FC Barcelona: 2010-2011 Season Awards
The new season is about to start for FC Barcelona, with the Spanish Super Cup only a month and a week away. The fixtures list for the 2011-2012 season has been announced, and the Catalans will begin defending their title with a visit to hugely improved Malaga.
With the new season looming, it's time to take one last look at the 2010-2011 season, a glorious season that no Barcelona supporter will forget soon, hence these awards.
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Pedro Rodriguez Award for Youth Player of the Season: Thiago Alcantara
Barcelona's success during the past decade can be attributed to their exceptional academy and youth policy, with the players coming from La Masia seamlessly integrating into the first team. In 2009-2010, Pedro Rodriguez and Sergio Busquets became indisputable starters and vital members of the Barcelona machine, having made the most of the chances Pep Guardiola gave them.
This season, no youth player established himself as a starter (it's not that easy, mind you), but Thiago Alcantara was clearly the most outstanding youth rookie. He had a few sub appearances where he impressed, but it was in the away game at Villareal that he clearly showed he's one for the future. With Xavi suspended, Pep Guardiola trusted young Alcantara to play in a match where victory was crucial against a very tough opponent. Thiago didn't deceive and pulled the strings of the Barcelona midfield in a way that even Xavi would have been proud of.
After a solid season, Thiago is expected to have more minutes and more responsibilities next season, even if displacing Xavi and Iniesta will probably prove to be an impossible task for such a young player. Still, the future is Thiago's.
Most Improved Player: Sergio Busquets
There were many possible contenders for this award. The world's best player Lionel Messi did what many thought impossible and became a better and more effective player than in seasons past, Andrés Iniesta had a season for the ages after an injury-plagued 2009-2010, Eric Abidal had arguably his best season ever...still, it's hard to look past Sergio Busquets here.
In 20 years time, when Busquets is a Barcelona and football legend, 2010-2011 will be remembered as the season where he became one of the best players in the world. Pep Guardiola was heavily criticized in 2009-2010 when he insisted on starting Sergio ahead of Yaya Touré. But while Busquets did used to be error-prone, this season fully vindicated Guardiola's option.
The Catalan was flawless the whole season, breaking up play, covering for the centre-backs and Dani Alves and participating in the build-up process with Xavi and Iniesta.
His midfield partner Xavi Hernandez described Sergio as the best one-touch footballer on the planet, and it's hard to argue with him. Everything Busquets does is so simple, yet so effective. It's rare to find a 22-year-old with such calm and composure on the ball. Besides, Busquets is most fouled Barcelona player; that's right, not even Lionel Messi draws as many fouls as Busquets.
As if playing for one of the best sides of all time were not difficult enough, Busquets still had to deal, this season, with ridiculous and unfounded accusations of cheating and racism, yet he showed his maturity and class by rising above it with a spectacular performance in the Champions League final.
If everything goes well, Busquets will only keep improving, and he will become a club legend. Barcelona have found themselves a midfielder for the next decade.
Signing of the Season: David Villa
All the four players Barcelona signed last season (David Villa, Javier Mascherano and Adriano Correia in the summer, Ibrahim Afellay in January) ended up playing their role in Barcelona's glorious season.
That said, it's impossible to look past David Villa here. Of the four signings, the Asturian was the only one who established himself as a starter from the very beginning.
Villa brought the selflessness, link-up ability and tireless work ethic that Barcelona were lacking the previous season with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He was also Barcelona's second-best scorer with 23 goals, including one in the Champions League Final, no mean feat in a side that includes Leo Messi.
Forced to play on the left wing to accommodate Messi, Villa didn't whine but adapted to his new role and did his best to help the team. He did so, by scoring, assisting, pressing and combining to great effect with Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodriguez. All in all, a perfect first season for David Villa—one that Barcelona supporters hope he can emulate this season.
12th Player of the Season: Javier Mascherano
In order to win trophies, you need more than 11 players.
