Tapas d’Oro: Italy has it’s “Golden Tapir”, which is awarded to celebrities who have failed spectacularly or done something humiliating. In 2012, after his season in charge of Roma, it was awarded to Luis Enrique as the “worst coach of the year”. Being Lucho, he accepted it with good humour and even displayed it on his mantelpiece at home. It’s probably safe to assume that he used it as a personal motivation to improve. So we think it’s only fair that after a season where his every move was scrutinized, nitpicked, and criticized, when #LuchoOut was trending on twitter, and when he was accused of “betraying” the style, the players and the fans, that Lucho be awarded the best and most delicious tapas that Barcelona has to offer, and which he can eat from his shiny new silver bowls.
The Golden Setpiece: This award, which is modeled after Mathieu’s head, goes to Juan Carlos Unzue. Lucho’s assistant coach and BFF has worked a minor miracle with what was previously the weakest part of Barça’s game: set pieces. A former goalkeeper himself, Unzue has brought his experience to the team and drills them relentlessly in all kinds of scenarios, both in defense and attack. Cules’ usual response when the team concedes a corner is to dive behind the sofa and cover their ears, but no more! Under Unzue’s guidance the team has conceded only 7 goals from set pieces all season–half as many as last year! And this considering our defense consists of a clown, a green kid, an old man, a misplaced midfielder and a couple of shrimps. Amazing!
Miss Congeniality Award: I wasn’t in favour of signing Luis Suarez, and I still have strong reservations about him, but he has shown a perfect attitude all season, and that has earned him my respect. He has obviously worked hard on controlling himself on the pitch and gets along well with the other players in the dressing room, and I am happy to say that I have no complaints in that regard. Well done, Luis!
Wash That Man Right Out Of Our Hair Award: He’s had the Board in a lather for years, but they still haven’t managed to scrub out that troublesome Dani Alves. This could be the year, though, as the Unique One’s contract ends on June 30th and so far there is no agreement between the two parties on a renewal. One the one hand, Dani says he hasn’t been shown proper respect for everything he has done for this team (and he is right, considering the club didn’t even pretend they wanted him to renew until after the FIFA ban was confirmed in January). On the other, the conveniently leaked details of the offer the club has made seem pretty decent (if true, of course). Dani himself says he won’t make a decision until after the CL final. Will he go out in a shower of glory, or settle back into the team for a good long soak?
They Also Save Who Only Stand And Wait Award: Jordi Masip, who has not had the season he was expecting to. After a very good season with the B team, he was promoted and slotted in as our backup to the excellent Ter Stegen. Instead, he found himself dropped to 3rd choice after Luis Enrique insisted on signing Claudio Bravo. It’s a shame, because he is a very good keeper in his own right, but based on their performances there was no way he was going to bench either Ter Stegen or Bravo. He accepted his position with good grace, and was rewarded by playing two games (one in the cup, one in the league IIRC). My hope is that he will move on this summer to a team where he can play regularly. He is too good to be a backup all his life.
That Old Black Magic Award: To Thomas Vermaelen, who unselfishly sacrificed almost his entire season to serve as the team’s very own injury-laden Picture of Dorian Gray, thereby keeping the rest of the players in a remarkable state of health and fitness. Seriously, I can’t remember a season when we had so few injuries. One might be inclined to credit Lucho’s training methods, his medical staff, or his (controversial) use of player rotation, but I think we all know who is truly responsible: Voodoo Vermaelen and his little bag of pins and needles.
The Silver Bootstrap For Most Improved Performance: Last season was not Pique’s best. In fact, it would be fair to say that we hadn’t seen the best version of him for several years. And after a few diffident on-pitch performances and some questionable off-pitch behaviour, it was starting to look like 2014-2015 would be more of the same. Lucho even benched Pique for three games running in an attempt to shock him into a reaction. Well, it worked. Whether it was because of being benched or whether Shakira gave him a talking-to at home, at some point Pique gave his head a shake and determined to get back to being one of the best defenders in the world. Since some time in November Pique has been the linchpin of the best defense in the league, and turned in one phenomenal performance after another. On the pitch he oozes calm and self-confidence, along with his usual buccaneering spirit and willingness to get forward. No coach in his right mind would bench him now. Poor Bartra can barely get a look-in. So a well-deserved award to Pique for taking himself in hand, and let’s hope he continues in this form for many years to come!
