In todayai??i??s world of competitive football, we are in the ‘results’ business. In a world where football managers are sacked and hired quicker than you can say ai???Neil Warnockai???, does Vicente del Bosque have the easiest job on his hands? With full due respect to del Bosque, who has proved his credentials with both Real Madrid and more recently the Spanish national team, the most ingenious of all his tactics was a simple non technical decision.

When players play for their national team after the end of a long and grueling club season, there are more than a few hurdles that need to be overcome. Can a Steven Gerrard be accommodated in a midfield with a Frank Lampard? Will a Luka Modric be able to perform as well as he does with the reliant Scott Parker with a similar Croatian midfield destroyer like Vukojevic? In other words, is a player obligated to translate his club form to his national team without fail?

Geniuses at their clubs, Flops for their national team

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Wayne Rooney has flattered to deceive at the international level in every major tournament after his heroics at Euro 2004, even at the back of scintillating success with Manchester United. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have defied logic and reason with their goal hauls at Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, but have been a shadow of themselves for their national teams. Add Eric Cantona and Ronaldinho to this list.

Spain have probably the finest set of players in the world today and there is no doubting their pedigree; so is the pedigree of the English, French and the Argentines. The only difference here is that the Spanish players have time and again reproduced their club form for their country in recent times. So what makes Spain tick? Ai??Which brings us to the single stroke of genius from Vicente del Bosque. All that the walrus-resembling mastermind had to do was stick to the simple winning formula devised by Pep Guardiola at Barcelona.

The Barcelona training academy La Masia is the real reason behind the success story of the Spain national team. Of the 11 starters in the Spain national team, more than half are Barcelona regulars – Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and David Villa. The only positions where the starters are non Barca players are positions where the regulars in these slots for the Catalan giants are not Spanish players. Dani Alves is Brazilian, Eric Abidal is French, Mascherano and Messi, Argentine. The goalkeeper is the one position where a non Barca player has ousted a Barca starter primarily down to the brilliance of Iker Casillas.

The tiki-taka football delicacy that has been imbibed into Barcelonaai??i??s way has found favor with the Spanish national team through this team selection. And why shouldnai??i??t it? Is it wrong to translate a way of playing that has proved successful at the club level into international dominance at the expense of talented players who ply their club trade elsewhere?

For del Bosque the plan has not been without sacrifices. Those sacrifices in the recent past at various times have been Cesc Fabregas, David Silva and Fernando Torres; players who would walk into most line ups in the world with a definite swagger, but have been overlooked for their own national teamai??i??s starting lineup since they donai??i??t play for Barcelona. It is no surprise that Fabregasai??i?? induction into the Spain starting lineup in recent times has coincided with him playing his first season for his Catalan boyhood club. David Silva has also been entertained in the Euro 2012 starting line up owing to David Villaai??i??s injury coupled with his outstanding season at City. Is it fair for competition at the world football level, when other countries are faced with the dilemma of getting players from different clubs playing together overnight, with the expectation that they will gel with each other and produce the same kind of form, with the same team chemistry as with their clubs? How can the innate understanding be developed within 3 weeks of training when compared with years of tiki-taka practice at La Masia? But why should Spain care? If they have the formula, might as well use it.

Now, can this model be adopted by other countries? Is this model even realistically possible in say, England? There would be a need for very high levels of back scratching and co-operation between the English Football Association and the Premier League teams/owners. With the likes of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, Shiekh Mansour at Manchester City, the FSG at Liverpool, the Glazers at Manchester United and others pumping in money at various English clubs, this looks very unlikely. There is the matter of wealth being more evenly distributed in England than in Spain. While Barcelona and Real Madrid are the two top dogs in Spain, England have a glut of clubs with economic might. The two Manchester clubs, 3 from London and Liverpool from Merseyside all compete for the best English talent which prevents a Barcelona-esque national presence in a single English club team. While this makes for attractive football in the Premier League and makes it arguably the most exciting football league to watch in the world, the English national team suffers.

