A LOOK AT LA LIGA
As the Spanish football clubs take a breather for the festive season it's time for reflection on the past year and predictions for the year ahead.
If only we all had the ability of Zinedine Zidane to look into the future: while many were still rejoicing in the capital following an incredible 13th European Cup success, he saw what was coming and departed with his name written in the history books.
On refection, it was as masterly a move as any he made when leading Real Madrid to an unprecedented third successive Champions League win. He saw what life would be like in the post-Ronaldo era when the egos were unleashed.
His successor must wonder how life could change so spectacularly. In May, Julen Lopetegui was the footballing King of Spain, undefeated, and heading to the World Cup in charge of one of the favourites. Six months later, he's ruminating on how he managed to screw up two of the biggest jobs in the game of football.
The crystal ball is rather fuzzy when it comes to predicting what will happen in 2019. I would have expected that Mauricio Pochettino was way out ahead of everyone in the running for the permanent Real Madrid job until José Mourinho was finally released from his hotel-room existence in Manchester city centre.
There will be a surge in the Spanish media to link Mourinho with Real. Some say he's lost his allure, but not if you have newspaper pages to fill or radio phone ins to produce. He's still box-office and at the Bernabéu there is still the tendency to go for style rather than substance. If they have any sense, they will be trying to tempt Pochettino to head for the blue skies of Madrid rather than stormy Manchester.
Over in Barcelona, everything is far more settled. Lionel Messi is still on top of his game and Ernesto Valverde is overseeing a quiet transition. As the song goes "All is calm, all is bright". Well, that is apart from in the Ousmane Dembélé crib.
A crib is an MTV term for the mansion of a celebrity where the inhabitants appear to have a hedonistic existence. I have heard first-hand stories of a Brazilian superstar who was caught up in the rock-star world. He had a golf cart to ferry guests from the gate to the swimming pool which had an industrial-size beer fridge. Now I don't profess to know what goes on behind the gates of Chez Dembélé but it appears that his lair is in a different time-zone to the training ground, given the numerous occasions he's late for training. If they could harness his undoubted abilities, then Barça will walk the league and be contenders in Europe too.
I'm not one for predictions, but since I correctly called Real Madrid-Liverpool as the 2018 Champions League Final, this season I have gone for Paris St Germain and Manchester City. PSG have the players without the weekly pressure and I think City have subconsciously gone for Europe this season.
Keep an eye out for Pablo Machín as the next big thing. He made his name at Girona and Sevilla have adapted to his individual and unique style of management. By the end of the season, he may be the trendy alternative to Pochettino.
Away from the major clubs, man of the year must go to Abelardo who took on bottom-placed Alavés, a lost cause. Somehow he transformed them, winning 13 of the remaining 23 games last season. Twelve months on they are fifth in La Liga, just one point behind Real Madrid. Now, who could have predicted that?