Basque Boys for Life – Part 7 | @NickRowe85

Welcome back for the final part of this blog. It’s squeaky bum time as we reach the final weekend of the season and we’re 3rd in the table, level on points with Deportivo and Real Madrid.

The situation is as follows… Ourselves, Deportivo and Real Madrid are all level on 73 points. We are away to Kevin Keegan’s 19th-placed Valladolid, Deportivo host 12-placed Compostela, and Real Madrid visit Tenerife, who are 11th. Deportivo have a goal difference of +38, we have +33, and Real Madrid are on +26. We’re unlikely to better Deportivo by 6 goals, so hopefully they slip up, but we have to make sure we do our bit and win.

No sooner has Arregui returned from injury and he’s out again for a month with a groin strain. Billabona, Rios and Urzaiz all return from injury, but only Urzaiz is fit enough to make the staring 11, so the other 2 are on the bench. We beat King Kev’s side 3-0 at home earlier in the season, so the same will do very nicely, let’s join the action…

Disallowed goals have been the story of our season, and apparently there is “Nothing Cesar could do” about our opener, nothing except laugh that is, as our celebrations are halted when the goal is disallowed on 11 minutes, that’s a total of 9 for the season now. The frustration only lasts for 10 minutes though, as Etxebe gets his 35th league goal of the season, and his 36th follows just 9 minutes later to give us a 2-0 half time lead and a bit of breathing space.

I don’t make any changes at half time as we seem to be playing well. It definitely has been Etxebe’s year, and he fittingly gets his 3rd goal on the hour to round off the season with a hat trick, his 5th of the season. Peña gets a late consolation goal for the hosts, and I bring on Rios, Billabona and Ziganda for the final couple of minutes to get an ovation from the crowd as we win 3-1.

As we shake hands with the Valladolid players and staff, our supporters are going mad and news soon filters through that Deportivo could only draw 1-1 with Compostela, which secures us the runners-up spot and Champions League football next season. Real Madrid also drew with Tenerife, so they finish 4th.

So here’s confirmation of the final table. Zaragoza, Merida, Valladolid and Salamanca are relegated, and will be replaced next season by Numancia, Sevilla, Rayo Vallecano and Hércules, who are all promoted from the Segunda Division. I chuckle as I see that Oviedo have finished 13th, as they’ve definitely been an unlucky team for us.

It comes as little surprise that Etxebe finishes as the league’s top scorer by a Basque Country mile (excuse the pun) with an unbelievable 37 goals, 11 more than 2nd-placed Guilherme. It’s also a great effort from Loinaz, who managed 22 goals and finishes 5th in the standings. Guerrero probably would have made the list if it wasn’t for his season-ending injury.

It was also a great season for Loinaz in terms of assists as he finished joint top of the pile with Deportivo’s Guilherme, with Alkiza finishing 9th and Etxebe 11th.

I’ll be having words with Urzaiz as he finishes 6th in the worst discipline table, and here are the goals, assists and average ratings for the entire squad…

Real Madrid get revenge on Tenerife for the final day draw by beating them to lift the Copa Del Rey, and in the other loaded leagues (England and Italy), Arsenal win the premier league on goal difference over Man Utd and Juventus walk Serie A as usual.

The transfer window is now open again and I see that Mendieta is now available, so I waste little time in swooping for £1.4m, some £40m short of the world-record fee that Lazio would pay for him in 2001. I was on the hunt for a right wingback, and with Billabona’s disappointingly low average rating, Mendieta will do nicely, and provide a bit of competition.

Surprisingly, there are a flurry of approaches for Alvaro, who eventually opts for Racing Santander, with £1m being too good for me to turn down for a player who never made a single appearance this season.

The board are delighted with my performance as manager, and I’m proud to be the only manager to win a monthly award other than Louis Van Gaal or Jupp Heynckes.

I take another look at my short list and see that Laslandes is available, so I make a £3.6m bid for him in the hope that he finds the red and white stripes of Bilbao as appealing as he will those of Sunderland in 2001. His goal tally for the season hasn’t been amazing, but his average rating has, and maybe a change of scenery will get him firing again.

To reflect on the season, it’s definitely been a success, and we’ve bettered last season’s 6th place finish and UEFA Cup qualification by finishing 2nd and qualifying for the Champions League qualifying stages. From a goal-scoring perspective, I can’t complain at all, as only Barcelona outscored us, but it’s a different story at the other end, as we conceded the most goals in the top 7, so I definitely need to look at the defence, so we’ll see who we can bring in over the summer. Overall, I’m very proud of my Basque Boys and can’t fault their efforts.

So that wraps up season 1. I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading it as much as I have writing it. I’m already planning my next blog so watch this space! The Basque boys will be back for season 2 soon, where we’ll find out who wins the World Cup and also whether we can tempt Laslandes into joining. See you all soon!

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