Even if this kind of strategy is employed by the English, will it be welcomed by the English fans and media? If Liverpool were to become a hub for future English talent, which it has started to go on the lines of under the recently axed Kenny Dalglish, will the fans stand the exclusion of the brilliant Jack Wilshere in favor of promising but nowhere near as industrious Jordan Henderson, because the Arsenal lineup is dominated by non Englishmen? Stewart Downing having had a wretched season with Liverpool is already facing widespread opposition among fans and media alike, proving that such a strategy will probably not work its wonders in England. And therein is Englandai??i??s (and most national teamsai??i??) weakness.

Even though English teams in the Premier League are built in a way that is conducive for a pattern to follow Spainai???s, there remains an obstacle. There is widespread belief that English players with Premier League experience are more suited to the fast and physical game play and hence, are preferred over foreigners in the Premier League. And here lies the problem that is nonexistent in Spain- the small matter of the ai???English taxai???. With Gary Cahillai??i??s price tag going up by 20 quid because of him being English, even the best Premier League teams have to settle for the Mertesackers and the Gallases to subsist. How then can the chemistry develop, for it to be translated onto the international stage? Part of the reason why this problem doesnai??i??t arise in Spain is probably the financial dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid when compared to the others in La Liga. If the Premier League also had a Big Two instead of a Big Six, the Spain model couldai??i??ve been followed by England. It looks like La Ligaai??i??s mediocrity (save Barca and Real Madrid) is the key to its national teamai??i??s success.

So it remains that this is an advantage that Spain alone have. If the other countries want to catch up, they may need to bring in similar models. The Italian League too is filled with a Big Four or Five. The national team closest to replicating this sort of model currently is probably Germany. If only Bayern Munich could replace a Ribery or a Robben with an Ozil or a Goetze more often.

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Written by Dushyant SinhaAi??

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19 Responses to “Euro 2012 : Is the Spain Way the Right Way?”

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  1. Footy_Fanatic says:

    What a load of crap. If La liga were so mediocre, how come there were 5 representatives in the semis of both the CL and Europa Cup? Man Utd were humiliated by a mid table Spanish team. So using your biased logic, Man Utd are worst, which reflects the quality of the Premier League. No quality, no technical skills. The reason it’s exciting is because all teams from top to bottom in the league is equally horrible.

    Spanish style of play has been embraced by the Chinese, that’s why their National team’s coach is Spanish. Mark my word, by the year 2015-2016, when more equal distribution of TV rights is implemented in La Liga, the English Premier League will go back to its rightful place, that is at the bottom of the pile, where they should be.

    Another question, how come Spain’s U19 and U21 are the reigning European Champions when most of them aren’t even from Barcelona? The answer is simple, tiki-taka has been introduced at all level in Spanish football, it’s in their genetics. That’s why no matter who’s introduced into the Spanish side, they all can play without looking out of depth.

    Another lesson for you, tiki taka was not developed by Guardiola. Learn the history of Spanish football first before attempting to write an article on the subject. Now go back and watch cricket instead.

  2. Dushyant says:

    Thank you Footy_Fanatic. Very insightful. A couple of points though:

    -> Barcelona have been the pioneers of tika taka right from the days when Johan Cruyff was their coach in the late eighties and the early nineties. While this style of play was still in its infancy then, it has been presented as a highly successful finished article by Guardiola.

    -> The blueprint of this play (the notable use of a small skillful forward and a defence which also has had the diminutive Javier Mascherano play centre back) is a Barcelona 101 and whatever shades of tika taka the other La Liga sides have employed aren’t the same as the original. There is more to tika taka than just 5 passes and a back-heel strung together. I’m sure you realize Bilbao use Fernando Llorente’s aerial presence and strength at 6’5″ a lot more than Barca use David Villa’s at 5’9″.

