The European season has packed up its bags, so time for a look back at the winners and losers from another year of life in La Liga
1) Zinedine Zidane
Biggest winner of the year, hands down. Landed in a chaotic locker room that had ousted and kicked out Rafael Benítez (he made them work too hard) and, seamlessly, managed to bridge the gap between both sides of the aisle. His lucky streak has helped, indeed, but keeping in check such a large number of egos is an impressive feat nonetheless: La Liga trophy and the 12th Champions League are witnesses of Zinedine’s ‘keep calm’ demeanor.
2) Deportivo Alavés and Mauricio Pellegrino
Mendizorroza has been a place of wonders lately after one of the most successful years ever: after promoting from Segunda last summer, Alaves’ board signed smartly many players on loan and with eager to prove themselves in football’s elite. Their new manager, Mauricio Pellegrino, had the same attitude after an unfair sacking in Valencia five years ago. All of them successfully managed to remain in La Liga with ease and land a spot in La Copa final against Barcelona. The 2016-2017 most impressive side, hands down.
Eibar could also compete in that area, but we’ve gotten used to the ‘Armero’ team striving for excellence consistently and making it one of their identity traits. With Jose Luis Mendilibar’s steady pulse in the bench, the Basque side once again made their Ipurua turf unassailable with one of the lowest budgets in Spain. Their 10th spot (54 points) speaks volumes about their commitment to the task.
4) Pablo Piatti
After being somehow unceremoniously kicked out of Valencia (no matter that his stats of assists and games played were pretty good), RCD Espanyol secured a one-year loan of Pablo Piatti, and the Argetinian has responded wonderfully with his best season ever: 10 goals and 10 assists to make his team soar in several key games this year. Obviously, Espanyol made the deal permanent in exchange for some cheap 1,2 million euros, a huge bang for their buck!
5) Real Sociedad
Maybe the most improved team of the lot, arguably Real Sociedad has deserved thoroughly a spot in European competitions next year that they finally secured in a dramatic last game after Athletic de Bilbao came crashing down. A big slice of the proverbial celebration cake should go to Eusebio Sacristan’s mittens: the manager has built a top-form squad, incredibly disciplined behind and creative in the midfield. Keeping his key players and his mind sharp will be a priority for the coach, who had his contract renewed till 2019.
1) FC Barcelona
Such an utter waste of talent and quality! FC Barcelona conquered a cup this season (Copa del Rey against Alavés), but never winning a championship left such a sour taste in their mouth. Barça never reached its peak: it was always too wobbly, too unpredictable, too weak in their defense, too Messi-dependant.
Luis Enrique’s departure announcement came in a delicate stretch of the season and, even though their legendary comeback against PSG will remain forever in our collective minds, the fact is that this 2016-2017 season won’t leave its mark on anyone. Meanwhile, Madrid bagged both La Liga and the Champions League, adding salt to the wound. Ernesto Valverde, Barça’s new coach, has a daunting task at hand.
2) Valencia CF
For the second year in a row, Peter Lim’s megaproject came crashing down only two months into the season. Pako Ayestarán’s appointment as manager proved itself as a huge mistake, and later Cesare Prandelli walked in Christmas after he felt “cheated” by a Board that promised signings to strengthen the team and didn’t deliver to the Italian manager. With chaos and turmoil inside the club, it was former delegate Voro Gonzalez’s task to stabilize the patient and secure the points needed to stay in Primera. With such a disappointing season, only the breakout performance of youngster Carlos Soler has brought fans some sense of pride and hope towards the immediate future.
3) Tony Adams
Did he actually need to become Granada’s manager? Former Arsenal defender and legend Tony Adams boarded Granada’s sinking ship with the task of steering it into safety. However, even though his initial statement was somehow fun and bold (“I’m here to kick the players up the arse”), his impact only managed to irremediably plunge the project into La Segunda’s waters, unnecessarily tarnishing his image both in England and internationally, and becoming a laughing stock for the football world in Spain.
4) Las Palmas
Never a team excelled this amazingly in the first stretch of a season and came crashing down harder from January onwards. Las Palmas failed to live to their potential, thanks to an anarchy that installed in the locker room in Christmas after a crowd-pleasing three months of beautiful football. Most of the responsibility should lie in the nasty way Quique Setién has departed: after the coach refused to sign a contract extension, his last six months in the Canary Islands have been a source of trouble and cold shoulders from the Board, outraged after being turned down by the manager. And that, obviously, had a big impact on the development of things throughout 2017.
5) Fans overall
For yet another season, we’ve seen how unbalanced La Liga currently is. Top tier teams, aided by the ‘aparat’ tried and tested to benefit them (infamous ref calls, harsh game bannings for modest sides and ‘carte blanche’ for big players, etc), have had a cakewalk in their quest to win the championship.
Meanwhile, a big portion of the competitions have had a rough season, with lamentable fixtures both in day (Friday and Monday football in Spain has been, is and will always be appalling) and hour, with the ‘experiment’ of playing at lunchtime being an astounding failure. With the best raw materials at hand, La Liga and its president Javier Tebas manage to up the ante in lunacy every year, sinking down a ship that should already be up there with the Premier League and Bundesliga in terms of management and respect for the fans. ‘Congratulations’, Mr. Tebas.