It’s the Sids 2016! The complete review of the 2015 -1 6 La Liga season

From David Moyess classy touch to his not so classy dismissal, via stunning goals from Iaki Williams and Neymar, it is time for the annual end-of-season Spanish awards

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 Barcelonas 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 Atltico Madrid and were suddenly on edge domestically too. When Gerard Piqu headed them into the lead in the second clsico 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 hadnt been.

No longer a marathon, the league became a sprint. A single point separated Barcelona, Atltico, 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, youve got it, Piqu 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 Atltico 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 Piqu put it, theyd had to win twice. Barcelona were champions again, for the sixth time in eight years. Not that youd know it if you read La Razn, 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 lvaro 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 Surez, to become the first team to win successive Doubles in over 50 years.

Andres
Andres Iniesta lifts the Copa del Rey as Barcelona sealed back-to-dack Doubles. Photograph: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images

The Cup had gone into extra time in an epic night at the Caldern. 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. Theyll be surprised elsewhere in the world, but its 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, Clio and Juankar could be anything but; a league with the best teams on the continent, too. Thats six out of the last six major European trophies taken by Spanish teams now.

Next year, theyll try again. Villarreal returned to the Champions League, along with Barcelona, Madrid, Atltico 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 wasnt 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 Moyess Real Sociedad and Gary Nevilles 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 Ayestarn 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 Gijn and Las Palmass 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 Fernndez 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 Jmezs face as Rayo Vallecanos longest ever top-flight spell ended. There were more tears in Seville, where at half-time the Betis winger Joaqun had turned to Getafes pleading captain Pedro Lon 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 Atltico: 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 hasnt. 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 wasnt, but Europe had been theirs again.

Atltico 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 Bentez 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 Bentez was mentioned at all, it was to lay into him.

Rafa
Rafa Bentez: from the Champions League to the Championship. Photograph: Biel Alino/EPA

It had been wrong from the start, one dressing room heavyweight already deciding he was no good during preseason, and Bentez died with someone elses 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 clsico, 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 clsico another title. Besides, they were soon winning the biggest trophy of them all. Theyd 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 seasons 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. Youd think so anyway, but that didnt 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-dads-bigger-than-your-dad cover, declaring: Barcelona win 4-1.

But who had been the seasons real winners? This lot here, of course

Best party

In a year of celebrations in Spain, from Bilbao to Barcelona to Seville to Madrid, plus Gijn, 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, weve got this wrong, before they bundled past journalists and the cameras and the cables lying about and out the back door where Barcelonas 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.

Best entertainment

Remember
Remember Gary Neville and Valencia? Photograph: Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

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 Cdiz, land of satire and carnival, down where everyone can see the funny side of everything. Cdiz-Madrid in the cup, and the game was about 20 minutes in, when a song ran round the Carranza. Bentez, look at your Twitter, Cdizs fans giggled. Bentez look at your Twitter, look at your Twiiiiiter! Bentez 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 shouldnt have been out there at all. Madrid were about to get kicked out of the cup and Cdizs fans were laughing their heads off. More chirigotas followed: Bentez, bring on De Gea! they sang. Bentez, stay! Bentez, you wally, whove you called up? And Cheryshev, I love you!

Best chant

Cdiz, of course. Way above chants for Valencia manager Gary Neville to stay from Levantes fans, Espanyol supporters appealing for Messi to pay his taxes, and Rayo Vallecanos now familiar version of the Marseillaise belted out brilliantly. Above the time when lvaro Arbeloa came on in the derby too and Atltico Madrids fans started chanting Cono! Cono! Cono!. To think there are still people who doubt the importance of that squiggly line above the .

And, staying in Cdiz…

Best newspaper cover

Another Cup thrown away. Well played, El Peridico.

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.

Fernando
Atlticos Fernando Torres silences the home fans at the Mestalla. Photograph: Juan Carlos Cardenas/EPA

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 sides 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 Jmez 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, Betiss former Real Madrid goalkeeper Antonio Adn 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.

Best protest

Outside Valencias 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?

Best advice

If you dont want to hear whistles, dont go out on to the pitch, Valencia striker Rodrigo said. Presumably he got that one from the suggestions box by the dressing room door.

Best rant

Were a really shit team and were going head first into the second division if we carry on like this, said Getafes Mehdi Lacen, correctly as it turned out, but that was nothing compared to this from Sporting Gijn manager Abelardo Fernndez a rant so ranty you dont 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 Boschs The Garden of Earthly Delights, complete with a handy description in case you didnt get what was going on. Which, lets face it, you didnt. 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.

Best put-down

Following a game in which Espanyol fans chanted that Shakira was a whore and held up a banner declaring: Shakira is everyones, in which another banner declared: Pau, your foot shows us the way, after the goalkeeper had trodden on Leo Messi, Gerard Piqu was called upon to do the pitchside interview. They call themselves the marvellous minority, Piqu said, pointedly. I hope they at least manage to fill their stadium; they didnt the other day.