    -> In your haste, you have actually backed the point i was making! The reason all the teams in the Premier League are “equally horrible” is the widespread financial prowess of the English clubs. There is a Big Six or Seven in England which spreads the talented players across these clubs making all the teams very competitive. Compare that with Spain where Barcelona and Real Madrid’s financial might alone ensured that the third placed team Valencia finished 39 points behind the winners!

    -> This competitive nature of the Premier League compared to La Liga inadvertently makes the English national side suffer. It is no rocket science to realize that if you put 6 or 7 players from a club starting eleven into a national starting eleven, the chemistry is bound to be high. Case in point – the Germans in Euro 2012 with a majority from Bayern Munich or a Russian side loaded with Zenit St. Petersburg players compared with the Dutch who have a team full of individual masters but no team chemistry.

    -> I am in no way undermining La Liga. Just illustrating that the lack of competition in La Liga is beneficial to the Spanish national team.

    -> Now go wash your face 😛

    • Footy_Fanatic says:

      Here are some points that you should learn about history of spanish football and football in general:

      1. Tiqui taca is an evolution from total football pioneered by the Dutch in the early 70s. Then it caught fire during WC 78 (in 74 to an extent) eventhough they didn’t win it. The Argentines fell in love with the system ever since. One of the earliest proponents was Mario Kempes. Guordiola’s mentor were an Argentine and a fella whose name I can’t recall atm (he’s a coach for a segunda side in Spain who develops the blueprint for the Spanish FA). The system has been there for so long but to fully utilize it, you need the right players. Barca or any other team didn’t have that until recently.

      2. Nope, the blueprint of this style of play is the Dutch NT of the 70s. Go watch on youtube how various players interchanged positions.

      3. Read my lips, competition doesnt equal quality. Financial prowess doesnt mean jack if world class talents dont want to come there. If you have a Seabiscuit and Manowar (Madrid and Barcelona) in the same race, of course other horses gonna look pale in comparison. The proof is in the pudding, UEFA Cup final was contested by Bilbao and Atletico Madrid (the so called mediocre teams).

      4. Using your logic, how come Italy, Brazil and Argentina whose players scattered all over the place can do it when donning the national shirts? So the reason that England hasnt wont jack since the stone age is because most of the players don’t play at the same club? Is that your excuse lol?

      Of course you’re undermining La Liga since you’ve been brainwashed by the Sky media trumpet that says anything associated with the English league is the best (even the groundsmen lol).

      Now, stop using wikipedia.

  3. Rohit says:

    Sorry but I don’t agree much with the reasoning of this article. Spain rose as a major power in europe around 4 yrs back. that time david villa, david silva and capde villa were playing for valencia, marcos senna and marchena for villareal, fernando torres and xabi alonso for liverpool, dani guiza for fenerbahce, fabregas for arsenal. So majority of players were from outside the top 2. its just that the previous successes in euro and wc eventually dragged most of them to the top 2 clubs later on.

    So the logic given that spain were able to assemble a winning squad because majority of their players came from top 2 and gave them an advantage in team chemistry is, if bluntly put, incorrect.

    a long time ago somnath had written a very insightful and detailed article about the number of years,coaches, money, change in coaching tactics and effort spain have put to finally assemble a winning squad. that article made infinitely more sense to me than this one.

    PS:- team chemistry is more important in long term tournaments like leagues. it’s less important in cup tournaments and qualifiers. look at spain’s team in last 4 years, except for 4-5 players(cassillas, ramos,iniesta, puyol, xavi) many of the starting 11 have changed, without an ounce of drop in quality.

  4. Dushyant says:

    -> Granted that the Spain of 2008 was more club diverse, but the trend since then (more so during the del Bosque times) has been to stick with the Barcelona way of play (co-inciding with Barca’s massive domestic and European success), giving preference to players who can fit into this system and overlooking others. With David Villa injured for the Italy game, out and out strikers like Fernando Llorente and Torres were ignored and Cesc Fabregas, being more suited to the David Villa role at Barca, was preferred. This same Cesc Fabregas wasn’t first choice at the World Cup when he was at Arsenal.

