When a season, a year, or anything that marks the passing of time ends, people inevitably look back over what just occurred. We try to make sense of the bad things, remember the good things fondly, and dish out praises (and occasionally harsh words) where they are due.
In sports, we tend to give out awards towards the end of the season to commemorate and honor the best individual performances out of all the players in a league—in American sports we have the “Most Valuable Player” trophy, while in European Football we have the FIFA World Player/Golden Ball (which one is it again?).
As sports writers—especially beat reporters and journalists who cover individual teams—we like to adapt these awards to talk about the highs and lows of a team’s season. So in this segment (another will come later), I’m going to dish out some of the major positive awards for Real Madrid’s season; next time, I’ll throw out a group of “worsts,” that should complement this list.
Oh, and I’m going to mesh every award that I can think of into it, so get excited.
Real Madrid’s young German attacking midfielder played so well in his first season in the Liga BBVA that he simultaneously displaced a world football icon (Kaká) from his starting role, and lead the league in assists. To say that his transfer last summer—for a cool 15 million euros—was a bargain is an understatement: he is a superstar in the making, a cool, calculating organizer who anchored Madrid’s attack.
While Marcelo has been a fixture of Madrid’s defensive formation for a few years now, he really began to hit his stride in 2010-2011. His laser-quick runs from the back created chance after chance, and he showed off a strong attacking sense all year. He seemed to be in the right spot on offense more and more as the season went on—this isn’t a little thing either: some of the most promising offensive players in the world have lacked this sixth-sense, this olfato goleador as the Spaniards would say. Marcelo showed that off this year (and he seemed to shore up his defense as the season went on).
Finally! Karim gets the David Beckham award (explanation: Becks finally justified his spot for Madrid in his last contract year of 2006-2007, where he played a huge role in Capello’s Liga-winning stretch run) because after a season of playing a background role to Higuaín, finally came into his own after the Argentinian went down with a back injury. Karim played with passion and heart, and supplied a number of fantastic goals as well as a few well-timed assists. He was a close second to Marcelo in the Most Improved voting.
Do I even need to justify this? San Iker was a rock in goal all year, and remains the best keeper on the planet. Without his hands, Madrid would have lost or tied many, many more games this season. In fact, of all the players on the team, my guess is that Iker would have the highest WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is such a stat existed for football.
So I might be cheating a little bit on this one. Morata played two games with the top squad, for a total of slightly more than a half of play. But he was REALLY good when he played. I remember thinking to myself at the time: “don’t let this guy go, he could be another Raúl.” That’s some high praise. And considering that he came up from Juvenil A just a year prior (and that he debuted for the top side only a few months after his debut for Real Madrid Castilla), his rise has been pretty meteoric. While Madrid’s front line looks pretty strong going into the offseason, it would be very unwise to discount Morata in the future.
While I already talked a little bit about him earlier, consider this: he surpassed every single player in the league, including Xavi, Iniesta and Messi, in passes that lead directly to a goal. That’s pretty crazy, and really indicative of how good this young man is—and how bright his future is.
He is crazy good. Just insanely, insanely good. Like, his numbers this season were some of the best in the history of the Spanish League. Not in the last 10 years. All time. He scored 41 goals in the Liga (beating the record of 38 held by Zarra and Hugo Sánchez), and he became the first player ever to score more than 40 goals in a season in Spain. He won the European Golden Boot award (top scorer in Europe), and became the first player to ever win top European scorer in two different leagues. All told, he had the best scoring season of his career, with 53 goals in 54 matches in all competitions (smashing his previous mark of 42 in 07-08). Oh, and he also had 16 assists, his second-highest mark.