. And Negredo scored from almost the halfway line against one of his former teams. Better than that, and further out, was the goal that opened the season: San José in the Super Cup.
Dani Parejo takes a great free kick. So does Bruno. So does Messi. And even George Osborne is copying Ronaldo’s technique these days; it took a while for him to find away through, but his free kick against Celta was pretty special.
Aduriz’s overhead kick against Eibar had a touch of the Roy of the Rovers about it. There was a touch of Le Tissier about David Zurutuza’s goal at Eibar. And a touch of Bergkamp about Iago Aspas against la Real. As for Lucas Pérez, well there was a touch of brilliance about this. Boom! And there was a touch of that, about this from Iñaki Williams, which may just have been the best of the lot. Boom, indeed. But then there was this, from Neymar: the Brazilian and the ball becoming dance partners, spinning smoothly away from each other and spinning back again to meet in the middle. “If I had tried that I would have fallen over,” Piqué said.
Ultimately, though, the goal that probably made the most impact oddly enough was just a penalty. Only it wasn’t just a penalty; it was that penalty.
Best goal celebration
“I didn’t celebrate because I’m not used to scoring and I didn’t know what to do,” Thomas Vermaelen admitted when he got the winner against Málaga. Luckily, others did. Like Yannick Carrasco who had an entire press box in Milan asking: who’s that girl? And Levante’s Brazilian striker Deyverson, who scored against Rayo and literally went seven steps further, clambering over the advertising boards and heading through the crowd to embrace his dad. It was the first time his family had been able to travel to Europe to see him and such a special moment that when he returned the referee was waiting for him too – with a yellow card. And they wonder why people think they’re a bunch of killjoys.
The Rayo manager, Paco Jémez, called the signing a Chinese defender by the name of Zhang Chengdong, imposed by a sponsor, “possibly the worst decision they have taken since I have been here.” Others, though, worked out rather better. Cédric Bakambu, for a start. Or Lucas Vázquez. Or just about anyone at Eibar, where they made their most expensive ever signing this summer: at €500,000. The winner is probably striker Borja Bastón, in his fifth consecutive season on loan at a fifth different club and scorer of 18 goals.
Or, wait, how about Jackson Martínez? No, really. Best signing-and-selling, anyway. He might have only scored three goals and he might have gone again just six months after arriving, heading off to Guangzhou Evergrande, but somehow Atlético managed to sell him for €42m, making a €7m profit on him – a multimillion euro deal that produced one of the most eloquent photos you could ever wish to see. Nine men gather round a table. Eight of them are beaming. The one who is not is the one who’s actually got to go to China.
Player of the Year
Luis Suárez. “When Neymar and Messi play I try to get out of the way,” the Uruguayan said and yet it turned out that when he got in the way he was quite good. Finished the season with more goals and more assists than anyone else in Spain, scoring Barcelona’s first goal of the year at San Mamés and their last at Los Cármenes, to take them to the title. On 40 league goals, no one other than Messi and Ronaldo has ever got more in a season, and he has finally broken up their domination of the Pichichi awards, seven years on. “There’s a reason he’s called Luis Suárez,” cheered the only Spaniard ever to win the Ballon d’Or. His name, in case you’re wondering, is also Luis Suárez.
Young player of the year
Team of the season
GK: Navas(Real Madrid)
RB: Juanfran (Atlético)
CB: Piqué (Barcelona)
CB: Godín (Atlético)
LB: Felipe Luis (Atlético)
M: Busquets (Barcelona)
M: Bruno (Villarreal)
M: Modric (Real Madrid)
F: Messi (Barcelona)
F: Suárez (Barcelona)
F: Griezmann (Atlético)
Subs: Aduriz (Athletic); Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo (Real Madrid); Neymar and Iniesta (Barcelona); Gabi and Oblak (Atlético); Augusto (Celta and Atlético); Bastón (Eibar); Lucas(Depor); Nolito (Celta).
And finally, here’s a few quotes to go home with ...
“Sporting are revolutionary, like Asturias.” – Abelardo Fernández.
“Madrid never look ridiculous.” – Emilio Butragueño, after Cádiz.
“I would have sacked Neville already. I wear a watch but I wouldn’t become a watchmaker; he has played but he’ll never be a manager.” – Former Valencia president Paco Roig.
“There’s not much about Messi that’s human” – Luis Enrique.
“They tell us at the start of the season: in fact, we pretty much end up doing a Masters on it ... and then each individual referee has his own interpretation anyway” – Hand balls, again. And Ernesto Valverde nails it again.
“Aduriz is a jewel. I hope Barcelona don’t sign him” – And again.
“The referee’s interpretation? I’ll never understand that in my life” – Eibar manager, José Luis Mendilíbar, agrees with Valverde.
“It is easier to sack one man than twenty-five” – Dani Parejo. Easier to sack two, as well.
“Five coaches since 2009. Is it always the manager’s fault?” – Carlo Ancelotti.
“I would come here to eat steak, but not to watch football” – Luis Enrique gives tourist advice on Donostia.
“When they were handing out the brains I got there late; but the day they handed out balls, I got the biggest, fattest ones of all” – Paco Jémez.
“I have no defence” – Gary Neville. Anyone who’d watched Abdennour and company couldn’t help but agree.
“Er, no.” -- Zinedine Zidane dispatches yet another daft question with a smile. This time: would you give up everything you’ve won -- a World Cup, a European Championships, a European Cup – to win in Milan?
“Sport and politics should not mix” – Miguel Cardenal, secretary of state for sport.
This article was written by Sid Lowe, for theguardian.com on Monday 6th June 2016 11.45 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010