The Balls. 2018-2019 LaLiga awards

Never mind the bullocks, it’s The Balls.  The traditional round-up of the league season has been delayed by an unfeasible attack of Japanese jet-lag, but now I’m compos mentis, here we go:

The five most predictable outcomes of the season:  Let’s get these out of the way first, since they’re of lesser interest.

  1. Real Madrid were shite
  2. Huesca and Rayo both went down
  3. Barcelona took advantage of the general chaos and won the league at a trot
  4. Atlético were runners-up
  5. Messi was the league’s Pichichi (top scorer)

The five least predictable outcomes of the season:  Ah – now you’re talking!  What were those then?

  1. Real Madrid actually managing to finish 3rd. Given the clusterfucked context of their season, it was actually some achievement.
  2. Girona going down. They were a pugnacious little outfit last season, and looked to be building on it, with a little help from their Manchester-based friends. But a sudden and late drop in form condemned them. Like Captain Oates, they may be gone for some time, and their relegation has been received with some glee by Spanish nationalists far and wide, who saw in them a far more extreme ‘more than a club’ political image emerging. Or was it just that the political exile Carles Puidgemont was born there and is a fan?  Spain eh?  Yep – it’s different.
  3. Getafe almost getting into the Chumps League. This was doubly weird, given that at the beginning of the season their paranoid president, Angel Torres, was screaming conspiracy-theories-most-foul regarding an alleged plot in the Spanish FA to relegate them, since five teams from Madrid in the top flight was non-sustainable. He forgot about Rayo, the more obvious candidates, and he also overlooked the decent squad and excellent coach who were gathered together at the Coliseum of Dreams for something altogether finer. It wasn’t pretty, but they almost made it.
  4. Celta and Villarreal both flirting with relegation until the last day. Well, ok, Villarreal were more or less safe after the penultimate game, but these two sides, with the fine squads they boast, had particularly dysfunctional seasons. Celta got away with it, one because they took three easy-peasy points from Barcelona ‘B’ and two, because they were gifted another late-season win courtesy of some strange refereeing in their home game versus Real Sociedad. Conspiracies? Angel Torres doesn’t know the half of it.
  5. Zidane came back. It was improbable that he came back for the money. Maybe he was bored. He certainly isn’t now.
Bored?  Moi?

Five weird facts of the season:

  1. Valencia: It took them the first eight games to score six goals. Later in the season (three before the finish) they decided to make up for lost time by scoring six in one match at Huesca.
  2. Marc Cucurella was loaned out to Eibar by Barcelona, for whom he performed so well that Barça decided to take him back at the end of the season. In Eibar’s last game of the campaign, a 2-2 draw at home to Barça, who should score the first goal?  You got it.
  3. Bicycles: After 17 year-old Ander Barrenetxea’s home game against Getafe in Anoeta, ‘Marca’ photographed him going home from the stadium on a municipal pushbike. This was cute news around Spain – the kid is so young he has no driving licence and not a hair on his chinny-chin-chin – but it backfired when San Sebastian’s municipal authorities found out that the bike he was using was registered to his mum, technically an offence which carries a fine. Apparently his mum paid it. Whatever, he’s the next Messi, despite the awkward fact that none of the greats in history have had more than 4 syllables to their surname.
  4. Aissi Mandi moved from Stade de Reims to Betis three years ago for some minimal fee. This season he was La Liga’s top passer with a completion average of 92.6 and the most passes made. A certain Mr Coutinho, who cost rather more, was 45 places further down in the list of passers. Liverpool laughing all the way to the bank? Yep.
  5. Bono: Girona’s Bono (Yassine Bounou) was the keeper who made the most stops this campaign. All of which means that Girona must have been really crap all season, and would have been relegated considerably sooner had it not been for his efforts. Or maybe only Bono noticed?
The new Messi gets on his mum’s bike

Five new names to have emerged this season:

