“The next time Spain play I will paint my walls and watch them dry for 90 minutes”, tweeted one fan, after Spain had convincingly eliminated France from the tournament. And that has been the norm all throughout the Euros. Spain are boring. Tiki-taka is over-rated. The defending champions are arrogant. The theme that started with fans complaining, saw even the ardent footballing critics join the bandwagon.
So what happened to the ends justify the means theory? Is it just plain envy or do most critics have a point? Isn’t entertainment the biggest selling point of the game? THT looks at what makes Spain the champions they are, the reasons for this sudden criticism and why the accusations of being dull should not be relevant.
Spain are technically superior to most teams, and there are no two ways about it. The midfielders in their lineup could easily walk into any of the teams, including Germany. How many players in the entirety of these European Championships could even challenge for a place in that Spanish midfield? Only one perhaps, Andrea Pirlo. Tiki-taka is not about passing your opponent to death, it’s about keeping possession and waiting for openings. This may not be every spectator’s cup of tea, but make no mistake about it, it’s an extremely grueling task and requires not only patience but immense skill.
Predictability is an issue definitely but with numerous options on the bench, Del Bosque could shuffle the pack whenever he wants. Against Portugal, he started with Negredo, saw it didn’t work, brought on Pedro and Fabregas; immediately there was more zip and fizz in their buildup. The point here is it’s not that Spain can’t entertain or their tempo can’t be improved, it’s more like Spain choose to play a slow tempo, giving them more defensive security, thanks to better ball possession.
Despite playing the same style of possession football, how are Barcelona so much more fun to watch? Step up forward Lionel Messi. Messi provides Barcelona the spark in the final third, being much more creative, dynamic and direct, thus making him a champion of the sport. Spain on the other hand play 6 midfielders, not a crime, but watching them keep ball for ninety minutes can definitely be tiring for the average fan.
If one remembers, with David Villa leading the line, Spain were a joy to watch in South Africa as well as in Austria-Switzerland. With Villa not fit, Torres not at his best and a lack of international exposure for the other strikers, Del Bosque chooses to field his supremely gifted midfielders together, resulting in the game being stuck in the middle of the park.
Appreciation or success
Spain may go on to beat Italy on Sunday night and create history, but will they really be admired for their efforts? Will Italy despite defeat get more plaudits than Spain? Yes and no, in that order. The main question here is a subjective one; Do plaudits really mean anything in football, or is it a priority? For example, the brilliant Dutch team of the 70′s were applauded despite two World Cup final losses. They are the ones imprinted in our memories more than West Germany or Argentina(the World Cup winners on either occasion).
Yet, there is nothing tangible they have to show for their greatness. The fact is no one chases appreciation, atleast not in today’s world where results come at the cost of everything quite literally. So when Spain can be successful despite being criticised, how does it become any less an achievement. The success is what motivates and drives players and coaches alike. The appreciation is just a popularity award, one Spain can live without.
There is no substitute for efficiency. Chelsea proved it in Munich. Their name is on the trophy and the slate is wiped clean. The methods of Spain have now taken them to 3 consecutive tournament finals and who knows even 3 trophies. They have eeked out results, winning 1-0 mostly but what is often ignored is that they rarely concede goals.
In their last 9 knockout matches at major tournaments, Spain have kept a clean sheet. Their playing style is thus a very efficient one, they defend from the front, in fact from everywhere on the field. Unlike Chelsea in the Champions League, they don’t sit back, they keep the ball and defend as a team. Spain are built on the philosophy that if you keep the ball, your opponent can’t score. Kudos to them, it has worked brilliantly thus far.
Opponent team’s tactcis
There is a theory that opponents respect Spain too much for their own good. Spain maybe predictable but going into the match with the plan of waiting for them to give you an opportunity to play, is nothing short of self-destruct mode. A lot can be learnt from how Portugal went into the semis, pressing high up the pitch, not letting the Spanish settle down. Despite this they couldn’t create a clear cut chance on goal and eventually they ran out of gas, showing just how superior Spain are in almost every department.
It is tiring for teams to stop their flow, and striking a right balance between pressing and defending could be the best way out. Italy were successful in absorbing relentless pressure from Spain despite giving a couple of clear opportunities to Torres. They won’t shut up shop, and could hinder Spain’s rhythm with more bodies in the middle of the park, making the game a lot more pleasing on the eye.