    -> Johan Cruyff, who I mentioned as the mentor of tiki taka at Barcelona in my previous post is Dutch. Everybody knows the Dutch invented the concept in the ’70s and impressed with it in the ’74 World Cup. It was Cruyff who brought this style to Barca and it doesn’t change the fact that this style was perfected at Barca by Guardiola (even assembling the right kind of players suited to the play).

    -> By saying that having players of the same club starting for their national team is an advantage to the national team, I am not saying that this is the ONLY way to get success. If it was, almost every team in the world would’ve employed it and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. However, I do not agree with the argument that the chemistry at international tournaments isn’t helped by starting with the same club players. Knowing where a teammate would turn up and the innate understanding on the field is definitely helped. This is not to say that a Mahindra United starting eleven would decimate the Dutch national team right now (which is why I didn’t include the case of the Brazilians in this – there is something called natural talent).

    -> I am not propounding this is the reason England haven’t won anything since ’66. Would this kind of strategy help the English? Or would it even get a look in? And the hurdles it faces in England is what I’m getting at.

    -> I have already confirmed through my earlier post that this is not a slight to La Liga’s quality. The point is that the lack of competition in La Liga helps the national team. Simple. Except for 2 outfield positions, the Spain starting line up is dominated by Madrid-Barca players. La Liga definitely has quality. There is enough proof of it on display.

    -> Argentina turning up in their national colours?! Don’t make me laugh!

    • Footy_Fanatic says:

      1. What are you talking about, seriously? If you’ve watched Spanish football like I do for the last 20 years. their style of play has always been the same, pass and move (watch Barca and Spain NT in the past eras). Like I mentioned, the system has existed for a long time but you need the right players in order to become successful. It’s no coincidence that Spain has tasted success when these 2 criteria are met (right mix of players and suitable style of play).

      Fabregas was ignored back then coz Spain had a fully fit David Villa. He’s mainly used as a sub in the midfield.

      2. Again, you got it wrong, Rinus Michels was the one who brought total football to Barca. No Guardiola didn’t perfect the system, refer to my 1st point.

      3. So which one is it? The England NT suffers because of the “competitive” nature of the league or is it due to lack of natural talents?

      4. Refer to my previous post. Would you pick another horse if you have Manowar or Seabiscuit in your stable? Alright then, if you didn’t mean to undermine La Liga’s quality, answer me this. If Madrid and Barca were in the Premier league, in which position would they be? honestly.

      5. Argentina, Brazil etc won the WC when majority of their players played for different clubs all over Europe. That to disprove your point about the England NT suffers simply because the majority of players didn’t come from the same club.

      • Dushyant says:

        What are you on about? Okay let me make something clear

        -> I am NOT saying that every team that has won an international event since the dawn of mankind has won by playing a majority of same-club players as starters. I am NOT saying a lack of this system is the reason England haven’t won anything since ’66 (please don’t make me re-type things). What I AM saying is that modelling the national team on the basis of 1 or 2 clubs is ONE way to get an advantage over the other teams in international events where the others may struggle to build an understanding on the pitch instantly AND that Spain have used this well by playing a majority of players from 2 clubs (Germany and Russia have also used this tactic well in Euro 2012).

        -> I do not see England making use of such a ploy given the more competitive nature of the Premier League as compared to La Liga. If you ask me the reason why England have never won anything major since ’66, I would say it’s a combination of over hype, pressure and possibly a lack of flair and mental strength. But that’s another story for another day. My point here is only that England will not be able to improve by modelling their international team on one or two clubs (Again I have said this in my earlier post).

        -> I hate to sound like a broken record, but I am NOT undermining the quality of La Liga. Also, my opinion is that it is very difficult to compare La Liga with the Premier League. For all their flair, Spanish teams, even Barcelona and Madrid, have their weaknesses, which we have at times seen exploited by Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool in the past. Having said that I would say if Madrid and Barca were in the Premier League, they would finish in the top four (I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Madrid and Barca will always form a top 2).

