When this season’s La Liga came to its final match day conclusion this past weekend Barcelona fans all over the world let out a collective sigh of relief before the customary cheer of accomplishment. For if they had thrown away the league title after going 39 matches unbeaten and stretching the point gap between them and others to a gaping eight (plus) points at the beginning of April, the shame of choking would linger like a ghost forever. But that’s not what happened in the end, was it? The crisis, which is exactly what the press had labeled it, was averted by winning out the remaining five games of the season in the most clutch of fashions. Luis Suárez, this season’s Pichichi and Golden Shoe winner, scored an unthinkable 14 goals in that last five-game stretch. And now Barcelona are champions of Spain for the 24th time, and for the sixth time in the last eight years.
Sid Lowe, Spanish football expert, had commented on The Spanish Football Podcast last week that from a journalistic standpoint he had to be in attendance for Granada v Barcelona. Because it was either the stage to which Barcelona would (and did) win the league title, or the hurdle in which they tripped and threw it all away. The best story was going to there, regardless. But for ten minutes or so Real Madrid were champions. In the opposite corner of the country, pinned up against the windy, rainy spit of the Atlantic Ocean, Real had scored first against Deportivo La Coruña through none other than Cristiano Ronaldo. But that ecstasy of renewed optimism was short lived when Suárez scored the first goal of his hat trick in Barcelona’s 3-0 title-winning performance very shortly after. Ronaldo managed to score another before he was removed at half by Zinedine Zidane as a cautionary step to preserve the Portuguese for the Champions League final in two weeks. By then the manager knew there was no way back, and that this year Cristiano’s goals wouldn’t be enough for the title of La Liga champion nor league top scorer.
I pushed my way out of the pub I was watching the matches at around the 90 minute mark, but it wasn’t until I sat down at the train platform that I realized I had been tweeted at by a friend. The author of said tweet insisted that Granada’s players had been on money, in other words “paid off” to lose to Barcelona. Maybe it was naïve of me to think it wouldn't come to this, but somewhere deep down I always knew it would. Again, referring to the aforementioned podcast, Sid Lowe and Phil Kitromilides had brought to light that a naughty outfit of the Spanish press had suggested that Barcelona, Granada, and Sevilla had formed a pact that would benefit all parties and by consequence deny Real Madrid the league.
The skeleton of this fabricated blueprint went something like this: On match day 37, when Granada traveled to Sevilla (a traditionally very difficult venue to win at) the home side would let Granada win to guarantee their salvation. Strugglers Granada did win, 1-4. That meant that going into the final game of the season Granada, now safe, would have nothing to play for and allow Barcelona to mull them over and give them the victory they needed to win the title over Real Madrid. So how does Sevilla benefit? Well Sevilla, Barcelona’s Copa del Rey final opponents, would be guaranteed to play in the Spanish Supercopa at the beginning of next season if Barca were crowned champions.
Bullshit? Almost definitely. It’s based on the taboo practice the Spanish refer to as the melatín, which translates to briefcase... allegedly filled with bonus money from one club to another if they can give a favorable result to the provider. Now these are dangerous waters plagued by the sharks of accusations. To believe that this “pact” is the word of truth would be absurd and furthermore a regrettably bitter way out for Real Madrid fans who should realize if they were deserved champions, it wouldn’t have come down to the last day. But to be so blind to accept that this kind of activity doesn’t exist in any capacity would be just as stupid.
Some are pointing to what they believe is evidence of a scandal in the build up to Barcelona’s first goal against Granada. If you watch the Granada left back, Miguel Lopez (#18), his conviction to mark Suárez is skeptically apathetic (fast forward to the first goal at 00:28 on the highlights below to see). Scandal? He’s probably just not that good. If we were to analyze every defensive error in the league, it wouldn’t be arduous to find a sinister motive for each mistake. The most I'll say is that, Lopez should have done much better. Watch the video anyway.
On the flip side of the table Levante finished dead last and will need some rebuilding to bounce back up, but the other casualties were both Madrid-based clubs, Rayo Vallecano and Getafe. In all honesty, I don't think the top division will see Getafe for a long time, if ever again. To have spent as long as they did in the first division (eleven seasons) is remarkable. But due to such a small budget and smaller fan base they're unlikely to return. Real Madrid used to frequently loan out promising young starlets to the club to get first team action, but whether or not that policy will continue now that these canteranos won't be exposed to La Liga competition is now in question. Rayo on the other hand will be missed. A true neighborhood team full of rogue, well-traveled ruffians has one of the best group of supporters of any team in Spain. If we don't lose sleep over the players, we will the fans. In the end, Sporting Gijón controlled their own destiny and beat Villarreal by two goals to nil at home and stayed afloat for another season.
So what repercussions does this season's relegation have on next season's first division? If anything, it's that Real Madrid and Atlético have four less derby matches next season, right? Wrong. Leganés, a second division club from the southern outreaches of the capital is leading the race for promotion to La Liga this season and is in all likelihood coming up. So make that two less derby matches. Of course, Barcelona only has the one rival with Espanyol on the periphery of the picture but Real and Atleti have each other and these newcomers to worry about if not Getafe and Rayo any longer. How much a difference that will make remains to be seen.
In the end, Barcelona are champions. Real and Atleti fall just short of the title race but will be clinging onto the opportunity to pull one over on the other in the European Cup final at the end of the month. Sporting have saved themselves at the expense of Madrid minnows Getafe and Rayo Vallecano, who will join long-doomed Levante next season in the second tier.
As a closing note I'd like to say thanks to everyone who has been a regular reader of Quixote's Corner this season. We promise to return next season with more regular, dependable weekly coverage. Things went very well this season despite the pauses in coverage due to traveling work obligations and the small matter of me moving cities. It's only irony that I'm finally settled just as the season ends. Your support is very much valued and come August this column will be better than ever. If you need some more TAE look for our new columns on the Euro and Copa América coming this summer! See you soon and VIVA LA LIGA.