If you want to know what bitter-sweet feels like, ask Jupp Heynckes. Every time the poor fellow wins the Champions League, it turns out he’s out of a job for next season. It happened with Real Madrid in ’98, when after delivering the club’s first European Cup since 1966 he was promptly sacked for a ‘poor’ domestic season. Because, well, the Champions League doesn’t count, see? So the ex-Borussia Monchengladbach striker roamed from Benfica to Bilbao to Bayern (as an interim manager first, ask Rafa, he’ll tell you what it means) to finally come back to win the Bavarian giants their fifth Champions League title, and also a record breaking league title which they wrapped up basically at the winter break, and threw in some domestic cup success just to be sure. So, obviously, Pep Guardiola will be the Bayern Munich manager next season. Wait.. What? Ha! And you thought the players are nervous before the final. Jupp is probably a puddle of jelly by the time the game kicks off.
In other news, the Germans are coming. Or so they say, because the showpiece event in European football was contested by their teams, who on the way, demolished the erstwhile ‘big guns’. Dortmund went from being the hipsters’ pet, to too mainstream within four months, which has to be some sort of record. One day they’re cursing Real Madrid for always getting the easy draw, the next they’re outraging over Bayern’s blatant tapping up of their favorite team’s best(?) player.
While Bayern made light work of the best in Europe, except of course,the mighty BATE Borisov, one of only two teams to beat them this season, Chelsea went and achieved a unique and completely insignificant distinction. By virtue of winning the Europa League, they technically held both major European trophies at the same time, for about eight days. Meanwhile, Benfica lost another European Final, their sixth since the great Bella Guttman said they’d never win anything in Europe again.
Race, sort of, for League Titles
The league titles in England, Spain, Germany, Italy, and even France to a certain extent, were basically one team jogging to the finish line, with the rest locked in a slow cycling race to finish as far behind as possible. The only thing worse than Barcelona’s defense of their goal, was Manchester City’s defense of their title, who managed to finish second only because Chelsea enforced a transition upon themselves, and Arsenal were, well, Arsenal. AVB stated at the beginning of the season that Spurs should aim to win the title. It was only in March that we realized he had pronounced “fourth place” wrong. All this meant, Sir Alex could finally retire having made Manchester United the 20 time league champions. Almost by default. In Spain, Tito Vilanova probably knew he’d be taking a three month break mid-season, so he wrapped up his league title by December. Most of Barcelona’s matches were like every year, attack vs defense. Except, it was their own defense that their attackers were up against. As if they said, let’s see if you can leak more goals than we can score, that should be fun! Cue results like a 5-4 win, against Deportivo. Away matches like this one left many fans nauseated, irritated and sometimes even partially blinded. And that was just from the ugliness of their kit. The performances were exhilarating and excruciating in equal measure, and the Catalans ending the season having being top of the table for every single game week. But a lot of the pressure was taken away by Real Madrid’s inability to win away from home. Mourinho blamed everyone and every thing and turned the club into a proper circus by the end of the season, while Cristiano Ronaldo spent the second half of the campaign recovering from his sadness. Although he never revealed the cause, sources close to the striker have confirmed that as suspected, it was because Pepe stole his can of hair-gel and refused to give it back. The bald Portuguese said he liked how it felt on his head and helped keep him cool when he was in the ring, err.. I mean, on the field. Atletico deserve special mention for threatening to come second for a large part of the season, before they faced Real Madrid, and as is customary, lost. None the less, it was a great season for them and their coach Diego Simeone. Real Sociedad were the surprise package who sneaked into fourth place on the final day of the season, edging out Valencia who were beaten by the manager they sacked last season for getting them third place, Unai Emery. This was the only place that provided a bit of drama (other than the relegation spots, but more on that later) in an otherwise boring season in Europe’s top leagues.
In France, PSG won the title with relative ease, but that was to be expected, because they had that one key element that has guaranteed teams a league title over the past 9 years. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Juventus too dominated Italian football and it was quite surprising how easily they were beaten by Bayern in the Champions League quarter final. Luckily for them, Barcelona came along so that everyone could forget about their misery. Napoli finished a commendable second, with AC Milan clinching the final Champions League spot in third, just ahead of an entertaining and talented Fiorentina side.
Domestic Cups & Relegation Battles
Yes, its a little harsh to club the triumph of a cup victory with the heartbreak of relegation, but this is where the drama was, plus, it allows me to make Wigan Athletic the star of this section. Roberto Martinez’s team won the FA Cup against Manchester City with a dramatic late goal in the final. It was one of the upsets of the season and caught everyone off guard, not least the newly dethroned champions of England. 8 days later, they were relegated. This caught no one off guard. There’s something extremely hilarious yet very cool about being in the Europa League and Championship at the same time, with the way they played they left a lot of people hoping they’d bounce straight back up. Reading and QPR join them in the second tier and although the competition wasn’t too dramatic, the entertainment was provided by QPR who were the joke of the season, a category once again mastered by an Indian owner. The common denominator between Blackburn last year and QPR this, was their Indian-ness. And Christopher Samba.
Over in Spain, Atletico Madrid beat cross town, hugely famous, filthy rich and seemingly unbeatable rivals, Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final. This was their first victory over Los Blancos of any sort in 16 years. Oh, and it was at the Santiago Bernebeu. If they had to wait that long for a victory, this was exactly how they’d have wanted it to happen. This team was said to be their best hope of breaking the curse but after losses in both league games, not even the most ardent Atletico fans went into this one truly believing they could win. Until they did. All said and done it was incredible fun if you’re a fan of the Rojiblanco (or Blaugrana), and just rewards for an outstanding team under an outstanding manager. The relegation battle went right up to the last day of the season with Celta Vigo pulling off a miraculous escape, condemning Galician rivals Deportivo la Coruna, who started the day with the highest chance of escape, to a second relegation in three years. Zaragoza, having pulled off a couple of miracles themselves in the last few years couldn’t avoid it this time and go down along with Mallorca.
The Italian Cup was another city derby between AS Roma and Lazio, a war almost, with notoriously violent fans. The game itself was terrible and Lazio just about nicked it, denying Francesco Totti, who seemed to rise from the dead this season, a great night of triumph. Both teams had nothing else to play for, having both suffered slides down the league table after being near the top at times, so this had added meaning for both teams, but Roma came up just short. The relegation battle was nothing to write a blog post about really, so I won’t.
Hard truth time – I have no clue what happened in the French Cup final. Who won? And who got relegated?