        -> Whatever kinds of tika taka have been employed in the past, it was under Guardiola that all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place.

        -> Just because Argentina won two World Cups, you cannot sweep the fact under the rug that the Argentines have very often been major disappointments at international events and I again wonder if that would’ve been the case had Tevez, Messi and Higuain been playing together at the club level.

        -> Finally about Fabregas, I seriously feel he was overlooked during his best years at Arsenal simply because he was an outsider to the La Liga tika taka gameplay. I believe a more balanced Spain would’ve had Fabregas as a starter in lieu of either Sergio Busquets or Xabi Alonso. Anyway that is open to debate.

        • Footy_Fanatic says:

          Ok, this is my last post on your article. You obviously didn’t do a proper research before writing this. It’s like talking to a brick wall.

          1. You said the England NT suffers because of the competitive nature of their league (different players from diff. clubs hence team chemistry is affected). I disprove this point by pointing out this is not the case for teams like Argentina, Brazil etc. when their players play all over the place but still perform in their national colours. Why is that?

          2. Man, refer to my 1st post about the myth of the competitiveness of the BPL that makes the NT suffers. I hope you get it this time around.

          3. Whatever dude, but for readers who read this article for the first time it’s like saying, see Furia Roja are successful simply because of its Barca players. This is a fallacy at the highest proportion. That’s why I don’t think you’ve been following Spanish football for a long period of time.

          IMO, if madrid and barca were in the BPL. they would occupy the top 2 spots.

          4. Guordiola had the right players which fit the system. That’s all.

          5. Dude, you still don’t get it do you? Argentina and Brazil are case in point to disprove your excuse about why the England NT suffers. History has shown this can’t be the reason.

          6. Fabregas was brought up in La Masia, what are you talking about? Of course he’s familiar with tiki taka. Even Arsenal wanted to emulate it. The fact is that the Spanish mid have loads of better players than Fabregas. There are talents on the other side of the British Isle you know.

          Hopefully, you’ll come up with a better article next time. Good luck. Footy_Fanatic is out.

          • Dushyant says:

            ->I have no idea why you’re getting so defensive about La Liga. Even after I have clarified TWICE above that I am not questioning the quality of La Liga, simply asserting that the lack of competition there benefits the Spanish national team, you have convinced yourself that I am out on a La Liga witch hunt.

            ->Again, I have again and again (and again) told you that I am NOT saying England haven’t been top dogs because they haven’t played same-club players in the international starting line up. In fact I have even given you a gist of what I think the reasons of their failure are (I really am out of depth at how to make you read my comments..maybe I can send you a notarized letter). ALL I’m saying is that the Premier League being more competitive than La Liga inhibits England’s chances of modelling their national starting eleven on 1 or 2 clubs (Please don’t deny that the Spanish eleven is dominated by Barca-Madrid).

            -> The Premier League is more competitive than La Liga. Period. Whether La Liga is higher on quality or not is a different story. The Bundeslinga too is not the best league in Europe, but by bringing in Bayern Munich starters in the national team (6 of them), the German national team has benefited. Look at Italy in Euro 2012. They now have a side with a major Juventus influence. They have even changed to a 3-5-2 formation based on Juve’s play this season. This kind of a transformation is something that I cannot see happening in the English national team.

            ->I have started the article saying “In today’s world”. I have even made a del Bosque reference in the first few lines pointing to recent times. I am NOT talking about the history of football and I’m NOT saying each and every team that has won something has done it on the same-club theory (I think I may develop a migraine after repeating myself so many times). I am NOT saying the same-club theory is the ONE and ONLY way to win things. ALL I am saying is that Spain have implemented the one club method while the English cannot (Please please please read my last post).

            -> Barca and Madrid occupying the first two positions is your opinion. This is hypothetical so we can’t delve much into it. Same is the Fabregas case. You may think Sergio Busquets is better than Fabregas. I don’t. Just because Fabregas was at La Masia as a kid doesn’t mean he is engraved with tika taka in his head. Fabregas himself admitted he was struggling to fit into the Barca system when he first started playing for them on his return. And i quote:

            “It has been a radical change in my life and like it or not it is hard to adapt,” Fabregas said.
            “I went from playing with complete freedom of movement to Barcelona where the game is more positional,” he added.
            “It was a challenge and I went through a period where I was very worried about it.”

