Andy Mitten

La Liga End-of-season awards

Andy Mitten

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This was the season that was in Spain...

Moment of the season
Cristiano Ronaldo's winner for Real Madrid at the Camp Nou in April. Barca had just equalised and a 95,000 crowd roared for a vital winner. There were 18 minutes to play in the biggest game in world football when Ronaldo, enjoying his best game yet against the Catalans, ran on to a through ball from Mesut Ozil and finished clinically past Victor Valdes. The man Spain calls 'Cristiano' didn't overdo the celebrations. He merely requested the same composure from his team-mates that he had displayed on a brilliant night for Madrid in the home of their hated rivals. Madrid triumphed and all but sealed their first league title since 2008.

Team of the season
Real Madrid, who claimed a 32nd title. They became first team to amass 100 points and annihilated their own record of 107 goals scored in a season with an incredible 121 in 38 matches. Ronaldo (46), Higuain (22) and Benzema (21) all scored more than 20 league goals.

Notable mentions
Levante. Favourites for relegation, they headed the table at one point and spent most of the season in the top four before finally finishing sixth to qualify for Europe for the first time.

Players of the season
Lionel Messi and Ronaldo. Number one and number two in the world. Or number two and number one, depending on your preference. Both were a joy to watch, scored more goals than any other player in the history of Spanish football and thrilled millions. Be thankful that it's so easy to watch these two players perform their magic in our lifetime.

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Notable mentions
Radamel Falcao: the Colombian bagged 37 in his first season in Spain with Atletico, including two in the Europa League final. Fernando Llorente: his coach Marcelo Bielsa tweaked the Basque's position to be less static and make a top class player even better. It worked.

Pichichi award (top league goalscorer)
Lionel Messi (Barcelona), 50 goals. A new record that's unlikely to ever be bettered.

Zamora award (goalkeeper with fewest goals conceded)
Victor Valdes (Barcelona), 28 goals.

Zarra award (for top Spanish goalscorer)
Roberto Soldado (Valencia), 17 goals.

Assist kings
Ozil (Madrid), Messi (Barca), Jesus Navas (Sevilla), Santi Cazorla (Malaga), Diego (Atletico).

Manager of the season
Manolo Jimenez. The Andalusian is as hard as he looks and noted for his motivational techniques, but he faced an impossible task when he took charge at Zaragoza on New Year's Eve. The team were adrift at the bottom of the league, players were not getting paid, and fans were — are — in open revolt against their president. Zaragoza amassed just 12 points in the first half of the season. Under Jimenez in the second half, they got 31 and climbed out of the drop on the final day. The 10,000 Zaragoza fans at Getafe on Sunday were only too happy to commend Jimenez's balls of steel in a song.

Notable mentions
Jose Mourinho: he did what was asked of him and toppled the best team in the world. He's proven categorically that he's an outstanding coach. Across the capital, Diego Simeone lifted Atletico to a fifth-place finish and a second Europa League triumph in three years, while Levante's Juan Ignacio Martinez deserves all the credit that's currently being bestowed on him.

Biggest flops
Villarreal. Three coaches mustered just six home wins between them. The Yellow Submarines had to contend with a horrendous injury list which was especially difficult after selling their best player Santi Cazorla, but they should have had enough quality to stay up. You have to feel for their reserve team, who will be relegated automatically from Segunda A to make way for their first team, despite being comfortable in mid-table.

Underdogs of the season
Third division Mirandes reached the Copa del Rey semi-final after eliminating Primera Division sides Espanyol, Racing Santander and Villarreal, plus Logrones, Linense and Amorebieta in the early rounds. They had a great season, winning their league and hope to be promoted in the play-offs.

Notable mention
Llagostera, a team from a tiny Catalan town of 8,300 near Girona, have won five promotions in seven years. Their entire budget is 400,000 euros a season; they have just 500 members. They missed out on the play-offs for promotion to the second level by a point. The coach is unlikely to be sacked - the club president is his wife.

