The tightest Pichichi race in a generation – A throwback to another era

Pichichi Race 2023/24

For the best part of a decade, the battle for Spain’s prestigious Pichichi Trophy was not so much a race, but more a personal duel between two of the best footballers to ever play the game. 

Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit from Real Madrid in 2018 unsurprisingly paved the way for Leo Messi to chalk up three more Pichichi wins before the Argentine himself left LaLiga in 2021.

Between 2009 and 2021, only Luis Suarez’s remarkable 40-goal 2015/16 season was enough to wrestle the prize away from Messi and Ronaldo who produced 50 and 48 goal LaLiga campaigns at their respective peaks.

The numbers during that remarkable era were so astronomical that for eleven straight seasons*, the European Golden Boot was won by a player in Spain, a run that was actually started by Diego Forlan who fired in 32 goals for Atletico Madrid in 2008/09.

As we approach the end of the third season in the post-Messi era of LaLiga, it’s clear and not remotely surprising that we’ve returned to a more modest period in terms of goalscoring numbers. Robert Lewandowski won the Pichichi last term with 23 goals, the fewest since Deportivo La Coruña’s Diego Tristan won it in 2001/02.

This season, we head into April with doubts about whether anyone will even hit the 20 goal mark. You have to go back to 1990/91 and Emilio Butragueño’s 19-goal campaign for Real Madrid for the last time a player finished as the top scorer in the Spanish top flight with fewer than 20.

*The 2013/14 European Golden Boot was shared between Ronaldo and Suarez, then of Liverpool.

Pichichi race 2023/24 – The top 10

PlayerClubAppearancesGoals
Jude BellinghamReal Madrid2316
Artem DovbykGirona2816
Ante BudimirOsasuna3016
Borja MayoralGetafe2715
Alexander SørlothVillarreal2614
Alvaro MorataAtletico Madrid2714
Robert LewandowskiBarcelona2813
Gorka GuruzetaAthletic Club2913
Vinicius JuniorReal Madrid2012
Hugo DuroValencia2912

With a three-way tie for first place and just four goals currently separating the top ten, the Pichichi battle is very much wide open as we head into the final eight matchdays.

Jude Bellingham, Artem Dovbyk and Ante Budimir currently lead the field on 16. That’s two players who weren’t even in Spain last season and another who only registered 16 goals in the previous two seasons combined.

The chasing pack includes the likes of Borja Mayoral, Alexander Sørloth, Gorka Guruzeta and Hugo Duro, players who would certainly not have anticipated being in the running for the big prize at such an advanced stage in the season.

Who’s best placed to win it?

Pichichi Race 2023/24
Jude Bellingham is one of three players on 16 league goals. Photo credit: depositphotos.com

The 2023/24 Pichichi race is one that Jude Bellingham has led for virtually the entire campaign. The 20 year old made a flying start to his Real Madrid career, thriving in an advanced midfield role for Carlo Ancelotti. 

However, not aided by some missed games due to suspension, Bellingham has only added three goals since the turn of the year and while he remains the bookies’ favourite, he is now in danger of being overhauled as he bids to become the first ever English recipient of the prize.

Alvaro Morata was another early front runner, but his form has badly dipped off in recent months with just two league goals for the Spain international since his hat-trick in defeat at Girona in Atleti’s first game of 2024.

One thing that is for sure is that the recipient won’t be Borja Mayoral. The Getafe man’s best ever season has been cruelly cut short by injury and barring a miraculous recovery, 15 will be his final tally.

Artem Dovbyk remains a strong candidate and will be feeling better about himself after a brace against Real Betis at the weekend which ended a goal drought of his own. The Girona frontman is perhaps best placed to edge out Bellingham given his place as a certain starter in a high flying team that will continue to create chances.

On current form though, it would be foolish to write off the likes of Alexander Sørloth and last year’s winner Robert Lewandowski. Sørloth is enjoying life in a free-scoring Villarreal side where he has fired in eight goals in his last nine league appearances to rapidly rise up the rankings.

Lewandowski meanwhile has shown glimpses that suggest he may be getting closer to the level of at least his early Barcelona highs and the Polish striker may only need one or two big performances to truly thrust himself into contention.

A throwback to the 90’s and 00’s

Long-time followers of Spanish football would be forgiven for feeling a bit nostalgic with this season’s Pichichi race more resemblant of ones from an altogether different era when lesser known names frequently competed for and occasionally won the trophy.

The last player totally removed from the “superstar” category to end up as the Spanish top flight’s top scorer was Dani Güiza who fired in 27 goals for Mallorca in the 2007/08 season. That’s the only occasion in the last 18 years that the recipient wasn’t playing for one of the “big three” clubs with 16 of the last 18 winners playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid.

Güiza, the last Spanish Pichichi winner and largely remembered as something of a one season wonder, didn’t even face particularly stiff competition that year with Sevilla’s Luis Fabiano the only other player to pass 20 goals.

Tenerife’s Juan Antonio Pizzi (1995/96) and Racing Santander’s Salva (1999/00) also stand out as unlikely LaLiga top goalscorers.

Trawling back down Spanish football memory lane though, it’s hard to find another season where the race has been quite this tight with quite so many players in contention. While, it’s still possible that one man could hit form and end up a few goals clear, it’s perhaps not since the 2001/02 campaign that it’s been as close as this.

That season saw just four goals separate the top six with Depor’s Diego Tristan edging out Real Madrid’s Fernando Morientes and Barcelona duo Patrick Kluivert and Javier Saviola, as well as Catanha of Celta Vigo and Raul Tamudo of Espanyol.

More than two decades on, while many of the key battles in the league table look like they may be wrapped up long before the final weekend, the race for the 2023/24 Pichichi is as exciting as it has been in many a year.

It’s as likely to go to an Osasuna or Girona player as it is one from Atletico Madrid or Barcelona. Even if Real Madrid’s Jude Bellingham gets over the line, that would still represent an extraordinary story with the Englishman hoping to become one of the youngest ever winners, not to mention of the very few midfield recipients.

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About Mark Sochon 2062 Articles
Mark is a freelance writer based in Madrid. He has been writing about Spanish football since 2014 and regularly attends and covers matches across Spain. His work has also been published by various newspapers and websites including These Football Times, World Soccer and Guardian Sport. Available for freelance work: marksochon (at) hotmail.co.uk