It’s been an historic year in the life of Spanish football. On the evening of the 11th July, with one swing of his right foot, Andrés Iniesta lit up Johannesburg to win his country its first World Cup and confirm Spain’s place at the very pinnacle of the global game.
With La Liga commencing its annual winter hiatus next week, I thought I would use this week to review the year and give out some prestigious awards – Los Equalisers de Oro (The Golden Equalisers), as I like to call them.
Team of the Year: Barcelona
FC Barcelona’s domestic form has been little short of phenomenal this year. Of the thirty-eight league games Pep Guardiola’s team have taken part in since the start of 2010, this era defining group of players have won thirty-two.
Having perfected a brand of football reliant on a mastery of possession and fast, intricate passing, the Blaugrana claimed last season’s league title with a record points haul and have continued to build on their exceptional progression during the current campaign.
Led by Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, David Villa and Lionel Messi, players at the very peak of their considerable powers, it looks as though Barça could continue to dominate both Spanish and European football with their stunning brand of football for the foreseeable future.
Player of the Year: Lionel Messi
Messi has been the player who has defined 2010. Quickly becoming recognised as one of the finest players of all time, the Argentinian has been the central figure in Barcelona’s success and the most dangerous attacking footballer on the planet.
Blessed with speed, dexterity and remarkable balance, Messi has scored a phenomenal 39 goals in the 35 La Liga games he has participated in over the last calendar year. Cristiano Ronaldo may be taking the plaudits for his recent performances at the Santiago Bernabéu, but even the incredibly talented Portuguese has been playing catch-up with his Argentinian rival over the last twelve months.
Forget the Tiger. 2010 has been the year of ‘The Flea’.
Manager of the Year: Juan Carlos Garrido
Following Manuel Pellegrini’s departure in the summer of 2009, many feared the worst for a Villarreal team that had been hugely overachieving under the stewardship of their astute Chilean coach. Indeed, the team struggled initially after the appointment of Ernest Valverde ahead of the 2009/10 season.
However, the promotion of Garrido to the position of manager having been the coach of the ‘B’ team proved inspired and, after guiding El Submarino Amarillo to a respectable seventh place, has worked wonders with a limited budget this season. Playing an attractive and flexible brand of 4-4-2, Villarreal have hit an excellent run of form and go into the winter break sitting in third place. If the form of Nilmar and Giuseppe Rossi can be carried over into the New Year, then there is no reason why the El Madrigal outfit can’t finish the season comfortably inside the Champions League places.
Young Player of the Year: David de Gea
Sergio Busquets, Sergio Canales, Antoine Griezmann and Iker Muniain are all worthy contenders for this award, but I feel David de Gea deserves it for his level of consistency and the number of match-winning performances he’s put in for Atlético Madrid over the last twelve months.
Still just 20 years old, de Gea’s agility and maturity between the sticks have been highly impressive of late. A young goalkeeper who very rarely makes errors and is comfortable commanding an experienced defensive line, it is little wonder that the Madrid-born custodian is drawing interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs. A move to Arsenal or Manchester United might be on the cards in the not-too-distant future, but for now it’s a pleasure to see him playing so well and so often for his boyhood club.
Performance of the Year: Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid (29th November)
Was this the best single club performance of all time? Maybe. Barcelona’s destruction of their fierce Castilian rivals last months was an absolute joy to behold, their mastery of fast possession football plain for all to see.
Real Madrid, having assembled the most expensive squad in the history of the game, arrived at the Camp Nou confident that they could emerge with at least a point and the upper hand in what will surely be an epic race for the title. However, Mourinho’s charges were ripped apart in enemy territory by a team so perfectly tuned and balanced that whatever the Portuguese tried was hopeless in the face of such precise and controlled football.
With Messi and Xavi pulling the strings, the team of this generation proceeded to put on a truly magical footballing display and leave the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria hugely frustrated. It was thoroughly mesmerising.
Signing of the Year: David Trezeguet
At the age of 32 and entering the twilight of his athletic career, there were a few sceptical eyebrows raised when Hércules signed David Trezeguet from Juventus on a free transfer this summer. Moving to the Alicante club in order to be closer to his wife’s family, some questioned the Frenchman’s commitment and wondered whether he was only in it for one final payday.
However, Trezeguet has emphatically proved all of his doubters wrong with some typically predatory performances for his new club. He was instrumental in Hércules’ stunning win at the Camp Nou earlier this season and has gone on to score eight goals in just thirteen league appearances. Forming an efficient forward partnership with Paraguayan striker Nelson Valdez, Trezeguet is enjoying something of an Indian summer and is showing that, despite his advancing years, he’s still one of the most natural finishers on the continent. An inspired piece of business.
Goal of the Year: Javi Martínez v Almería (11th April)
There have been plenty of screamers from Messi and Ronaldo over the course of the last year, but they all get plenty of media attention anyway, so I’ve gone for one that might have crept under the radar.
Collecting the ball wide on the left about thirty yards from goal, Athletic Bilbao’s Spanish international midfielder Javi Martínez cuts inside and runs at the heart of the Almería defence. He is briefly crowded out by three defenders but somehow keeps control of the ball with some unbelievable footwork and retains his composure to slot a cool finish beyond the goalkeeper. A stunning goal from a technical perspective.
Assist of the Year: Guti v Deportivo La Coruna (30th January)
There have been countless perfectly-weighted Xavi passes that could have won this award, but for his brilliant improvisation and sheer audacity it has to go to Guti.
With Real Madrid 1-0 up away to Deportivo with half-time fast approaching, Los Blancos started a rapid counter attack which ended up with Guti finding himself clean through on goal. He could have scored himself, but the veteran midfielder instead displayed incredible awareness to completely fool the goalkeeper and an onrushing centre-half by playing a no-look backheel into the path of Karim Benzema who duly swept the ball into the net. True genius at work.