Gerard
Gerard Piqu did plenty of talking throughout the La Liga season. Photograph: Manu Fernandez/AP

Best put-up

Is put-up a thing? Well, anyway, its Granadas Javi Marquez, who called his newborn son Modric.

Best mum

lvaro Arbeloa and Gerard Piqu 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 Costas, after the Villarreal player had complained that the refereeing against Barcelona had removed their will to compete. She responded to a particularly unpleasant Bara-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 didnt lose [the will to live]. Im very proud, especially as hes capable of offering an opinion with having to insult anyone.

Most awkward moment

Phil Neville going for a run on the beach.

Best gesture

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 Brias, the man who first discovered him twenty years ago.

Best dressed footballer

It takes something special to beat Barcelonas double denim but Unai Emerys golf club get-up was good, and Dani Alves is Dani Alves, while Leo Messis pyjamas were nice. Then theres the Portuguese player Nuno Silva, who turned up for his presentation at Real Jan wearing a t-shirt with Franco on it. I didnt know who he was, Silva said, which isnt 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 its a kit: every week, Real Madrids 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.

Humblest footballer

Come on presidente, let us play: were not Maradona. So said Espanyols Burgui in the build up to his teams visit to the Bernabu 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.

Villarreals
Villarreals Roberto Soldado didnt fancy his chances of an international call-up. Photograph: Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images

Best defence

At Atltico 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 mothers shell, at the linesman shell being Argentinian slang for a particular female body part Barcelona sought to get him off by arguing that what hed actually said was your sisters 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 youre still nowhere near.

Biggest nostalgic

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.

Biggest romantic

Enrique Cerezo, the man with the permanent simpering grin who along with the Gil family took control of Atltico fraudulently, and who took time out before his sides game at Rayo to invite fans to come here and kiss it.

Least romantic

Cristiano Ronaldo, tired of all the love. I dont need little hugs and kisses, he snapped.

Most unwelcome guest

In the build up to the San Sebastin film festival, the phone rang in the managers 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. Cinemas biggest names are coming and, as they do every year, theyre block booking all the rooms. All bar two … the two under the name of Mr D Moyes. Sorry, theyre told, we just cant shift him.

Swiftest sacking

Bentez is not the problem, Bentez is the solution … he just needs to be given time, Real Madrid president Florentino Prez insisted. Thirteen days later, Bentez 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 hadnt written himself. Of course not.

Real
Real Betis sacked Pepe Mel and he found out on Twitter. Photograph: Cristina Quicler/AFP/Getty Images

Classiest sacking

Pepe Mel found out about his sacking via Twitter , while David Moyes was back in the UK at his daughters birthday, and late on the afternoon when the media were told that Bentez was sacked (weeks after they had been told that he would be), Rafa still hadnt been told. That evening at the announcement, he wasnt there but Zinedine Zidane was. There were no questions, no explanations, and no contrition. And when institutional director Emilio Butragueo was asked if he could explain the decision the next day, he said: That doesnt matter now.

Best excuse

One reason offered up for James Rodrguez screeching round the motorway and into the clubs 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 hadnt 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?

Best video

Cheer up, my love, its only a game of football.

Best pre-match entertainment

In the theatre in San Sebastin, 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 …

Worst game

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 wasnt much better, either. Theyd 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 Rubn Castro and Kevin Gameiro holding lightsabers alongside the headline may the derby be with you!, but they soon wished it wasnt 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.

Best game

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 Balados, Nolito was asked: If Messi, Neymar and Surez 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 Surez 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. Weve 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 whats 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 Molinn tended to deliver and Rayo were always worth watching. Well, Rayos opponents were, anyway and Rafa Bentez 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 clsico too: Shit, presumably. Another of the seasons outstanding performances, it finished 4-0 with some in the Madrid media complaining that Gerard Piqu 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 seasons 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 Jos 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: thats the nicest thing of all, Unai Emery said. This was a great game against a great team. Im proud of the players and Im proud of the match. Lets forget the result; this was a really, really lovely game. Its been a long time since I enjoyed a match as much.

Jos
Jos Antonio Reyes celebrates with team-mates after scoring Sevillas fourth goal in the game of the season, against Villarreal. Photograph: Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images

Coolest manager

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 didnt say which. Keef, probably.

Best motivator

Pepe Mel, who admitted: I promised the players three days off if they beat Sporting and Rayo Vallecano, because I didnt seriously think they would … but these guys will kill for a holiday.

Best manager

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 Madrids 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, wasnt really much of a record and was soon gone. By Sunday night, his record was worse than Rafa Bentezs. 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, thats 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 Atlticos supporters took to the Caldern 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 Mlaga; 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 Fernndez brought Sporting Gijn up and kept them there, a miracle that meant su

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