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Viva Espana! A season of redemption for Spanish football
- Updated: 13 June, 2014
When Marca’s back-page depicted a crestfallen Jordi Alba on his knees following his team’s 7-0 aggregate defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich in May 2013, the young full-back personified the mood of a nation: Spain’s time was over – now “inane and soulless”, according to Spanish daily AS. The Bundesliga was the future.
As one British journalist wrote at the time: “The European balance of power has moved north (to Germany).”
Yet a year on from that fateful week, Spanish football has enjoyed arguably the greatest season of all time.
Before a ball had even been kicked, mouths were watering at the arrivals of samba sensation Neymar and Gareth Bale, the world’s most expensive player.
The Brazilian had a mediocre inaugural season at Barcelona, distracted by his own transfer turmoil and petrified of injury prior to this summer’s World Cup. Nevertheless, he fought for the cause when least expected, thriving in Messi’s absence and starring in Barca’s dismal Champions League performances against Atletico Madrid. He will offer much more next season.
Bale, on the other hand, has already provided Los Blancos faithful with memories they will forever cherish.
First, the Copa Del Rey final, dubbed “The Bale final” after the Welshman raced past Marc Bartra five minutes from time, leaving the pitch in the process, before slotting home to claim Real’s first silverwear of the season.
Then in Lisbon, just nine months after his mega-money move, Bale achieved Galacticos status when his crucial extra-time header helped Real to achieve the unprecedented: “La Decima”.
Yet this season has been about more than just the big two.
Real’s opponents in the penultimate game of the season were neighbours Atletico, producing the first ever all-Madrid Champions League final. El Pupas again in Europe, Atletico ruled domestically – the first team outside of Spain’s dominant duopoly to win La Liga since Rafa Benitez’s Valencia in 2004.
Spearheaded by the world’s best number 9, Atletico have transformed themselves from Spain’s third best side into one of the most feared teams in Europe. Never in the history of Spanish football has a team so successfully adopted such a dogged, never-say-die attitude in order to be crowned champions, typified during their encapsulating showdown with Barca on the final day of the season.
Simeone’s winning machine has been a joy to watch at the Vincente Calderon this season. The challenge now is to keep on winning.
Los Rojiblancos should take heed of Dortmund’s fall from grace if they are to challenge again next season. The yellow-clad Germans were once the darlings of European football, until a poor summer transfer window saw Mario Goetze defect to Bayern and talisman Robert Lewandowski unsettled following his friend’s departure. Here’s hoping Simeone & Co. can avoid becoming just another one-season wonder.
Where Bayern’s financial power has blown away any domestic competition in Germany, this season’s unpredictability has highlighted a remarkable strength-in-depth throughout Spanish football.
Europe’s two major trophies are now occupied by Spanish clubs after Sevilla overcame an enthralling Europa Leaue semi-final with Valencia before beating Benfica on penalties in a nail-biting final.
Unai Emery’s work at the Sanchez Pizjuan this season has been nothing short of remarkable. Given a shoestring budget last summer, the flair and guile in which his side has played this season means that Sevilla is now home to some of the hottest property in European football.
The same can be said for fellow overachievers Villarreal. The Yellow Submarine showed little fear on its return to the top flight and have played some of the most attractive football in the league.
While Sevilla and Sociedad look set to loose key players this summer, big names have been linked with the Castellon club. Is El Madrigal destined to host Champions League football once more? Watch this space.
The 2013-14 La Liga campaign was also the season in which nobody was safe.
With four games remaining just nine points separated 18th-placed Getafe from Levante, in 9th. The month that ensued was nothing short of an all-out dogfight.
Getafe survived the run-in unscathed, drawing at the Nou Camp before beating Sevilla and then Rayo on the final day of the season. Almeria fans would also bask in final-day euphoria after a goalless draw to Bilbao provided the point they needed to stay up.
However, the real drama was unfolding in Pamplona. Convinced that a win would ensure survival, Osasuna’s fans ended up shattering their own stadium when celebrating Oriel Riera’s 12th-minute opener. The home team went on to beat relegated opponents Betis following the stand collapse, but it was not enough to avoid the drop and the two sides will join Valladolid in Segunda Division.
From the Madrid’s to the minnows, it’s been a year to remember for Spanish football. Viva La Roja! And bring on next season!Follow @icentrocampista