For the third successive year, Outside of the Boot recognises the individuals who stood above & beyond the rest in their respective leagues. With Europe’s top five leagues the focus of our End of Season Awards, we pick out the best players across their respective positions, the best manager, the exceptional Talent Radar young player, and of course the sole man standing above the rest.
Each individual award (like every previous season) has been decided by a combined vote of our readers, and the editorial team on this website.
MANAGER OF THE SEASON
Villarreal’s return to the La Liga a few seasons ago marked an upward rise with no stuttering. Marcelino Garcia Toral played a big part in that rise, taking Villarreal to a fourth place finish this season in La Liga. The Spaniard’s efforts made the club looked more than promising with their efforts in the Europa league and even helped them secure a Champions League qualification berth. Much of his work can be accredited to the defensive organisation he has set up; the Yellow Submarines managed to have the fourth best defensive record in the league.
The two runners-up in this category are the higher profile duo of Diego Simeone and Luis Enrique. It has been fascinating to watch Simeone’s transformation as a manager over the years but he’s found a system that quite simply works. Luis Enrique will be a bit perplexed to find himself in third having sealed another La Liga crown for the Catalan club. He’s done well to keep the Barcelona juggernaut rolling but failure in the Champions League and a late domestic blip may have seen him miss out on top spot.
KEEPER OF THE SEASON
Atletico proved this season that they have found a gem of a goalkeeper in Jan Oblak. After the high standards set by his predecessors in the form of David De Gea and Thibaut Courtois, Oblak managed to soak up all the pressure and deliver an excellent season. The 23-year-old featured in every Atletico league game, keeping 24 out of a possible 38 clean sheets and letting in just 18 goals the entire season. In what is his second season, the Slovenian has managed to keep as many clean sheets (43) as goals conceded (from 71 games), which is quite an incredible feat.
Finishing behind Atleti’s custodian is his Real Madrid counterpart, Keylor Navas. Navas’ days at the Bernabeu may have seemed numbered at the start of the campaign but as fate would have it, the Costa Rican International did spend the entirety of the campaign as their number 1. Navas seemed to have a point to prove and he did just that consistently delivering assured performances. Rounding off the podium places is Villareal’s Alphonse Areola. The 23-year-old thrived on loan from PSG and showed just why he’s so highly rated with 15 clean sheets in the league.
DEFENDER OF THE SEASON
Diego Godin surpassed 250 appearances in Atletico colours this season and has been the embodiment of Atletico’s playing mentality that has brought them their recent success. The 30-year-old was at the heart of a defensive line up that conceded just 18 goals all season that managed to better this stat by 11 goals conceded in the previous season. The Uruguayan started the season strong and even managed to captain the side for a couple of games but hit the side-lines towards end of the season. Despite missing 5 league games due to injury at a crucial moment in the season, Godin’s early work managed to set up Atletico for a title challenge all the way to the end.
Jose Gimenez, Godin’s partner in crime for both club and country, finishes as runner-up for the award. In a setup like Atletico’s, one would expect the centre-halves to be able to soak up spells of opposition pressure and Gimenez has shown he’s more than capable of that. With Atletico’s injury crisis at the back towards the end of the season, the Uruguayan was expected to lead the defence at times and he did his reputation no harm in doing so. Finishing in third place is another important cog of the Villareal defence, Victor Ruiz. The Spaniard made his switch to Villareal permanent at the start of the season and he rewarded the club’s faith in him with a solid season. An ever-present at the back, Ruiz chalked up 35 appearances in the league and will be hoping to play a big role in Villareal’s upcoming European adventure.
MIDFIELDER OF THE SEASON
While there are many midfielders who managed to score and assist more than Sergio Busquets, the Spaniard had a more influential role in where his club ended up being placed on the La Liga table. Busquets featured in 35 league games for the Catalan side, playing an important part in dictating play as well as sweeping up from the back. With Barcelona’s style of play laying more emphasis on moving forward as a unit, there have been several occasions where Busquets’ placement and positioning in a deep role provided that extra man to fend off any attempted counter attack, thus proving repeatedly to be a crucial deciding factor.
Luka Modric had a very strong second half of the season as Real Madrid almost hauled Barcelona back in the league under the stewardship of Zinedine Zidane. Modric was at his sublime best at most times displaying efficiency on the ball in his customary aesthetic manner. Bruno continues the trend of Villareal players finishing in third spot of these awards. The midfielder may not enjoy the recognition some of his peers get but regulars watchers of the La Liga can attest to his importance to the team and overall ability.
FORWARD OF THE SEASON
With the antics around Luis Suarez having died down (relatively), football enthusiasts managed to witness the brilliance of the man in full flow. To take it a step further, Suarez has found the perfect chemistry with Neymar and Messi; the three combining to form potentially one of the most lethal attacking trios in the game. Suarez featured in 35 league appearances, scoring 40 goals and providing 19 assists. More than just the goals, his off the ball awareness and ability to dictate play are a testament to his footballing aptitude.
Cristiano Ronaldo may have finished above Messi but was unable to claim the Pichichi. There have been rumblings that perhaps the Portuguese International is past his best but he answered his critics in his usual fashion, with a bucketload of goals. Rounding off the top three is Atleti’s gifted attacker, Antoine Griezmann. The Frenchman has been phenomenal for Simeone’s side and has established himself as one of the world’s best players right now.
TALENT RADAR YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON
La Liga had many young players perform well in the league, but Jan Oblak stood above the rest by quite a distance. In what is his last year as an eligible Talent Radar player, Oblak conceded just 18 goals throughout the entire season. At 23, he has now got considerable European experience under his belt against quality oppositions. With mainstream media not a big fan of Atletico’s playing style, credit is due big time to key players, one amongst them being Oblak.
It’s a testament to their skill that all of the top 3 of this category have already featured in their respective positional categories. Oblak may have walked away as the top dog but Gimenez and Areola are two players that look the part with bright futures ahead.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Luis Suarez’s 40 goal season is a feat that comes as a breath of fresh air after years of the Ronaldo-Messi dominance. The Uruguayan was signed with several clauses in his contract to keep his behaviour in check. The gamble Barcelona took worked out perfectly with Suarez going all out on his performances. The Suarez we knew at Liverpool was one man running the show but with the rest of the Barcelona side working with him as a focal point, he has managed to take his game to a whole new level.
The two runners-up line up in the same position as their respective teams in the final standings. Ronaldo and Godin are two stalwarts of their sides and it remains to be seen which of the two will come away from Milan with the Champions League trophy in their grasp.