Monday, 2 July 2012

EURO 2012: The Artists, Or How I Learned To Stop Over-Analysing And Love The Spanish (Again)

Si’s Insights closes the Euro 2012 series of columns with a small tribute to the Spanish record breakers, admitting that it’s nice to be proven wrong sometimes...

Boring, Boring Spain...?

It’s become fashionable to dismiss Spain as boring. It’s become all too easy to lament that they are passing the life out of the opposition, are refusing to utilise their talented strike force, aren’t as solid or determined as they used to be, and so on. But there remains no doubt that when they are on top of their game – and this happens more often than you’d think – the Spanish remain a masterful, magical, sublime, even irresistible, presence in international football. Though I personally gained more joy from watching the class of 2008, and more admiration from the resilience of the Carlos Puyol and David Villa-inspired outfit of 2010, one cannot deny that today’s record-breaking side are still in a class of their own, unenviable opposition on their better days. And, unfortunately for the Italians, this was one of them.

Admittedly, it wasn't one of Italy's best days. Motta’s injury left them down to ten men for a significant portion of the match. Neither Andrea Pirlo nor Mario Balotelli impressed, resulting in the latter behaving as petulantly as he ever has by final’s end. The truth, however, is that Spain’s Fab Four – Xavi, Fabregas, Alonso and Busquets – denied them the space to impress. As gamely as they battled, the Italians did not have the wherewithal to take Spain on at their own game for a sustained period of time; and this was made brutally clear in the first half, when a marvellous pass from Xavi allowed Barca-bound Jordi Alba to complete a beautifully timed run with a confident, composed finish. This full-back’s goal, along with David Silva’s header from Fabregas’s cross, really vindicated Vicente Del Bosque’s “no strikers” policy, although the forwards got in on the act later on anyway.

By then, Spain were entering the record books; they had become the first national team to win three consecutive major championships, and the first team to retain the Henri Delaunay trophy. And if that wasn't enough, Fernando Torres’ late cameo earned him not only the privilege of being the first player to score in two consecutive European Championship finals, but also the Golden Boot.

When considering the magnitude of Spain’s achievements, one can’t help but recall France’s failure to perform a similar feat in 2002. Ageing players (the celebrated backline were all into their thirties), overreliance on a couple of individuals (they had no answers following serious injuries to Zinedine Zidane and Robert Pires) and complacency all played a part, but there was more to it than that. By 2002, France seemed to have forgotten that the reason they succeeded in 1998 and 2000 was because they were a team. With Laurent Blanc and Didier Deschamps both around to keep the team grounded, there was no boasting about resources, no glory hunting prima donnas – just a team of gifted, professional individuals who knew their task, stuck to it, and, despite more than a fair number of lucky breaks, got results.

With or without forwards, Spain have retained the team ethic that France so spectacularly failed to retain a decade ago. And they have continued to prosper as a result. They haven’t been spectacular during the whole tournament, sure, but they’ve been most effective when they’ve needed to be; like last night, when they delivered a solid and clinical master class in passing and movement. It was a truly exceptional team performance, one that was worthy of the history being made. And they did it without Puyol, without Villa, and for the most part, without strikers.

Any tag of "boring" levelled at the Spanish is really more out of envy than anything else. They have their "star" individuals, just like the Portugal's, Italy's, Russia's and even the England's of this continent. The difference, and it's a key one, is that Spain's players inspire and complement one another like no other national team in Europe, possibly even the world, can at this moment in time. They make the most straightforward principles of the modern game look both easy to perform and easy on the eye.

Another pair of "Artists"...

I’ll finish with an analogy: Spain are to the world of international football what Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist is to the world of film. Both can be easily dismissed for their simplicity. Yet, in reality, they are dazzlingly effective at reminding us, if only fleetingly, of how novel, inspiring and heart-warming (not to mention wrenching) both football and films can be. In their effortless and joyful execution of the simplest and most pleasing aspects of their respective media, they stand tall as a rebuke to anyone who suggests that either international football or cinema is “on its last legs”, while setting a delightful example for many to follow.

And who would bet against Spain continuing to “show their example” to the world in 2014? Certainly not me.

Si’s Insights will return to Boro-related matters soon. In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed following this tournament as much as I have.

Here’s to 2014!

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