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Curtain call

And so the curtain falls on another season, the 82nd to be played since the competition turned official back in 1928. As with last season, the main focus was on the nether regions of the division, with all four relegation-threatened teams playing at home.

At the end of the day, as the cliche goes, it was Celta de Vigo who managed the great escape on Saturday, beating Espanyol 1-0 at home with a 17-year-old emergency goalkeeper between the sticks. Their pleasure was possibly all the greater given the simultaneous events unfolding over in Coruna, where Galician rivals Deportivo had been handed the more difficult task of defeating a Real Sociedad side who needed to win to snatch back fourth place from Valencia (who were away to Sevilla). It's difficult to know how genuine Celta's schadenfreude will be when the absence of their cousins next season means the absence of the local derby, but Deportivo lost 1-0 to a goal by Antoine Griezmann and will return from whence they came last season.

Real Sociedad thus claimed the fourth Champions league spot and will play the qualifying round in August. Valencia, two points ahead of them at the start of the day, lost 4-3 away to Sevilla in a game that saw Alvaro Negredo send a reminder to Vicente del Bosque by scoring all four for the home side, although the chap who has replaced him in the list for the Confederations Cup, Roberto Soldado, also scored a brace to take his total to 24 for the season. Negredo managed 25 and may well argue that, as the top Spanish scorer in the league, he should have been picked - but he will be happy to hear that the citizens of San Sebastian have already voted to invite him to their winter Tamborrada festival as the Tambor de Oro (The Golden Drum), reserved for the person who has made the biggest contribution to local culture during the year.

Sociedad were worried in case Sevilla were too relaxed for the game, but they hadn't bargained on Negredo's extra motivation and manager Unai Emery's gesture to the club that might yet sign him for the season to come. Emery is from Hondarribia, ten kilometres from San Sebastian, and is a Real Sociedad old boy. Maybe it counted more than his previous association with Valencia. This does not make good reading for Valencia fans, and the club will view the less bountiful Europa League as scant compensation, as will their numerous creditors. Manager Ernesto Valverde has announced his departure, with his likely destination the new San Mames - although there are those who see him as Barcelona's famous 'Plan B'.

I flew back from a working week in Bucharest just in time to settle in front of the sofa and watch the Deportivo-Real Sociedad game on the open Channel 4 from the comfort of my sofa. Had it not been for the work commitment during the week, I would probably have travelled to Galicia for the game.

The weirdest and most wonderful thing about football is its Manichean aspect, its ability to leave one community popping the champagne corks whilst the other contemplates suicide. Poor Deportivo, who despite being fingered in the Levante scandal this season (a smear on their reputation they would do well to dispel with more conviction) probably deserved better. It was an unfortunate end to things for the wonderful Juan Carlos Valeron, whose 328 games for the club over a 13-year period would have been many more had it not been for several serious injuries. That he made it to 38 years of age playing in the top flight is a minor miracle, and it was sad to see him bow out on a relegation note.

Nice to see, however, the gestures of the Real Sociedad players, aware that their victory celebrations were being played out to a funereal backdrop: instead of lording it over the scene, they wandered around the pitch first, picking up prone Deportivo players and sympathising with their fellow professionals. We need more of that kind of stuff nowadays.

Talking of relegation, it was unsurprising to note that the three clubs who have gone down - Mallorca, Depor and Zaragoza - have all been in similar circumstances this season. All have severe financial problems and internal disputes, most of which have involved internecine power struggles – Deportivo being the exception. The combination is almost always fatal. Happy clubs tend to survive and Deportivo almost did, their late rearguard action with Fernando Vazquez not quite pulling them out of the mire in time.

Up at the top, Barcelona managed to wreck Jose Mourinho's season even further by equalling his record century of points from last season, although their final 4-1 win against Malaga failed to overhaul Madrid's goalscoring tally of 121 last time. They fell six short - but, hey, Leo Messi had been sidelined for the last couple of games.

The 115 they scored was, however, a club record for Tito Vilanova in his maiden season, but Barca were more concerned with other matters at the weekend, as they will be over the summer. The emotional farewell to Eric Abidal cannot hide the fact that there is tension over the club's decision not to renew his contract and, to add to the confusion, Victor Valdes seems to be changing his mind over his previous decision to leave. The David Villa case remains in the air, as does that of Thiago Alcantara, who is apparently talking to Real Madrid. Well, I never...