While Barcelona's vintage XI is one of the finest the world has ever seen, the bench players also played a vital role this season. Just remember how Afellay came from the bench to assist Messi in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal or how Jeffren, also coming from the bench, scored the last goal in the manita vs. Madrid. The Barcelona player with the most appearances (56) was Seydou Keita, and most of those appearances were as a sub.
But this award must go to Javier Mascherano. While he was pretty much a non-factor in the first half of the season, Puyol's injury and Abidal's illness dictated that he had to play a major role in the business end of the season. He became a starter and excelled both as a defensive midfielder and as a centre back, establishing himself as one of the most outstanding performers in the last two months of the season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Eric Abidal
As mentioned before, Eric Abidal had the best season of his career. He was rock solid from start to finish, nothing and no one could get past him. Even cancer couldn't stop King Eric; he came back as rock solid as he was before. While Puyol, Piqué, Valdés and Alves had great seasons, Abidal clearly stands out as the most outstanding defensive performer of the season.
Thierry Henry Award for Worst Cheat: Daniel Alves
This is not an easy one with Barcelona: once again, the Catalans won the La Liga Fair Play award and were the least carded team in the Champions League. Fair Play is one the core values of the club and one that is instilled into La Masia graduates from a very young age and is apparent in every Barcelona match.
That said, even Barcelona players aren't beyond the occasional simulation/trying to deceive the referee. The player that stands out in this respect is Daniel Alves. Mind you, he's not as bad as, say, Real Madrid's Angel Di Maria (the player who "provoked" the most penalties in La Liga last season) but stands out next to his Barcelona teammates.
Most Disappointing Player: Gabriel Milito
No contest here.
In his prime, Milito was a world class defender, but those days are long gone. Injuries have made him slow and sluggish, which showed every time he played. He clearly isn't good enough to play for Barcelona any more.
Hottest WAG Award: Gerard Piqué/Shakira
It's no secret that footballers (or any athletes for that matter) are bound to attract incredibly hot WAGs. That is no different at Barcelona, just ask Puyol or Afellay. However, Piqué is the luckiest guy here, and Shakira the hottest WAG.
Twenty-four years old, a millionaire, playing the sport he loves, three-times Champions League, world champion with Spain, playing for his hometown club in one of the best teams of all-time, dating Shakira... it must be great to be Gerard Piqué right now.
Most Emotional Moment of the Season: Abidal vs. Real Madrid
Abidal stepping into the pitch in the dying minutes of the second leg of the Champions League was undoubtedly the most emotional moment of the season and Abidal the undisputed hero of the season.
He fought the toughest battle of his life, and he won. Every culé and every football fan around the world must have felt great joy when Abidal came in for Puyol against Real Madrid in the Camp Nou.
The subsequent celebration, with the players tossing Abidal in the air, showed what Barcelona is all about the values of the club.
Most Impressive Stat: Xavi's 120 Passes Per Game
While Messi's 53 goals and 24 assists are certainly impressive, what can you say about Xavi's 120 passes per game during the season? That's more than one pass per minute. The most impressive part is that he has a pass completion rate over 90 percent.
These stats help understand why Barcelona have had more possession than their opponent in each and every game of the Guardiola era. Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta might be the two best players in the world, but Xavi is the heart and soul of the side and the one who makes it tick.
Not only is Xavi's passing flawless, his stamina and fitness are surreal. He's 31 years old, has been playing 50 games a season plus internationals for years, and he shows no sings of slowing down, even if, more often than not, he covers more distance than anyone else on the pitch.
Barcelona's future success depends a lot on Xavi maintaining his fitness and high performance.
Most Valuable Player: Lionel Messi
Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta are fabulous players and were deserved finalists of the last edition of the Ballon d'Or, but Lionel Messi is quite simply the greatest talent of this generation, and he had his greatest season yet.
To put it in perspective, he scored as many goals as Cristiano Ronaldo (53) and had the same number of assists as Mezut Ozil (24). He alone matched the production of Real Madrid's two most influent players combined.
