I hate this part, because no matter who you pick, it’s the wrong decision. Everybody on our squad was immensely valuable in this amazing year in which we came so close to repeating the unrepeatable. Key contributions came from every part of the pitch for us, and the challenge was to find the one player who, match after match, contributed to our excellence in a way that would prove indispensable to the club and what it accomplished. It was a hell of a hard call, frankly, and maybe it’s suicidal, in that I’m so used to being called a butthead after match reviews, that I miss the feeling. 😀
At any rate, my MVP is Victor Valdes.
Now, I’m already flinching as I type this, in anticipation of the brickbats that will come hurtling my way. It will make the nattering at The Offside seem like gentle kisses by a sun-flecked breeze.
But I’m okay with that.
First, here’s why I didn’t choose Xavi. There is absolutely no doubt that our General was crucial to the success of our team. When he was in, we were a better side for it. Significantly better. His lob over the top for Messi led to the demise of the EE, and a victory in the away El Clasic is but one of the many things that argue for Xavi as MVP. Many was the match in which he had a part in every goal that we scored. Every. Last. One.
And why not Messi? Simply enough, because when Messi had matches off, bad days that we all griped about in liveblogs or comment threads, we still won. His contributions to our cause were immense. He carried our offense when two crucial cogs, Henry and Iniesta, were crocked for entirely too much of the season. Valid MVP arguments could be made for both he and Xavi, and I made them. But I kept coming back to Valdes.
This was a season that was so delicate, so precarious that one goal here or there could have turned it. Unlike last year, where gaudy scorelines were the norm except in tight matches, this season even in the league, there were intense scorelines. We usually didn’t win by blowing the other side out of the water.
Valdes just stands back there, with a ground-level seat to the best football in the world until all of a sudden it goes bad and he has to swing into action, going from 0-100 in about two seconds. And he does it. If Xavi makes a bad pass, he gets another chance, because of our possession game. If Valdes makes an error, we’re down 1-0 and the match takes on a very different complexion. Think about that reflex stop that he made on Fabiano against Sevilla. If that shot goes in, the match is dramatically different, and maybe we aren’t champions right now. Maybe. Just maybe.
Championships start with defense. In matches in which our defense was shaky, Valdes stood strong, dashing off his line to break up one-on-ones, performing the task of sweeper keeper in a way that kept us safe. Yes, he conceded goals. There were even a couple that were his fault, because of positioning or being wrong-footed. But our defense begins and ends with the keeper. If a defense has confidence in its keeper, it plays more bravely and takes the kinds of chances that defenders sometimes have to take, knowing that the keeper is going to bail them out. Our defense plays more bravely, more crazily, than any defense in the world. At times, every defender is pushed up the pitch, leaving our gates wide open.
Except for Valdes.
There were also matches in which we scored, and the other team had opportunities to score. And whether from an absurd reflex save or reading a play right, Valdes has spent the season being not only excellent, but indispensable to our club. Xavi wasn’t in for some matches, and the machine rolled on. It stuttered a bit, and threw a cylinder at times, but on it went. Luckily, we never saw the effects of what might have happened had Valdes not been in the side. His season was so exemplary that he not only won Zamora for the stingiest keeper in the Liga, but went from not being anywhere near the World Cup radar, to going to South Africa with La Furia Roja.
The candyass thing to do would have been to have joint MVPs, or even tri-MVPs. But I’m just not going to wuss out like that. Sorry. And I know that it’s easy to take keepers for granted, because they don’t do anything, until they have to do something. They’re like field goal kickers in American football. It’s a guy who sits on the sidelines the whole game, then with a second left, the coach beckons to him and says “Go win the game for us.” Then he either does, or doesn’t.
Over at EE, even in light of their second-place finish in the Liga, if there is any justice their keeper will be MVP, as well. Higuain and Thong Boy banged in the goals, but Casillas kept them in match after match after match. As Valdes did with us. He isn’t glamorous, has kind of a dorky haircut and wears his shorts too high on his waist.
But he’s so beautiful when he springs into action, and love it or hate it, he’s my MVP.