  1. Espanyol’s Wu Lei. Great name, great player.
  2. Espanyol again, and Borja Iglesias. That rare type – a player who scores regularly in the lower divisions but who carries on seamlessly when he hits the top flight.
  3. Everyone is talking about Real Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal, which is only right and just – because he’s excellent. But the player to really emerge this season, and you only haven’t heard about him because he doesn’t play for the big boys, is defensive midfielder Igor Zubeldia. Much better than Casemiro, but nobody at Real Madrid (thankfully) has noticed yet. Sociedad will get another year out of him, but then he’ll be gone to a big ‘un. You read it here my friends.
  4. I’ve been taking the mick, but Real Madrid did do something positive.  They loosened the reins on Vinicius this season, and one is glad that they did. He’s the sort of player who brings a smile to your face, just when you thought you’d tired of the whole circus. Fantastic.
  5. Brais Méndez, Celta. Despite their poor season, this young ‘un looked good every week. More to come, I suspect, and Luis Enrique has noticed too.

       Five piles of horseshit about next season:

  1. The VAR system will improve by reflecting carefully on the errors made this year
  2. Pogba, Neymar, Hazard and Mbappé will all be playing for Real Madrid. Oh, and Uncle Tom Cobley’s son.
  3. Madrid will win one of the clásicos
  4. Atlético Madrid, sans Griezmann, Juanfran, Godin and Filipe Luis, will come second again.
  5. Ronaldo will finally reveal the truth about his sexual orientation.

And….the five best goals:

  1. Messi’s side-foot lob at Betis. Astonishing. One of the greatest goals of all time? My barber said it was. And by the way, my barber knows everything about Ronaldo.
  2. Morales at Betis. He just keeps going, going, and going, and then that final check….
  3. Chimy Avila for Huesca in San Mamés. Flicks it up, pivots, smashes it.
  4. Pablo Fornals against Athletic. Just hit it and see where it goes. Oh shit! In the net.
  5. I liked Casemiro v Sevilla, but for sparking pure joy I guess we should go for old man Joaquin’s recent 98th minute belter against Huesca.
THAT goal

Five reasons to be cheerful (despite climate change, Donald Trump and Brexit):

  1. The end of Monday night football is nigh. About time too.
  2. VAR – for all its teething troubles, not only exposes the poor quality of refereeing in Spain (which means they might do something about it) but it levels the playing field. Work still to be done, but it’s a (potentially) positive development.
  3. Women’s football in Spain in particular, and its growth in general. Barça ladies were stuffed in the Champs League final, but at least they got there. And the TV audience on the open Tele 5 for the Queen’s Cup Final was huge, and Real Sociedad won it surprisingly, which all added to the mix. And one of the coaches is my mate, so there.
  4. Osasuna’s promotion means that there will be five Basque teams in the top flight next season. Not bad for a region with a mere 3.1 million people. That’s exactly the same as the population of Madrid (city). Madrid’s greater metropolitan area had five sides in the top flight this season, but that area comprises a population of 6.5 million and anyway, two of those teams are mega-rich institutions. The Basque secret? It’s the beans, and possibly the wine.
  5. Messi and Joaquin, the former because of the ongoing privilege it is to watch him play and the latter because despite the fact that he’s a silly old bugger, in a strange way he gives us all hope.




22 thoughts on “The Balls. 2018-2019 LaLiga awards”

  1. After so many years in Spain, you should have learned some basic geography. Osasuna is not Basque. They are from Navarra, a completely different region with its own history and characteristics. But maybe the problem is you have been listening to Basque nationalists for so long that you believe their long list of interested lies.


    1. Ah…I was hoping not to have to deal with that particular canard again, since we prefer to keep the pages of Liga Fever as friendly as possible, but if you really want to climb into the ring with me then can I suggest you do your homework? There are two concepts of ‘territory’ within standard geography, as I’m sure you’re aware. One defines itself by legally-drawn borders (in this case ‘Euskadi’) and another defines it by linguistico-cultural criteria (‘Euskal Herria’). The Basques are not the only ones on the planet to do this, and the practice, as far as I’m aware, is accepted – unless you’re some sort of fascist, which I assume you are not?

