This is the first in my series of posts covering the 06-07 Spanish season, including the Copa del Rey and the Primera. This one is just a quick assessment of each club's progress, in the order in which they finished in the Primera table, naturally.
Real Madrid CF
76 points; league champions; automatic qualification for the Champions League
I don't think too many Real fans will disagree with me if I say that they haven't played the best football on the way to winning the title. However, to focus on that would be unfairly taking away credit that is very much due to Capello and his team, who have performed above expectations. They've spent a tidy amount, just like in the last few campaigns, but this time it's paid off. The purchase of Ruud van Nistelrooy in particular was an excellent piece of business. Saint Iker was brilliant and vital as always, and we all know about the resurrection of David Beckham. What a Hollywood ending, and good for him. He deserves it for his years of faithful service.
Capello himself deserves great credit for the discipline, fitness, unity and fighting spirit he has installed, which is no easy feat in a squad as star-studded as Real's. I firmly believe that it's in those aspects that Real beat Barca, and full credit to them for that. Does Capello deserve another season? I think so, but the Real club management seem to disagree.
(Update: The Capello-Calderon-Schuster controversy seems set to run and run, with Getafe president Angel Torres now joining the ranks of those unhappy with Calderon's strong hints that Schuster has a pre-contract with Real.)
A fine season for a great club. Now to reclaim their place in Europe? We'll see.
76 points; automatic qualification for the Champions League
A disappointing season by any measure for Barca. I'll be writing at length about the problems and causes in my Barca season round-up posts, but I think us cules can be angry and heartbroken at the missteps of this season while recognising some fine individual and collective performances this season and, as coach Frank Rijkaard said, retaining pride in our club.
We've got a pretty damn good squad, and we still play great football on occasion. And we were hit hard by the long term injuries of Messi and Eto'o. But there are problems that need to be fixed if we're to challenge for all available trophies next season. To start with, on the personnel front, particularly in regards to the back four and defensive midfield, not to mention another striker.
On the management level, I think it is time for the people in charge of the money-spinning to take a good look at themselves and ask some hard questions. Are we a sporting institution or a travelling circus? If it's the former, the commercial activities have got to be cut down, especially in pre-season, and especially in pre-seasons where there has been a major international tournament during the break between seasons.
Finally, questions also have to be asked as to the extent of player power at the club. Does Ronaldinho have to attend training like everyone else? Should ill-discipline be punished in a systematic fashion? And so on.
File under 'needs improvement'.
71 points; Champions League qualifiers; European Supercup winners; UEFA Cup winners; Copa del Rey winners
Sevilla have a lot to be proud of. In the end, they didn't have what it took to break the duopoly of La Liga, but as their players have pointed out, they did very well considering the positions of privilege that Real and Barca start out from every season, and played some great football on the way. Who knows how they would have done without the distractions of the long UEFA Cup campaign? Perhaps the valuable experience gained from this campaign will help them challenge for the top again next season, if they resist the temptation to cash in on their top players.
In Europe, they along with La Liga's other entrants into the UEFA Cup helped the league retain some dignity given the ineptness of the big two in the Champion League. The defence of the UEFA Cup is a great achievement, but I for one am glad to finally see them in the Champions League, (they really should have been there this season, IMHO) where they will no doubt surprise a few people.
Great season, and they should be pretty pleased with their 3rd place finish, especially considering their prolonged European and Copa del Rey campaigns.
66 points; Champions League qualifiers
Sometimes, when I'm getting particularly large headache from the shenanigans of my own club, it helps to take a look at the latest events at Valencia. (Seriously, I recommend this if your club is anywhere near as neurotic as Barca.) Then I end up feeling sorry for their fans, who really don't deserve the constant upheaval. It seems like no season can pass without the players feuding with the club, the club feuding with the coach and so on. All this despite a pretty impressive campaign, all things considered.
Alright, so a 4th place finish is not ideal. But considering Valencia were the only Spanish Champions League entrants not to exit the competition embarrassingly early, which greatly affected their league campaign, not to mention their horrific run of injuries, it's really not that bad. In my opinion, if Valencia have anything to worry about, it's their tendency to collapse towards the end of the season, amidst infighting and the inevitable sight of fans harrassing the players at training and so on.
Speaking of infighting, it seems like a decision will have to be made by the club between technical director (and former playing legend) Carboni and coach Quique Sanchez Flores. Reportedly most of the players are on Flores' side, which is just as well as I personally believe that Carboni's actions in regards to Flores' needs for building his squad have been pretty damn unreasonable. Hopefully Flores isn't the one booted out the door in this power struggle, as he is a very promising young coach who hasn't really made sack-worthy mistakes in his years at Valencia, where he has delivered results despite all the problems.
(Update: looks like the club has decided in favour of Flores and forced Carboni out of the post of sporting director. Good for them.)
For Valencia, this has been a season of what-ifs. What if they didn't have that horrific run of injuries? Some would say that they would have won the league. I'm not so sure, given their other problems, but it would have been close. What if they didn't have to all but throw a couple of league matches in order to prioritize the Champions League? What if they had managed to hold out against Chelsea at the Mestalla?
They've done well despite their problems, a lot of which were not of their own making. Things do need to change, if only to stem the conflict within the club, but like Barca I don't think a revolution is needed. They can challenge for the league next season with the squad they have, and here's hoping for another fine campaign in the Champions League.
Up next: the UEFA Cup entrants and those who just missed out