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Spanish soccer awards 2010/11
In our latest Monday post on Spanish soccer, Iain Rogers and Mark Elkington in Madrid select the best and worst of the 2010/11 season, a campaign marked by Barcelona’s continued superiority in the domestic league, a first piece of silverware for Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho in the King’s Cup and four eagerly-anticipated but ultimately rather depressing “Clasicos” between the big two.
Coach of Season
There is really only one candidate for this, the man who has won three league titles in his first three seasons as a top-flight coach and a host of other trophies. With Mourinho around, Guardiola did not have such an easy ride this term but when it came to the Champions League crunch his team was the one that made it through to the final. Best moment: dropping his customary cool in the Bernabeu press room and laying into Mourinho on the eve of the semi-final second leg.
Villarreal’s Juan-Carlos Garrido for leading the club with a relatively small budget to the semi-finals of the Europa League and playing some damn fine football on the way. Sporting Gijon’s Manuel Preciado for standing up to Mourinho and ending the Portuguese’s remarkable nine-year undefeated run in home domestic league matches.
Players of Season
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo
They are very different players but whichever side of the “which one is the best in the world” debate you stand on there is no doubt that these two are playing some of the most scintillating soccer you are ever likely to see. World Player of the Year Messi has 52 goals in all competitions (if you include his hat-trick in the Spanish Super Cup) and Ronaldo 51, including 38 in the league, equalling the Spanish record. Messi is the kind of player who makes you laugh out loud he is so unbelievably talented and his first goal in the last-16 second leg against Arsenal showed the kind of improvisational brilliance only he has. Ronaldo’s towering extra-time header to win the King’s Cup final will live long in the memory of Madridistas.
Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi has been lethal in front of goal for Villarreal, Angel Di Maria has tormented many a defence with his speed and skill and Eric Abidal was on imperious form before an operation on a liver tumour interrupted his season.
“The Beast is Back” read the headlines. Malaga were in deep trouble when they signed burly Brazil forward Baptista from AS Roma in the January transfer window but after an injury layoff he came good when it counted with a slew of superb goals to all-but secure the Andalusian club’s top-flight status.
His performances started to improve when he returned from injury late in the season but the former World Player still has a long way to go to justify his 65-million euro ($92.4 million) price tag. Rumours are flying that he is on his way back to AC Milan but any neutral would hope the Brazil playmaker will rediscover the form that helped make him the second-most expensive transfer ever after Ronaldo.
Most Uplifting Moment
Eric Abidal’s return to action
Barca were 3-1 ahead on aggregate in this month’s Champions League semi-final second leg at home to Real Madrid when the volume in their vast Nou Camp arena rose to a deafening pitch. The France fullback, who had been out since an operation on a liver tumour in March, had started to warm up on the side of the pitch and the roar that greeted his entrance was as loud as anything this correspondent has heard in a soccer stadium. A welcome sideshow to the bad blood that had boiled up between the arch rivals in the preceding days and weeks.
Most depressing moment(s)
The circus around the four “Clasicos” in three competitions in 18 days. Gratuitous diving, on-pitch brawls, allegations of racial abuse, complaints filed with UEFA and Mourinho’s astonishing rant accusing European soccer’s governing body of favouring Barca. This was not what it was supposed to be about. The two richest clubs in soccer showcasing some of the most talented – and best paid – players ever to play the game created an unedifying spectacle that was at once depressing and disturbing. It was all a far cry (and perhaps a backlash) from Barca’s marvellous performance to beat Real 5-0 at the Nou Camp in La Liga at the end of November.
One to watch
The Italian-born 20-year-old of Brazilian origin looks to have the potential to become a priceless asset for Barcelona: a worthy replacement for playmaker Xavi straight from the club’s famed “Cantera”, or youth programme. Comfortable on the ball, capable of beating his marker to create those crucial extra few yards of space and a cool finisher, the “La Masia” school that produced the likes of Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas appears to have harvested yet another pearl.
Goal of the season
Lionel Messi, Champions League semi-final first leg v Real Madrid at the Bernabeu 2-0
The Argentina forward had already netted one goal in the lair of Barca’s bitter enemy but his second in the dying minutes was an absolute stunner. Picking the ball up near the centre circle, he laid it off to Sergio Busquets, took it straight back, set off on a blistering charge towards goal that left Lassana Diarra, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Raul Albiol for dust before slotting past Iker Casillas with his weaker right foot. The timing was devastating, the execution typically lethal.
PHOTO: Real Madrid’s Lassana Diarra (L) battles for the ball with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi during their Champions League semi-final second leg at the Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona May 3, 2011. REUTERS/Albert Gea.