But that's not all. Messi was already the best player in the world when he was scoring 15-20 goals a season pre-Guardiola, the goals and assists are merely a bonus. His overall level of play is head and shoulders anyone else in the world, even his world-class teammates, as this video clearly demonstrates.
Greatest Performance of the Season: Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid
This was unarguably Barcelona's greatest performance under Pep Guardiola and perhaps the best ever. It was just perfect, there's no other way to describe it. Real Madrid are full of world class players, led by one of the world's best managers, but on that faithful November 29 night, they were made to look just like any other La Liga minnow.
It was a performance that defined an era at Barcelona, the Guardiola era, an era where Barcelona utterly dominated Madrid, and every other team in Europe for that matter. In 30 years time, when discussing the greatest teams of all time, every conversation about Pep Guardiola's dream team will most certainly involve this particular match, this particular performance.
The golden trio of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta ran circles around Real Madrid for 90 minutes, while Villa and Pedro showed impeccable finish, and everyone really played superbly. 29 November 2010 is a day that Barcelona supporters will never forget.
Poorest Performance in a Major Match: Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona
This was certainly not Barcelona's worst performance of the season overall but definitely the worst in a major match. Barcelona were fully expected to run riot at the Emirates in the first leg of their first knockout round tie with Arsenal, and they did so, at least for 45 minutes.
In the second half, complacency inexplicably took over Pep Guardiola's side, and Arsenal deservedly turned the match around and emerged with a 2-1 lead ahead of the second leg. The match clearly served as a wake-up call for the Catalans who never looked back again till they lifted the trophy at Wembley.
Best Individual Performance: Andrés Iniesta vs Arsenal/Shakhtar/Real Madrid
I know what you're thinking, how can this award not to go to one of Messi's multiple amazing performances, namely the one against Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals?
Well, while Messi was fantastic, I do believe that, as individual all-around performances, Iniesta's performances in the home legs of all Champions League ties were even more impressive, which is definitely arguable.
Don Andrés took over these three matches, as he always does in the big matches, and pushed Barcelona to victory. While only one goal came from these three matches, Iniesta was the driving force behind these triumphs.
Assist of the Season: Messi to Villa vs. Real Madrid
This one wasn't easy, what with so many marvelous assists. It ultimately came down to Iniesta's assist to Pedro against Madrid in the Champions League or Messi's assist to Villa in the 5-0.
It wasn't an easy choice, but I think Messi just edges it.
Just see for yourself, what an incredible assist (and great finish).
Goal of the Season: Messi vs. Real Madrid at the Bernabeu (Second Goal)
Again, no argument here. Not only was this Barcelona's best goal of the season, but one of the best in Champions League history.
The Bernabeu is one of the most feared grounds in Europe, but that doesn't seem to bother the Argentine superstar, who routinely embarrasses Real Madrid in their own backyard.
In this goal, Messi skinned past the entire Real Madrid defense and coolly slotted the ball past one of his favorite victims, Iker Casillas, with his right foot. No matter how many great goals Messi might still score in his career, this one will remain one of the greatest and most special.
Best Press Conference of the Season: Pep Guardiola before the First Leg vs. RM
For the last award, we have Pep's famous press conference.
José Mourinho spent the entire season trying to wind up the Barcelona manager, who always kept his cool. However, before the first leg of the Champions League semifinals, the Portuguese manager took it a bit too far, and Pep decided it was time to answer him.
In a now legendary press conference, Pep called Mourinho "el puto amo, el puto jefe, the f***ing boss of the press room" and gave him his Champions League of the press conferences award and declared that he and his players would do all their talking on the pitch. When he returned to the hotel, his players applauded him and vowed to beat Madrid.
The rest is history. Messi proved Pep wrong; it's Lionel Messi, and not Mourinho, the "puto amo" of the football world at this moment in time.
Hope you enjoyed the awards.
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