La Liga Review 2010/11: Jose settles for Karim as Málaga find a hero


If the culé collective’s sense of self-worth had drooped a little thanks to December’s announcement that Barcelona would be jumping into bed with the Qatar Foundation and leaving UNICEF as sloppy seconds, then it perked up in the new year when Leo Messi won the 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or, with Andrés Iniesta and Xavi joining him to help Barça dominate the podium.

And boy was this moment of mid-season glory milked by the Catalan press until the udders had fallen off, with J.M Artells writing in Mundo Deportivo that “January 10 will be a sacred date in the culé calendar.”

The month got even better for Barcelona when Real Madrid dropped points in a draw against Almería and a defeat to Osasuna, leaving the league title as the Catalan side's to lose.

Of course, José Mourinho managed to find handy scapegoats for his scorn. Against Almería, it was the man-in-the-middle, Pérez Lasa, with Mourinho scoffing that “I’m not going to complain about the referee. I’ve known him since 1996 and the Señor Lasa of 2011 is exactly the same.” “He’s well informed as I wasn’t in la Primera in 1996,” replied the referee, whose first top flight match didn’t come until 1997.

Mourinho’s morale-boosting moans about the limited talents of a certain French international striker were also a dominant theme of the month, with the Madrid manager shrugging that “if I only have Karim, I play Karim" after being informed that Gonzalo Higuaín could be out for the rest of the campaign and that a replacement may not be arriving.

The Special One’s ire was also turned in the direction of  Madrid’s Director General, Jorge Valdano, who noted after the Almería match that “there was a number nine on the bench, if there’s something this team is lacking, it isn’t goals.” His underling did not take too kindly to this crime of subordination committed during a TV interview and warned that “I’m too old for little messages being passed through the press.”

With the title race all but over, the Copa del Rey suddenly took on renewed importance for Madrid - less so for Barcelona - with both teams hacking their way through a quick rush of rounds to put themselves on the brink of a meeting in the final.

Talk began over the possibility of starting game at midday on a Sunday to attract the Asian market. It was a move that Atlético Madrid manager, Quique Sánchez Flores, approved off, noting that “you don’t know who football is planned for in Spain, certainly not the fans.”

The January transfer window allowed clubs the chance to make moves that would either lift them towards the Europe places or save their backsides from the trapdoor. Málaga were very much in the latter camp, with Julio Baptista arriving from Roma and going on to play a huge role in the club’s survival fight. Atlético thought they had pulled off a coup of their own when announcing Kun Agüero had extended his contract until 2014. But perhaps the most pertinent aspect of the deal was the fact that the forward’s buy-out clause had been reduced from €60 million to €45 million, making the Argentinean’s end-of-season revelation that he wanted to leave less of a surprise.

Up in Santander, Racing launched head-first into what turned out to be a terrible bit of business - and one that could have been avoided with a simple bit of Googling - when the club’s owners let Indian businessman, Ahsan Ali Syed, buy a majority stake in the institution. Or to put it correctly, make a down payment on the club seeing as the rest of what’s owed has yet to arrive, with the cheque presumably still in the post...

The heart-warming story of the season began in January, with Levante losing 1-0 to city rivals Valencia thanks to Juan Mata's suspiciously offside looking goal, leaving the club in the deepest of trouble and coach Luis García in despair. “I don’t want to train on Monday, I don’t feel like it,” complained the manager who has since jumped ship to Getafe. Fortunately he did, and just two weeks later, he had began to launch the mother of all survival campaigns.