Euro 2012: Why has the world fallen out of love with Spain?

by James Hunt

“All they do is pass” say many. “I’d rather watch paint dry’”a few quip. “Boring” has become the general consensus. This is what has become the common perception of a once revered Spanish side.

At Euro 2008, an entire continent was enamoured by the way Xavi, Iniesta et al passed their opponents into submission. Their opponents suffered an execution as beautiful as it was brutal. Tiki-taka was born.

At the World Cup in 2010, it was the turn of the whole world to fall in love with Spain. The passed, they passed, they won. There was a majesty to the way the did things, a certain charm that even the most die hard, old school, ‘in my day you could tackle’ veterans found impossible to resist.

But now, as Spain seek to win an unprecedented third consecutive major tournament? No. It is, as they say in Spanish, aburrido. Dull.

To what can this swing in opinion be attributed?

One possible explanation is a slight tweak to the system. Back in 2008, Luis Aragones’ side had just the one holding midfielder – Marcos Senna – and two strikers: Fernando Torres and David Villa.

Fast forward four years, and in Vicente del Bosque’s team there are two holding players – Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets – and, at times, no strikers.

Yet this should pose no problem. Netherland’s Total Football, or totaalvoetbal, in which the roots of tiki-taka are deeply steeped (as Ossie Ardiles notes here), is revered some 40 years on. Their system was none too different, they may have started with a striker, but it was based around players rotating position: the term ‘false 9’ may not have been heard, but nor was there a fixed 9 either.

Spain have taken Total Football, significantly upgraded it (in the words of Raphael Honigstein), and did something Holland never could: won trophies.

Perhaps therein lies the problem. They’ve become the number one side in the world, the envy of all other nations. In order to claim something back, they are dismissed as arrogant, their style as dull.

You hear of it happening in various circles. A band you love but no one knows about suddenly goes mainstream, and to you they’ve sold out, you don’t listen to them anymore. Spain are that band.

In other sports too, it is common. Everyone bemoaned Tiger Woods ‘winning everything’; Andre Agassi was more popular than the more successful Pete Sampras; no one liked the Australian cricket team that left a trail of destruction wherever it went.

A third and final reason behind the ‘boring’ tag is because of the way other teams play against them. Take, for example, France’s tactics in their recent quarter final encounter. They sat back, offered nothing going forward, even put a right back on the right wing – not that it worked.

As Jose Mourinho commented:

If you have a Ferrari and I have a small car, the only way I can win is by putting sugar in your petrol tank.

Journalist Miguel Delaney put it simply:

In sport, most common form of excitement usually comes from error/attacking play. Spain rarely make former re passes, and rarely face latter.

People would do well to recognise the work Spain put in to achieving this style. The meticulous practice, hours of training; honing, developing, striving for perfection.

Perfection has not been achieved. In sport, perfection is an oxymoron. But with a European Championship and a World Cup, this Spanish side has come as close as anybody. Call them boring if you like, but at least applaud them at the same time.

In forty years, people will not look back on this side and think ‘boring’. They’ll probably be wondering why no one liked them.

4 Responses

  1. Bkfooty says:

    I was excited to read this article. I was hoping for it to light up something I have not thought of before. But I was disappointed. you’re reason is not good enough. Spain do play a boring game. Perfection does not mean fun-to-watch necessarily. spain won the world cup scoring the least goals as a champion. you say people envy them? I’d rather watch a team that plays with their heart to win than a team that just passes and plays the most cautious game in the world. yes keeping the ball is even more cautious than defending. props to them for being almost perfect, but think about how insulting your article can be. fans envy them? no fans just want to watch a game that is EXCITING. And I will be more than happy to watch them lose on Sunday to Italy. cheerz.

  2. G says:

    People do get sick of watching the same teams win but the fact is they don’t play as offensive as they did before (as I think you kind of point out) and this is the sole reason people have gone off them.

    The comparison to a band is interesting but the opposite of your proposal. When a band sell out, they move away from music that the purists and enthusiasts of a specific genre enjoy. They then adapt their music to try and be inclusive in the mainstream market. They ‘sell out’. Spain have reversed this trend however. Previously they played possession football with Torres as the lethal end product. Not just easy, but gorgeous on the eye. Very mainstream. Now they don’t play with a centre forward and play football only the ultimate possession-loving enthusiast could possibly enjoy.

    Very well written though.

  3. Varun says:

    Haters gonna hate.

    Spain are immensely successful and since they can’t be jibed or faulted against in terms of their sheer skills, ability and results and Winning, people have to resort to something to try to take some chink of their armor.

    And this is where the “boring” part comes in, the argument itself is a testament to how low people have stooped to get out a critique because they have nothing better to offer.

    Keep hating people, Brazil played nasty in 70′s as well, people remember winners, that’s the way it is and Spain win without even trying or being tested, rather than blame the pathetic & inadequate competition, blame the Winner, typical loser mentality.

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