      What this means, unfortunately for your thesis, is that there are lots of folks in Navarra who both speak and consider themselves Basque. I’m not sure if you would wish to deny them those things. In fact, even bloody Athletic Bilbao considers Navarra to be Basque! Perhaps you should write to them and suggest they start sending their Navarre-born players home? Ah! And of course, ‘Osasuna’ is a Basque word, meaning ‘health’, which I’m sure you’re aware of. For me, the concept of Euskal Herria is perfectly healthy. How about you?


      1. Your response is quite illuminating, Phil.
        I believe you indeed have been listening to Basque nationalists for too long, as you are copying one of their usual tactics…..calling anyone with a different opinion a fascist.
        Defining territory by a language is a typically interested nationalistic tactic. By that measure, the majority of Latin America is Spanish, and the part that is not, is Portuguese. On the reverse of that, Basque citizens that do not speak Basque or follow any of its other traditions (take your pick: playing pelota, cutting thick tree logs,…) are not Basque?
        If being Basque is defined by the managers of Athletic de Bilbao, the Basque country extends to places like Extremadura (where Ernesto Valverde was born). If it is defined by Real Sociedad, then La Rioja (where Javier De Pedro was born) is also Basque. I have always been amused by the supposedly Basque-only policy of Athletic and the “either Basque or non-Spanish” policy of Real Sociedad and how they pretend not to break it when they actually do.
        If the language of the name of the team defines the territory to which it belongs (as you defend for Osasuna), then Athletic de Bilbao and Sporting de Gijón must be British. It just happens that one of the founders of Osasuna liked the Basque word and chose it for the team. Yes, a good proportion of people from Navarra speak Basque and I have nothing against it. A very large part of Navarra does not speak Basque and that does not make them less navarros for it. You may be amused to know the founder of Real Madrid (Carlos Padrós) was from Cataluña, and that does not make Real Madrid a catalan team, as I guess you would agree.
        If we did a survey to players and fans of Alavés, most likely the majority will be Spanish speakers and not Basque speakers. They are no less Basque for that. But you will not hear people from Pamplona saying Alavés is a navarro team, or people from Logroño (just to pick 2 close cities) claim that Alavés is a riojano team.

        You may be amused to know that my last name is Basque and my ancestors came from San Sebastián. But I also have my facts straight.


      2. But it’s not ‘an opinion’. Of course Euskadi contains non-Basque speakers. They can consider themselves whatever they wish to consider themselves. I speak Basque but I’m English. It’s a choice thing. As I said, only a fascist (or a deeply disturbed person) would deny me that. But it’s nice to belong to the Euskal Herria community, as my children also do. As far as I’m aware, nobody has attempted to deny the Portuguese speakers of Brazil either their political or linguistic identity. Valverde is not a Basque, but played for Athletic for ‘cantera’ reasons (Alavés actually) as in the case of Javi, who was indeed from Logroño but was brought up in the same barrio as my kids. You can’t just cherry-pick your identity either, I agree. But it tends to happen on a geographical continuum, which is where I disagree with you, obviously. Of course Navarra is an autonomous region. Much of it is quite ‘Spanish’ (yes). But to the point (because your examples are largely silly). Can we, or can we not, call Osasuna v Athletic ‘a Basque derby’? I say yes, you say no. I say goodbye, you say hello. But sure – I’d always say it ‘con matices’. I recognise the matices. Do you?

