Sunday, 1 July 2012

Are Spain Boring?

They don't look boring
 It is unbelievable, at least to myself, that there have been quite a few rumblings complaining that the Spanish national team are boring to watch-huh? Have their mesmerising passing brand of football really become boring to watch? Back in 2008 when they were European Champions, they were hailed as an attacking, entertaining, highly skillful and brilliant team to watch and were regarded as the model to follow for all national teams. However, as of the day before their Euro 2012 final clash against Italy, many fans are complaining that all Spain do is pass, pass and pass, with no end product and no goals. Forget the fact that they haven't had to score many goals to win games, since they've only conceded one goal so far this tournament, Spain are a defensive team all of a sudden they said. Excuse me! Defensive? How could the most talented team in the world, whom half the squad are made up of Barcelona players, be accused of playing defensively? The critics claim this is true because in the past Spain used their possession to create many goalscoring chances, whereas today they merely use possession as a defensive ploy to keep the opponents from scoring goals against them. Forgive me if I come across a bit harsh, but I want a few paragraphs to dispute the critics.

Was it not just a few months ago when Pep Guardiola declared he was to leave Barcelona, a team he built which was uttered in the same breath as Ajax under Michels, Sacchi's Milan and Puska's Madrid. Was it not in the last four or so years where Barcelona's football was the pinnacle of football, where their football was the most sophisticated, technical and most seductive form of football in the world. Was it not every nations dream to cultivate players who could reproduce their type of football and use it to strengthen their national team. They say imitation is the best form of flattery. Perhaps the biggest compliment and ultimate form of respect that Barcelona could recieve is that they have impacted the way the world thinks about football. No longer is it acceptable to play negative football, not least in the top leagues. To support my point, I give you the example of the criticism Chelsea received when they won the champions League. Even Roberto di Matteo was second choice to Guardiola for the position of manager. So what do Barcelona have to do with Spain. If you haven't figured it out yet, Barcelona and Spain are very similar to each other and that gives us a direct comparison to evaluate. If the two teams play similar football, why is it that Spain are boring and Barcelona are entertaining. It doesn't make sense. Keep in mind that Barcelona have been the most successful club team in the past four years and Spain are the most successful national team in the past four years. So why is their a distinction between these two different (but similar) teams?

Sacchi talking with his players
 One fascinating aspect of human psychology is that we are very fickle. We expect too much sometimes, especially when we have experienced a lot. Perhaps this applies to Spain as well. You see, we have been spoilt by Barcelona and by extension, Spain with their possession and unbelievable technical passing skills. While this led to opposition teams being crushed and goals flowing freely, we celebrated their philosophy of football. However, when there are a few games in succession where they haven't been able to score as many, the fans all of a sudden start to doubt- or perhaps a better descriptive phrase is 'grow impatient.' It's not that we get impatient with Spain's possession style of play since we never grew tired of it four years ago, rather it is a negative response to the type of football match that Spain inadvertently create- predictable. By that, I mean the flow of the game is slowed down as a consequence of Spain's unyeilding possession. And this is the issue when Spain play. Unless Spain can create additional excitement, in the form of goals, the match becomes predictable and loses the reason why sport has become a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry. That reason is unpredictability. It is the reason football is so popular worldwide. Football creates unpredictability like no other sport because of the very foundations of the sport. It is a free flowing sport, where their are no phases of play and its unstructured, unlike American football. Perhaps the reason that American football is so popular in that country but not in any other is indicative of their culture and their people. Even sports like basketball, baseball and ice hockey are much more structured sports than football in almost every aspect. In baseball for instance, their is a clear start-stop flow to the game where play resets after every phase of play. The fans of football and the culture of football demands a blank canvas where the creativity of the players can be expressed by the players and seen by the audience without artificial interventions like phases of play, timeouts and even specific positions on the pitch. (Teams in the NFL play with two teams - one for the offensive phase and one for the defensive phase). The feeling with Spain is that the canvas is already half painted with the La Fura Roja enjoying the possession of the ball. There is not much different you can paint on the other half, exept to complete the canvas by more painting more Red Fury.

It is a symptom that Spain have created for themselves. It is a bit like a catch-22 situation where Spain have become so good at what they do, that they simply are better than everyone they play. They have become so good at passing the ball and keeping it that they have gone beyond the point of using it as a style of play which suits them. It has become precious to them, a philosophy, a way of thinking, a way of living even. The two entities, the players and the system, have ceased to exist as two autonomous entities. Instead, they have morphed into one body, they have entangled between each other and are engrained so tightly that it may never be able to be separated. Like a woman and her baby, the bond is universally strong. The system does not change with the players and the players do not change with the system. The players are the system that they play and the system are the players that play within it. It's the same way we associate Neil Armstong with the Moon. We associate possession tiki-taka with Spain and no other team. Spain have become the sole rightful holders of their way of football and no-one can take it away from them. It has become almost a secondary goal of any match they play, where they want to keep their soleful right of their way of football. If they don't, they lose their identity, and many of the worlds conflicts are the direct consequence of people fighting for their identity. As in life, people tend to stick with what's worked in the past, and for Spain, possesing the ball has won them two major trophies in two years and they are in the final for a third in a few hours time. Spain's football is not boring and has never been boring. It just so happens that some people find watching Spain playing matches in a constant fear of losing their identity boring.

I've heard the phrase familiarity breeds contempt. I would like to change it to familiarity breeds boredom. Perhaps this simple phrase can explain how people who hailed Spain as the brilliant modern version of football can now claim to be bored by the very same football. Trust me, Spain are not boring and I certainly don't find them boring. Instead, I find their passing football brilliant and I urge you to enjoy it until their generation of brilliant footballers end and we are left to lament that they are gone. I am bored of people saying that Spain are boring because they are just not.

Prandelli doesn't think Spain is boring-