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.
- Real Madrid were shite
- Huesca and Rayo both went down
- Barcelona took advantage of the general chaos and won the league at a trot
- Atlético were runners-up
- 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?
- Real Madrid actually managing to finish 3rd. Given the clusterfucked context of their season, it was actually some achievement.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Zidane came back. It was improbable that he came back for the money. Maybe he was bored. He certainly isn’t now.
Five weird facts of the season:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
Five new names to have emerged this season:
- Espanyol’s Wu Lei. Great name, great player.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- The VAR system will improve by reflecting carefully on the errors made this year
- Pogba, Neymar, Hazard and Mbappé will all be playing for Real Madrid. Oh, and Uncle Tom Cobley’s son.
- Madrid will win one of the clásicos
- Atlético Madrid, sans Griezmann, Juanfran, Godin and Filipe Luis, will come second again.
- Ronaldo will finally reveal the truth about his sexual orientation.
And….the five best goals:
- 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.
- Morales at Betis. He just keeps going, going, and going, and then that final check….
- Chimy Avila for Huesca in San Mamés. Flicks it up, pivots, smashes it.
- Pablo Fornals against Athletic. Just hit it and see where it goes. Oh shit! In the net.
- 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.
Five reasons to be cheerful (despite climate change, Donald Trump and Brexit):
- The end of Monday night football is nigh. About time too.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.