        Just to add a further point, in case you think it’s just me: even Wikipedia agrees (see 5th paragraph). Perhaps you should write and complain to them – because y’know, I’m sure they’ve also been fooled by those ‘lies peddled by Basque nationalists’:

        In the end, who’s most in denial, you or me? Who gives a flying fuck if some folks want to call it a Basque derby, thus recognising that the region has some Basque in it? Does that deny Pamplona its Spanish-ness or its Navarre-ness? I don’t think so. It’s only flag-wavers like you (if you’ll excuse the assumption) who take offence, where there’s none intended. Ok?


  2. Phil’s “heard it here first” ends up two ways; Griezmann and Illaramendi. Hope Zubeldia’s trajectory ends up the former.

    Great write up by the way. Love the last bit about Messi. A privilege indeed.


  3. All the cup finals are now anticlimactic with The Balls already finished. KPB claiming a winner’s medal was a bigger surprise than Real Madrid finishing 3rd. But yes, 12 losses and 68 points would’ve been outside the top 4 in the majority of the last 10 seasons. I’d add Cazorla to the Messi and Joaquin point.


  4. It was the late Ken Tynan who once said:

    “Of course, the problem with Spain is that they’ve put all their Basques in one eggxit.”

    Through LaLiga Fever I now know that’s not true.


  5. To Basque or not…..a wonderful and slightly charged discussion on identity issues. I loved it since I’ve a personal experience of culturally homogenized/appropriated by dominant political classes rather than any ‘lack’ of clear identity. But Phil, a region would trump language in terms of defining identity, culture, ethnicity, ethos and what have you;-)
    Highly appreciate you engaging with us at a serious level…..

    Oh BTW…..any thoughts on to sack or not EV?



    1. Hi Bala – yes, it got a bit hot under the collar. Maybe I waded in too strongly. Yes – language defines identity, in the end, because it comes to define you as a person – although sometimes you don’t get the choice. I think that a region like Navarra takes its strength from its plurality – Navarre, Spanish, Basque – and French to some extent – and they’re all in the mix because of historical events/circumstances. I just don’t see the point in denying any one of them, which is essentially what you do if you object to it being called a Basque derby. But hey – I know why it pisses some people off. I just don’t agree with the ‘it’s Navarra and that’s it’ kind of viewpoint. You could extend that to a lot of countries and regions, as you imply.

      I can’t see what good it would do for Barça to sack EV, save pander to the vocal few. It would only be good if they had someone else in mind who could……what? Take them to another two consecutive leagues, champs semi and Copa del Rey final? They’re only human. I like the human Barça. That said, they’re coming up to a transitional period, like RM. The signings they’ve already made look good to me – plus the decision not to sign Grizzy, if they stick to that. I think EV has brought a certain stability, even if he’s not a radically imaginative coach. He’s steady enough. I’d keep him…for now.


  6. Thanks for the response, Phil. Hot under the collar…..tell me about it as I got into fist fights many a time on matters of identity/language. India with its gazillion languages is entirely at the opposite end of homogeneity…..Hindi is a national language and natively spoken across several states/regions…..but all of them identify themselves with the region/unique ethnicity and a dialect of ‘National’ language but not the ‘standard’ national language.

    True, EV is steady and calm….but Barca might need some chaos now! The defeats against Roma and Liverpool are frankly inexplicable……ppl oversimplify and say if pressed ferociously Barca will crumble……why wouldn’t Barca respond/react to the situation and what’s the coach is doing in such matches…..lack of athleticism doesn’t fully explain it! What galls me and cules is Real Madrid with arguably worse team managed to win so many CLs while sucking up big time in the league and everywhere else. Liverpool defeat cannot be condoned or explained at all…..may be I am just living in denial;-)


    1. Hi CC – yes, but in a more occasional mode. I might not get time to write every week for this season. Not sure about Ed. I’ll do some stuff, and thanks for asking, but I’m not going to write every week.


      1. I was hoping to have a spot to post weekly Quinielas. Could you make a post that is just “Weekly Quiniela” or something like that? And then we can make our predicitons each week in the comments? I’ve actually set up a google form for some friends of mine. Could open that up to the community. Thanks!


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