The ParticipAction Award For Good Attendance: Every Canadian of a certain age will be familiar with this little pin, which was handed out to schoolchildren as part of a government fitness program. Everyone got one for participating, even if their fitness level was so poor they couldn’t even qualify for the bronze level patch. It was basically the “You tried” of Canadian junior high school gym. So this one goes to Douglas, who was sidelined for almost the entire season for reasons as diverse as “adapting to the style”, “injury”, “bought for next season, not this one”, “injury again”, or possibly even just “not being Dani Alves”. To his credit, Douglas has not complained (not spoken to the press at all, in fact), has made friends in the dressing room (he’s that guy in the picture you always think “Who’s that?” when the Brazilian players are out & about), and although his few minutes on the pitch were not exactly stellar, there has been no hint from the coaches that he has any problems in training. I still think his signing was extremely fishy and he will more than likely be loaned out this summer, but he deserves recognition for being a good team player and not letting the jokes get him down.
(Blau) Elefant In The Room Award: I think by anyone’s standard that we can all agree this has been a successful season. The team is playing spectacularly, the dressing room is healthy, and at time of writing there are two trophies to show for it, with a third as a distinct possibility. Even if Barça don’t win the treble, this is still a season to celebrate. So why are some of us feeling a bit ambivalent about the team’s success? It’s because these trophies may come with an unfortunate consequence if they help Bartomeu and the current board get reelected. All the controversies, missteps and downright criminal acts by this board may be blown away like chaff before the glorious trumpet call of victory. Worse, this board will take the credit and use it as a platform to get the members onside. After all, they appointed Lucho, didn’t they? They bought Rakitic and Suarez and Ter Stegen. How can you vote against them when they have so obviously had the best interests of the club at heart all along? We will see what happens when the elections come in July, but if FIFA delegates can resoundingly reelect Sepp Blatter in the face of the enormous scandals and criminal charges hanging over that organization, I don’t have a lot of hope that the Barça socis will do otherwise.
The Oscar Hammerstein II Memorial Birds Gotta Fly Award For Showboating: Neymar has been getting a lot of flak from the press and from opposing players for “showing off” with unnecessary little tricks and flicks. Most recently he attempted a “sombrero” over the head kick near the end of the Copa del Rey final, which incensed his opponent and led to an argument involving players from both teams. The claim is that tricks like this are offensive and disrespectful to the opponent, with the implication that the player considers himself “too good” and wants to humiliate the other. While there is certainly a level of arrogance or vanity in attempting these tricks, I think the amount of anger directed towards Neymar is out of proportion and based mostly on his personality. When Ronaldinho does things like this everyone praises the joy he takes in the game. If Neymar was messing about like this when the team was in need of a goal or someone was waiting for a vital pass, I would be first in line with a pitchfork. But trying a flick for the fun of it at the end of a game we have dominated from start to finish? Fill your boots, kid. You deserve it.
Elvis Has Left The Building Award: With 24 trophies to his name, and possibly even one more to come, Xavi is now the most decorated Spanish player of all time. After 17 years with the first team, Xavi played his last game at the Camp Nou, coming on for the second half of the CDR final. Many writers and journalists with more talent than myself have discussed his immense career and the impact he has had on the modern game, not just in Spain but around the world. I don’t think it is hyperbole to say that Xavi is the most important and influential Spanish player of all time. More than that, I would like to express my personal gratitude–I started following Barcelona because of Xavi. He’s the one who taught me that football can be a lot more than just some players running around after a ball. Every moment watching YouTube highlights set to awful emo music, every patchy stream that cuts out right before a goal, every sketchy download that might just be carrying a nasty virus–that’s all ultimately been because of Xavi, and it’s all been worth it. Thank you, Maestro, for all the beautiful football. I’m so happy you are leaving on a high note. I hope they appreciate you where you are going.