Andy Mitten

Liga awards of the year

Andy Mitten

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Best players of the year

Well the top five has to be: Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gerard Pique.

But, as you know all about them and their exhausting of the superlatives, it's time to shine a light on some of the other leading lights.

1. Diego Forlan

Booed every time he touched the ball, Forlan scored a key away goal for Atletico Madrid at Anfield in the Europa League semi-final.

"When I scored, I saw some of their faces (the Liverpool fans)," he said. "They were not happy. In fact, they were very unhappy."

Forlan also netted a dramatic extra-time winner in the final against Fulham in Hamburg before winning the Golden Ball for being the best player at this summer's World Cup finals - his five goals helping Uruguay exceed expectations in reaching the semi-finals.

2. Giuseppe Rossi

Like Forlan, the Italian-American is another former Manchester United player thriving at Villarreal under their intelligent and driven coach Juan Carlos Garrido. Rossi's partnership with Brazilian Nilmar is blossoming.

3. Fernando Llorente

The star of Athletic Bilbao's attack, Llorente may boast the haircut of a 70s female tennis player but the Spain international is the league's joint top scorer outside the big two clubs. A likely future target for both, he should enjoy his time at Athletic.

4. Gonzalo Higuain

Real Madrid's top scorer last season, the Argentinian may have fallen behind Cristiano Ronaldo this term, but he's a clinical and effective striker. Recently injured and expected to be out for another three months, Madrid will miss him.

5. Javi Martinez

Still only 22, the two-footed Navarran central midfielder is a leader for Athletic Bilbao. Getting better all the time, he has already made his Spain debut, playing some minutes for the World Cup winners in South Africa.

Coach of the year

Jose Mourinho now works in Spain at Real Madrid, although his great success in 2010 was leading his Internazionale team to a treble which included Serie A and the Champions League. A harder task will be knocking Barca off their perch as Spain's pre-eminent power.

Notable mentions to Pep Guardiola who took Barca to another league title and barely put a foot wrong; Espanyol's Mauricio Pochettino who has crafted an aggressively effective side on a limited budget; and Gregorio Manzano, who brought Mallorca to the cusp of Champions League qualification before being sacked and joining Sevilla in September - although things are not going so well there.

Most improved player of the year

Not everyone was convinced by Sergio Busquets. Fortunately for him, the man who mattered was.

True, Guardiola cringed at Busquets's play-acting 'peep show' in the Champions League semi-final against Inter, but that was a rare low point in a magnificent year for the 22-year-old from a rough barrio near Barcelona.

You might wonder why he grew up in such tough surroundings given that his father Carlos was often Barcelona's keeper under Johan Cruyff; well, his father was also the man the players went to if they had a problem off the field, be it a bit of hassle or a car radio gone missing.

A World Cup winner and Spanish champion, Busquets looks more comfortable by the week - not only providing some lean muscle to back up Barca's beautiful football, but being Guardiola's instrument on the field. And that's a compliment.

Biggest disappointment of the year

In player terms, the always affable Kaka began the year talking about hoping to win the league with Madrid and World Cup with Brazil. He ended it with neither after a great deal of injury-induced frustration.

Madrid wanted him to be a high-scoring talisman to complement Ronaldo. Instead, they got a mediocre, injury-hit shadow of his former Milan self.

As for clubs: Zaragoza should be a top-six side. Their 30,000 average support, stadium and history demand that. Instead, the Aragonese club showed the stability of a house built from catfish from the nearby Ebro river.

Zaragoza started 2010 in the relegation positions, before clambering up to 14th at the season's end, and have finished the calendar year bottom of the pile.

Result of the year

The Numancia fans who saw their team get a last-minute winner in a 5-4 away victory at Valladolid may disagree, but Barca 5-0 Real Madrid made the world sit up and take notice.

Even a watching Wayne Rooney was spurred to jump up from his sofa slumber to applaud his television screen, such was Barca's magnificence. It was arguably the most complete performance in club football ever seen.

A notable mention must also go to promoted Hercules, who went to Camp Nou and achieved what very, very few teams manage - a convincing win.

Recovery of the year

Valencia; despite losing David Villa and David Silva to help pay their massive debts, Los Che started this season with a bang and led the table at the end of September. Intelligent replacements like Aduriz, Topal, Tino Costa and Soldado helped, as did Unai Emery, a manager so animated and intense that his family call him 'anxious a*se'.

Fans of the year

A week after 20,000 of them travelled to the Europa Cup final in Hamburg, Atletico Madrid took a staggering 60,000 to the Copa del Rey final in Barcelona against Sevilla - twice as many as their opponents.

Even though they lost, they never stopped singing. Atleti's home average is just shy of 50,000, remarkable given those fans don't know whether they'll see a world-beating performance or a depressing defeat.

And a notable mention to Sporting Gijon, who took 8,000 to Deportivo La Coruna last season, and 4,000 last weekend, despite being at the wrong end of the table. The welcome they always give for returning hero David Villa shows their class, too.

A dishonourable mention to fans of Getafe, the worst-supported team in La Liga, after a crowd of only 3,000 turned out for a Europa League game against Stuttgart.

Yes, it was a cold night, and admission wasn't free; plus Getafe were only founded in 1983 and haven't built a historical fan base like their Madrid neighbours.

However the empty stands were an embarrassment to European football and it was little wonder that UEFA's website didn't even mention the crowd figure.

Local derby of the year

With Real Betis down - but about to come back up - the always febrile Sevilla derby was on hold for another year, while promotion for Real Sociedad and Levante saw a welcome return for the big Basque and Valencian derbies.

Atletico and Real Madrid meanwhile played out a humdinger of a 3-2 result in March - in favour of Real, of course - but the award goes to the Catalan derby between a resurgent Espanyol and Barca last weekend.

The champions won 5-1 and, despite Espanyol having held them earlier in the year, the atmosphere and sense of occasion in the latter's new stadium was top notch. And the game wasn't too shabby, either.

Contradiction of the year

Villarreal are a great community club with a solid footballing philosophy and commitment to winning. They give free tickets to former season ticket holders who've been made unemployed and also offer season tickets for as little as €10 a game.

So why do the Yellow Submarines charge fans of visiting English clubs €75 for a ticket in the gods behind the goal?

Away game from hell of the year

A surprise air traffic controllers' strike threw travel plans into chaos at the start of December when Barca's last-minute train and bus dash to Zaragoza hogged the headlines.

However second division Las Palmas from the Canary Islands took 27 hours to reach their game at Celta Vigo in Spain's Galician north-west; they then lost.

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