            -> I’m glad you at least see that Guardiola was the one to finally present tika taka at its most efficient best (phew!).

            -> There have been and will always be teams who haven’t modeled their national team on 1 or 2 clubs and have won. All I’m saying is that if they were to model it that way, they would be better. There is no ONE WAY to winning tournaments but this method can be used to enable a higher efficiency to get the results. We are in the result’s business after all :)

            (Phew..Must swim in some Gatorade now)

  5. sebastianveron says:

    I have been following this article for a couple of days now. Interesting points made, good examples given. A good read overall. Equally interesting is the ‘friendly’ banter going on between ‘Dushyant’ and ‘footy_fanatic’, so much so, that it made me use the only holiday I have this week to log in and comment. Both of them have their points and facts to support them. However, I’m more inclined to what the author has to say. There is more evidence for to back up the points made by him. ‘footy_fanatic’ is very obviously a fan of Spanish football and has avidly followed it (as claimed) for 20 years. However, in my opinion, this has probably biased his viewpoint; you cannot deny the fact that Valencia actually did finished a whopping 39 points behind Madrid. The point the article is trying to make is that Spain is taking advantage of a system (pre-conceived or not) which has been working for them and which the other teams cannot afford to follow. Also, the fact that he still believes that Madrid and Barca would take the top 2 spots, had they been in the EPL, proves my point furthermore. An English team, not even amongst the top four finishers in the EPL (let alone top 2) managed to win the Champions League beating one of the Spanish giants; the other beaten by Bayern Munich (from Germany: a team trying to follow the same line as Spain as per the article),at the only platform which enables these teams from different countries to compete against each other. You may know a lot and not need Wikipedia to support your point all the time, but you have to look at things from a broader perspective.
    Cheers.

  6. Marco78 says:

    Have been reading this and i have to say that being more competitive doesnt mean being better or higher in quality , I am maltese an in our national league there were times were 4 teams could have won the leage , does that mean that the maltese premier league is better than La Liga even if in la liga only 2 team won the league in the past few years ? never ! Real Madrid and Barcelona are better than the other teans in spain yes but they are also better than all the other teams in all the other countries , this is what people dont understand . For ezample in italy this year you had juventus and milan and also lazio and udinese for the seria A title for long periods before juventus and milan battled it out in the last quarter of the league s you can say that 4 teams contested the seria A this year BUT teams like atletico madrid ( won against lazio easily ) , valencia , sevilla , atletic bilbao can easily win against udinese roma or tottenham or even manchester utd , these results actually happened without even mentioning how many times spanish teams put our english or italian teams out of competitions ( and im not talking about real or barca here ) check what villareal and valencia did to inter , what atletic madrid did , what bilbao did what sevilla did in the past few years , and yes by saying that the liga is mediocre you did undermine the quality of la liga my friend , the english premier league is the most ecxiting league in the world but its not the best and it doesnt have the highest quality or level of football . peace .

    • dushyant says:

      I’m not going to discuss which is better la liga or the epl. In the past Spanish sides have beaten the English and English sides have beaten the Spanish. In fact it is irrelevant which league is better. The only thing that matters is which league is more competitive. The lesser competitive the league, more the chances of players from 1 or 2 clubs making the national starting eleven, hence better national team understanding. that is the point I’m making. The leagues that are mote competitive are not able to model their national team on 1 or 2 clubs making them less in sync compared to a team which does have a national team with the starting eleven from 1 or 2 clubs (example barca-Madrid filled Spanish national team). that is the point im making my Maltese friend:).

  7. Josh Stall says:

    Bayern and Germany are another good example of creating synergy on the national team by using many players from one of the strongest clubs in the country.