The talk of conspiracy was not necessary in the end, the whispers that Malaga would get a €1 million bonus if its former player Isco won La Liga, as part of its transfer agreement with Real Madrid in 2013, totally irrelevant.
Real Madrid did not drop points in the final game of the season, and though it was tested by a Malaga side who found Keylor Navas in his best form of the season, Madrid’s title never looked in doubt after Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring, from an Isco pass (of course) after 97 seconds. Barcelona needed to win and have Madrid to lose to steal the title, and its task was made even harder when it went 2-0 down at home to Eibar. It came back to win 4-2, with Messi missing a penalty but scoring twice along the way in a match that summed up Barcelona’s season. This year, it did things the hard way.
And so the spoils go to Madrid, where coach Zinedine Zidane was lifted in the air on the field and doused in champagne during his press conference.
In is his first full season in charge of the club, he has won La Liga, Real Madrid’s first in five years. Pundits noted that it was no surprise this came in a season in which Ronaldo was rotated and rested, and that the squad depth, with decisive contributions from the likes of Alvaro Morata, Isco, James Rodriguez and Marco Asensio, gave Madrid an advantage that Barcelona lacked.
It could get even better for Zidane. On June 3, the Champions League final could see Madrid become the first side to successfully defend its European title since AC Milan in 1989-1990. Despite this undoubted success, and proximity to history, no one puts this Madrid in the same bracket as the great Barcelona team of Pep Guardiola, or the Ajax side that won three straight European Cups from 1971-73. Why? As Jonathan Lieuw, writing in The Daily Telegraph, put it: “This is a team whose talisman is gently tiring, whose record signing could be on his way out, whose stars are unhappy and whose manager may not actually be any good, and who are on the verge of achieving a feat unmatched in the modern game.”
Maybe if Real Madrid beats Juventus in Cardiff, we will see more love for this side–but don’t bet on it.