Most big time, top-flight European football leagues have wrapped up their 2013-14 seasons. The race for the La Liga title is going to come down to the final weekend of the campaign. There is also, of course, the Champions League Final to look forward to before we all begin reading World Cup previews.
The tradition that is Spain dominating post-season award lists continues this spring. While it wasn’t a clean sweep, members of Spanish clubs do dominate these awards. The first name featured is one of the most famous in all of world sports, and he’ll be hoping to be 100 percent fit come this June.
Here are my picks for the winners of the 2013-14 European Football Season Awards:
Player of the Year: Cristiano Ronaldo
There was a time when Luka Modric, Ronaldo‘s Real Madrid teammate, was the runaway winner of this award. Modric, who struggled in his early days as a member of the Spanish giants, has evolved into a world class play-maker beyond even his best days at Tottenham Hotspur. He was the MVP for Real in the first half of the campaign, and Modric could, when all is said and done, be a candidate for the Ballon d’Or.
All of that said, I just could not ignore the monster numbers put up by Ronaldo this season.
Ronaldo buried 31 goals in 30 league contests. He has notched a record 16 tallies in Champions League play. Add in international duty, and Ronaldo has, in 2013-14, had a hand in 79 total goals.
Nobody should even consider shortchanging the talent had by Lionel Messi. That Ronaldo and not Messi is the best footballer on Earth is only a testament to just how great the Portuguese star is. Here’s hoping, regardless of national allegiances, that Ronaldo’s bum hamstring is healed by the start of the World Cup.
It’d be a shame to not have him involved in world football’s biggest party this summer.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Manuel Neuer
There is, when creating an awards piece, at times a temptation to bestow an honor to a player from a club that isn’t filled with stars. Take Player of the Year as an example. Ronaldo is obviously an incredible footballer, but he is also surrounded by some of the best players in the world. Of course he is going to produce while with Real Madrid.
Yes, Neuer has the luxury of playing on one of the best teams in club football. That fact should not and must not be a black mark on his resume. Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga, in European football, and in the world.
Neuer made only 82 stops in league play (both Oliver Baumann and Raphael Schafer led the Bundesliga with 154 saves), but being a top-class ‘keeper is all about making the saves you have to make. His league goals against average was a ridiculous 0.58, and Neuer held 15 clean sheets in the Bundesliga. Having turned 28 years old this past March, the future is extremely bright for the Germany No. 1.
Top Newcomer: Gareth Bale
There was never – never – any chance that Bale was going to flirt with meeting the high expectations placed on him after he became world football’s most expensive signing last September. Bale was lacking match fitness at the start of the campaign due to his strike/vacation that played a significant role in Spurs finally caving in and selling the Welsh wonder, and thus he needed some time to catch up to playing in the world’s best overall league.
Guess what? He caught up.
Bale has, heading into the final weekend of the league season, netted 14 goals and assisted on 12 others. He could, depending on the status of Ronaldo come May 24, be Real’s most vital player for the Champions League Final. Bale, who silenced any and all remaining “flop” claims on what will go down as a famous April night, is still just 24 years old.
Expect him to only get better over the next several years.
Manager of the Year: Diego Simeone
Think back to where Atletico Madrid were in May of 2013. Barcelona were bringing in Neymar, Real Madrid were in pursuit of Bale, and Atletico were preparing to lose Radamel Falcao. It would be an understatement to suggest that Atleti were, at the end of last summer, pegged to be behind both Barca and Real in league and in European play.
Simeone and his staff had other ideas.
Unlike Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool, who went on an incredible run and nearly won the Barclays Premier League, Simeone had both league and European competitions to plan for throughout the season. His side will, at absolute worst, finish level on points with Barcelona atop the La Liga table (Barca hold the tiebreaker). Atleti will be the underdogs when they face off with Real in the Champions League Final, but don’t count them out ahead of time.
It’s now a matter of when, not if, Simeone will get a chance to be the main man at one of the world’s biggest clubs.
Biggest Disappointment: Chelsea
There are several worthy candidates for this award. Tottenham seemingly squandered all of the money gained in the Bale transfer, and Spurs will once again be relegated to Europa League play next season. You could easily put Barcelona at the top of the list if they are unable to defeat Atletico at home in what is essentially a league Final.
Chelsea get the nod here for several reasons. Jose Mourinho, in what was supposed to be his triumphant return to the club, suffered his sixth career Champions League semifinal defeat. Unlike both Barcelona and Liverpool, Chelsea had no chance at winning the league on the final day of the season.
Heck, there are even some (wacky, wild, crazy and nonsensical) rumors floating about that are claiming Mourinho could be facing the axe.
Best Overall League: La Liga
Your winner for the final award on this list likely comes down to how you define “best.” The entertainment value offered by the Premier League beats that found in any other league. Where else are you going to find somebody suggesting that a club was relegated because of the removal of a Michael Jackson statue?
Nowhere, that’s where.
As it pertains to quality and level of talent, there’s little debate to be had.
Manchester City were deserving yet unconvincing Premier League champions that won the league because Steven Gerrard couldn’t keep his feet at a pivotal moment of a match. Bayern Munich could have taken an entire month off and still won the Bundesliga. Juventus cruised to a Serie A title, but one of your classic Juve squads, this was not.
Spain was, in 2013-14, responsible for the two clubs that will battle it out in the all-Madrid Champions League Final. Sevilla won the Europa League. Assuming that Barca do go on to win La Liga, you could easily argue that Spanish football was, this past season, responsible for the three best clubs in the world.
So much for Germany being the center of the footballing universe.