Over at the Bernabeu, it was more Theatre of the Absurd than dreams, with a paparazzi rush towards a late-emerging Mourinho sufficient to get the game against Osasuna stopped temporarily. Iker Casillas and Cristiano Ronaldo were conspicuous by their absence, particularly the former, who is apparently injured but was nevertheless selected for Spain by Del Bosque. In the further absence of the unavailable Diego Lopez, Mourinho's former foot-soldier Adan was relegated to the bench in place of Jesus, who, like his more famous namesake, has spent most of his time fasting in the wild.

One suspects - as in the case of Diego Llorente, who replaced Alvaro Arbeloa in the second half, and Omar Mascarell, who replaced Mesut Ozil towards the end - that Mourinho was simply upping the youth statistics in his favour before giving his final wave, in this case exclusively to the Ultras Sur section of the crowd, before disappearing forever down the tunnel. He will be followed by Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria (if Gareth Bale turns up), and the last vestiges of Mourinho's Pretorian Guard, Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Essien. The latter scored a rare goal and ran to high-five his mentor, undoubtedly adding: "See you in London soon."

Further below, in the dark depths of the Segunda Division, Racing de Santander suffered their second consecutive relegation after being pegged back to draw 2-2 at Ponferradina, who retain hopes of the play-offs. Racing, who could easily disappear from the horizon after next week's concluding game at home to Hercules, are a warning to all who mismanage their accounting books and then fail to research the backgrounds of individuals who turn up promising gold. Malaga, although their plight is currently less serious, will also have noted the swift demise of Racing.

However, on a lighter note, and to the sound of trumpets, this season's awards go to...

Player of the Year: It's a tricky one, because the Messi-Ronaldo hybrid is becoming an unimaginative choice year after year. If I had to choose between them this season, I'd choose Ronaldo due to his sheer will-to-win attitude and astonishing consistency - but in a campaign that has not really thrown up any obvious candidates, save several from Real Sociedad, I'll risk general wrath by going for Atletico's Diego Costa. He's a gnarly fellow, shaped from the same mould as his manager Diego Simeone, but his emergence this season, after being farmed out to Rayo Vallecano last time, has been nothing short of miraculous. Radamel Falcao has been the name in the headlines, but Costa has been the real motor of the side, scoring 20 goals and generally annoying every team he has played against. He's very astute, is good in every facet of the game and is competitive in the way that Simeone once was. Without him, Atletico would not have enjoyed such an excellent season.

Manager of the year: I suppose it has to be "Cholo" Simeone. Betis' Pepe Mel, Real Sociedad's Phillippe Montanier and Rayo's Paco Jemez are all candidates, but I'll go for Simeone. There were those who thought the 'Cholo effect' would be short-lived, but he's proved himself to be smarter than people thought. An impressive league campaign, and three trophies in two seasons. Not bad at all.

Team of the season: It's difficult to deny Real Sociedad this particular trophy. It just suddenly all came together. They have played the best football in La Liga this season after a nervous start, and have assembled a squad of young homegrown talents who will continue to shine for years to come. Whether they will shine in San Sebastian or at other clubs is an open question, but this has been their year, without a doubt.

Quote of the season: Security guard at Athletic Bilbao's training-ground Lezama: "It's dark, and I hear someone jump over the fence, so I shine my torch in his face. It's Javi Martinez. He says: 'Hi there. I've come from Germany to get my boots.'"

Shock of the season: The benching of Iker Casillas. Not since Alfredo Di Stefano was sent packing to play for Espanyol has there been such a shock-horror incident at the Bernabéu.

Most predictable outcomes: The relegation of Zaragoza. Manuel Pellegrini's departure. Real Madrid not winning La Decima.

Unexpected player of the year: Real Madrid's Diego Lopez. If the world were a different place, he'd also have been picked for the Spain squad, but Del Bosque decided not to cause any further furore.

Best Referee: What's the word in Latin? 'Nemo'?

Team of the season: Okay, you can all get cross now. No Ronaldo or Messi, but it's just to give the rest a chance. Here we go:

Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid)
Right back: Carlos Martinez (Real Sociedad)
Left back: Jordi Alba (Barcelona)
Centre backs: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) and Inigo Martinez (Real Sociedad)
Defensive midfielder: Asier Illarramendi (Real Sociedad)
Other midfielders: Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid) and Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)
In the hole: Isco (Malaga)
Good old-fashioned winger: Jesus Navas (Sevilla)
Forward: Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid)

Sub: Iker Casillas (It's a joke. Get it?)

See you next season. Have a good summer or winter, depending on your hemisphere.


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