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The final weekend of the season, when seven of the ten games had a direct bearing on who would qualify for Europe and who would go down. So much for La Liga being predictable. The drama was most dramatic in Vallecas, where a 92nd-minute winner from Raul Tamudo kept Rayo up. Cult hero Tamudo has form - his two late goals for Espanyol stopped neighbours Barca winning the league in 2007.

The slow race
Just 12 points separated Espanyol in 14th with Malaga in 4th. Thirty-nine points came between Valencia in third and champions Madrid, not a statistic the league's marketeers will be highlighting as they aim to compete with the Premier League globally.

Best game
Valencia 2-3 Real Madrid. Valencia opened brightly in this November match, then Madrid dominated, but Valencia kept coming back at them right until a late disputed penalty. Spanish football at its best, it showed that Madrid had the quality to be champions.

Notable mention
Athletic Bilbao 2 Barcelona 2. Another November game which saw Barca concede a first goal in 11 games on a rain-lashed pitch. Athletic led until Messi's 93rd-minute equaliser...

Fans with post-season headaches
Espanyol had 16,627 attending their game v Sevilla on Sunday — 10,000 below their average. They fell apart in the second half of the season again, have no money to buy players and, unlike last term, little talent to cash in on. Little wonder their fans held up a flag cursing "mediocrity and lies". Just 6,818, the league's lowest crowd of the season, saw bottom-of-the-table Racing lose to Osasuna on Sunday. The Cantabrians won just three of their 19 home matches.

Best atmosphere
San Mames for Athletic Club v Manchester United. Spanish stadiums aren't usually the febrile cauldrons of Italy or Istanbul, but the Basque Country's own cathedral was on fire as Bielsa's fine side beat the (then) English champions. Again. After the victory, Bilbao's streets were filled with tens of thousands of partying Basques until dawn.

Notable mentions
Rayo Vallecano fans create a din, Espanyol fans too, even when their teams lose. Which is more often than not.

The 'At least Robin Hood wore a mask' award
Athletic and their 92-euro tickets for travelling fans which piqued Manchester United fans and inspired Schalke 04 fans to create the brilliant '1 euro a minute. This is football not phone sex' banner.

Money can buy you love award
Malaga finished fourth and qualified for a first ever Champions League appearance.

How did that happen?
17th Sept 2011. Barcelona 8 Osasuna 0
11th Feb 2012. Osasuna 3 Barcelona 2

The 'There's no quality below the big two' in Spain award
Three of the four Europa League semi-finalists were Spanish clubs, two of them made it to the final.

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The coaches born in '71 who departed after four seasons
Pep Guardiola: Barca's greatest ever coach will stand down after next week's Copa del Rey final. Some would say his side, which won 13 trophies in four seasons, was the greatest that the world has ever seen. Unai Emery: few Valencia fans are mourning his departure, but they might come to regret turning against the man who brought them three consecutive third-place finishes against a backdrop of financial instability. Q: What more could he do? A: Play decent football? Not whinge all the time?

So long, farewell...
Ruud van Nistelrooy. One of the most prolific goalscorers of his generation, with the trophies to show for his finishing.

So long...
Elegant midfielder Mikel Aranburu joined Real Sociedad at 13. The club captain retired at the weekend after 20 years, having made 427 appearances with the Basques. Former Sociedad captain Xabi Alonso described him as "the most generous player I've played with, one who always puts the team first." Proper Basque haircut, too.

Coming back
The Galicians of Deportivo La Coruna and Celta Vigo are currently first and second in the Segunda with five games to play. Depor are favourites to be champions and their fans have enjoyed a first spell in the second tier since before the days of Super Depor. They average 30,000 at home and often take 2,000 to away games.

Players most likely to be linked with a big money summer move
Gonzalo Higuain.
Half the Athletic first XI.

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