Pichichi: a game of thrones

Pichichi: a game of thrones
Pichichi: a game of thrones
Even if you don’t rule the whole kingdom, you might get a crown too. Whether you are a talented striker, an opportunistic winger, or a penalty...
Luisito Suarez

Even if you don’t rule the whole kingdom, you might get a crown too. Whether you are a talented striker, an opportunistic winger, or a penalty specialist. Every offensive menace wishes to enter the legend of Pichichi.

A legend that started over a century ago, in a time when football was just a distraction, some innovative sport the world was hardly aware of. In the heart of the Basque Country, in Bilbao more precisely, was born the one who would start the tradition. Rafael Moreno Aranzadi was not Cristiano Ronaldo-like, not at all. He was closer to a Sunday-league footballer, liked his cigarettes and much less exercising. Yet, he was one of the best players to have even run into San Mamés’ pitch, Athletic Bilbao’s venue.

With the Basque club, he won 4 Copa del Rey but no league title – the reason being the absence of a regular national league, football was at a start, remember? Between 1911 and 1921, “Pichichi” got the crowd entertained and his club successful.His link with Athletic is very special, as he was the first one to score in San Mamés, which construction ended in 1913. Although it is unclear how many goals he scored in his career, given that all games he played were not necessarily official, Aranzadi remained forever a myth after he died of a typhus – at least that is the public version – in 1922, aged only 29.

What people remembered about him was not the end of his career, during which his performances declined, nor his short-lived refereeing career (he officiated during a game at San Mamés) but his ability for goal scoring. Marca, one of Spain’s main sports newspapers, named its trophy for Spanish La Liga top scorer after his nickname, “Pichichi”. The first ever player to win it was another Basque superstar, Telmo Zarra, in 1953 with…Athletic Bilbao. 63 years later, the legend has come back to life. This is what interests us here.

 

For a – contemporary – long time now, the trophy has been shared between La Liga’s two monsters, Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi. Since 2010, no one else got their hands on the prize. Messi, Cristiano, Messi, Messi, Cristiano and Cristiano successively lift it, letting only leftovers to the others, especially when they ended with 41, 45 or 50 goals at the top of the ranking. The last human to win it was Diego Forlan, then playing for Atlético in 2009.

This year the story could be different. Unless – and it is still possible – Leo and Cristiano decide all of a sudden to score doubles and triples in every game, just for fun, there is a real fight between several serious contestants.  Here are they, in the order of the current table (as of the 26 of January):

 

Luis Suárez – FC Barcelona – 18 goals [1 penalty kick]

Last year, he just was eager to play. This year, he’s eager to kill the competition. Half of it at least, since his two golden teammates are as deadly as he is. This season though, he took a very small lead with half of the games to be played yet. Tired of punishing his opponents with his bites, he chose the net as his favourite victim. On the track for a similar season as his last one in Liverpool (he ended up as Premier League’s top scorer with 31 goals), Luis Suárez was born with fighting spirit. He is surely not going to give up now.

 

Karim Benzema – Real Madrid – 17 goals [1 penalty kick]

He could be the first French player ever to win the Pichichi trophy. That would be another tough argument to counter at the moment of choosing the 23 players to defend France’s colours in the Euro 2016, for Deschamps and the French Federation. Not necessarily a role model off the pitch, the former Lyon striker is a precious ally in Real Madrid’s attacking force. CR7 and Gareth Bale can testify. Now, Karim is showing he can score. No one doubts it anymore.

 

Neymar – FC Barcelona – 16 goals [3 penalty kicks]

The Brazilian wonder keeps growing. In Messi’s absence he reached a whole other level. Third at the last Ballon d’Or ceremony, Neymar is a future winner to the eyes of King Leo himself. Not only provoking on his left wing, he is also capable of finishing, just like he did in last Champion’s League final against Juventus (3-1) to kill the very last hopes of the Old Lady. He is on the verge of becoming one of the greatest. Winning the Pichichi trophy could help.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid– 16 goals [4 penalty kicks]

He scored 25% of his goals on penalties. It is true. But having won three times the trophy, two being after scoring 41 and 48 goals, it would be slightly offensive to sum up his finishing ability to a 11-meter dual with the goalkeeper. He is Real Madrid’s deadliest weapon and Messi’s closest rival. He won 3 Ballon d’Or trophies mainly because of his scoring abilities. Even though he runs a little late, 3 goals behind leader Luis Suárez, he is still one of the most serious candidates for a Pichichi trophy.

Borja Bastón – Eibar – 14 goals [2 penalty kicks]

The majority of La Liga was not very familiar with Eibar when the season kicked off. It all belongs to the past. Thanks to an enthusiastic style of play and a tremendous performance in the first half of the league, the Basques have surprised everyone. Main responsible of Eibar’s conduct so far, Borja Baston keeps scoring, two doubles in his last two games, against Granada and Athletic. Aged 23, he might feature in this ranking quite a few times in the future. But why not extend this year’s surprise until the end?

 

Honorable mentions:

 

Gareth Bale – Real Madrid – 12 goals [0 penalty kicks]

He might have a hard time sharing the spotlight with Cristiano Ronaldo but Gareth Bale is still very dangerous on his right wing. Third part of the BBC attack, the Welshman has already scored 13 goals in 15 games, or as many as last season in twice as less games. Currently injured, he could only be stopped by his predisposition to injuries. Otherwise, he could very well figure in the top 3. Wait and see…

Antoine Griezmann – Atlético – 12 goals [0 penalty kicks]

The Frenchman was just a quality addition to Simeone’s squad upon arrival in 2014. He quickly became the main strike force in a collective masterpiece, as solid as efficient. With 22 goals in 37 games last season, and with 12 goals in 21 games so far in 2015/16, Griezmann could fancy himself winning a Pichichi title. Especially if he keeps on scoring like he has those past few games – 3 goals in 3 games.

Leo Messi – FC Barcelona – 11 goals [2 penalty kicks]

To sum up: he was elected Ballon d’Or winner for the fifth time (absolute record) and has won 5 major trophies last year with his fellows Neymar and Luis Suárez. Even if he only scored 11 goals so far (in 15 games, due to injury), La Pulga is capable of scoring 30 in the second half of the season. This is how strong he is. 2016 has started off really well for him, since he scored 5 goals in 4 games, way closer to his habitual standards. Beware of the Golden boy…