A shift in hierarchy, a scandal, a pandemic and many tears -- last season of La Liga took us for a ride. Now with the loss of big names like Messi and Ramos, fans flocking back to the stadiums and fresh new rosters, there is a lot to be revealed in the 2021-22 season.
Featured & written for IMAGO Zine #3 | La Liga. Get your copy and subscribe to our zine series here.
Fans of FC Barcelona have enjoyed an emotional rollercoaster seeing their beloved Lionel Messi leave after a year of quiet stadiums without a proper farewell-season or any closure from such a heartbreak. It was also the fans of FC Barcelona who in-part prompted the Barçagate scandal amid speculation of corruption and defamation — a scandal which has tainted the club’s reputation as the ex-president Josep Maria Bartomeu was arrested in March. In a season where no fans were allowed in the stadiums, it seems they managed to keep themselves busy in what ended up being one of La Liga’s major spectacles.
Almost 200km away from home in Valladolid, fans of Atlético de Madrid had their hearts stolen by former Barcelona player Luis Suárez after he scored the winning goal against Real Valladolid in what was the club’s first La Liga championship win since 2014, putting an end to the seven-year Real Madrid – FC Barcelona reign over the league. Suárez made headlines sobbing into his phone in a video call to his family as he laid on the pitch still wearing his kit — a heart-stealer indeed.
With 21 league goals Suárez will return to the pitch in red and white along with Jan Oblak who was recently ranked as the world’s best goalkeeper, and manager Diego Simeone, AKA El Cholo, for a hopefull season. They have also added some pearls such as midfielder Rodrigo de Paul, João Felix, Kieran Trippier and Yannick Carrasco.
Tears of joy were not the only tears shed however, and those of Lionel Messi only added to the turbulence FC Barcelona fans were thrusted into the past year. He choked up in his departure speech from the club – for whom he has played since the age of 13 – after the budget revealed unable to afford having him play again. Not to mention the fact that the club owed him 63.5 million euros, and the ongoing corruption case against ex-president Josep Bartomeu. Messi, who is now moving to Paris Saint Germain to join his old friend Neymar, wanted to leave Barcelona last summer because of his issues with the club but said that he recently changed his mind — it seems he wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the club that made him, or vice versa.
But with the new president Joan Laporta, the club might still manage to maintain its grandeur with some fresh blood such as Emerson Royal, Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia and Memphis Depay. Pedri González, Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets show another glimmer of hope for the club along with Alex Collado, Iñaki Peña, and Alejandro Balde from the B team. While the departure of Messi is heartbreaking for Barcelona fans, some are optimistic that the club is building a fresh team of skilled, young and eager players. Their victory in a recent test match against Juventus Turin whose roster includes star player Ronaldo, can only be optimistic. Messi’s tears surely brought a lump in our throats, but an end to an era may not be the demise of Barcelona.
Speaking of demise, Valencia CF defender Gabriel Paulista also broke down crying during an interview after a 3-0 loss to Getafe CF, bringing the threat of relegation ever-closer for Valencia. While they ultimately secured their spot in the upcoming season, seeing one of Spain’s most successful football teams on the chopping block provided yet another spectacle for the 2020-21 La Liga season. A season where fans kept getting creative in their participation, those of Valencia used a symbolic gesture for protest as they staged a candle-lit Vigil at the Mestalla stadium, ushering in a moment of silence for their club they feared was going under. ‘RIP Valencia’ read their banners as they protested against club owner Peter Lim and President Anil Murthy after star players like Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin were traded out to the rival team Villarreal, and Ferran Torres to Manchester City — all for a bargain.
While Valencia fans were shocked by the cold wave of disappointment that hit them the last season, Storm Filomena brought the heaviest snowfall to Spain in decades and left an even bigger mark on Real Madrid fans. The players were stuck on the runway for four hours while snow was being scraped off of El Sadar field before playing a goalless draw against Osasuna — bringing them to second place behind Atlético Madrid. It was the first time since the 2009-10 season that Real Madrid did not win a single trophy.
Although perhaps not such a blow like Messi leaving Barcelona, Real Madrid now losing their captain and superstar Sergio Ramos to PSG as well, might carry the chill over into this upcoming season. Perhaps a one for one, as Real Madrid has its eyes on the young PSG forward Kylian Mbappe, who helped bring France to win the World Cup in 2018.
Their defense will rely heavily on Éder Militão, David Alaba and Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois who was recently ranked as the world’s second best goalkeeper. We are also keeping an eye on Karim Benzema, Marco Asensio and Vinícius Júnior on the attack, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in midfield. But the future for the notorious Real Madrid, although always relatively bright, remains uncertain after their acquisition of Eden Hazard from Chelsea in 2019 which has not enjoyed the bounties they had hoped. His injuries and poor performance the past season certainly did not help warm fans up either, and Chelsea has openly admitted to trying to snatch their prodige back. With trainer Zinedine Zidane being replaced by Carlo Ancelotti as well, all eyes are on Real Madrid and their ability to bounce back to dominating the league.
Aside from snowstorms, tears, scandals and a global pandemic putting a wrench in things, La Liga saw a few pleasant surprises — while Kike Garcia scored SD Eibar’s first hat trick, Youssef En Nesyri of FC Sevilla was the first man to score two in a row: first against Real Sociedad and the second against Cadiz. Carlos Soler scored three penalties against Madrid, even after having to retake one, and became the third man to get a hat-trick from the spot. Former SD Eibar’s goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic scored a goal in penalties against Atlético Madrid, but has now moved over to FC Sevilla.
The Colchoneros’ AKA Atlético Madrid have a promising season ahead with the momentum they have picked up. Sevilla under Julen Lopetegui who reached the Copa Del Rey semi final and finished fourth in the league, has been slowly creeping up the ranks in Spanish football and its transfer window is still open for some acquisitions that can potentially further shift the hierarchy. Regarding clubs, Huesca, Real Valladolid, and Eibar were relegated in the 2020-21 season, and Rayo Vallecano, RCD Español and RCD Mallorca will be new to the first division this season. With stadiums hosting matches again at 50 percent capacity, the fans and all their glory will be back to witness the splendor and spectacles La Liga will offer.
Featured and written by The Game Columnist, Sofia Bergmann for the IMAGO Zine #3 | La Liga. Get your copy and subscribe to future issues.