It seems like the aesthetic side of my football brain has had a blindfold done, smoked its last cigarette and now faces the long barrels of a firing squad. At first glance, Spain look like the ideal champions; easily pipping the Netherlands and their unstable mixture of lumberjacks and sculptors, far superior to England, their average players and self-aggrandizing media, and much better than Portugal, who get by with fielding one footballer and ten pieces of furniture in their ranks. But, as aforementioned, it seems like the aesthetic side of my football brain has snuffed it. For Spain’s passing procession now interests me as much as watching the proverbial paint dry. I would rather count the hair-strands on Georgios Samaras’s beard; I would rather buy Theo Walcott’s book with my own money; I would rather read Theo Walcott’s book after buying it with my own money; I would rather write rambling blog posts about how boring Spain’s football is.
It was all so different in Euro 2008. The Spain of 2008 was more uninhibited and less mechanical; vastly different from the ball-hogging automaton currently gracing our tellies, well-endowed in robotic grace and pre-programmed quickness. It seems unbelievable that a technically proficient game based on passing and pressing could induce such levels of boredom, but it seems I’m not alone in this aspersion cast upon Spanish entertainment; a huge, audible snowball of yawns rises into the air every time Busquets passes it back to Pique after five consecutive minutes of possession.
It’s not like the aesthetic side of my football brain didn’t struggle before bidding ciao. Why, even yesterday, I sat down to ninety minutes of France vs Spain, determined to devour every last sinew of enjoyment without getting hung up on any boring phases. But football eye-candy quickly morphed into eye-gouging, like it has done so for many Spanish matches in recent times.
1’ Oh, look at this spell of Spanish possession. What a turn from Iniesta! What positional awareness from Xabi Alonso! Sergio Ramos’s new haircut sends me all of a-twitter. Jolly good ball-keep.
3’ The Spaniards still have the ball, the French need to get stuck in here.
7’ Spanish possession.
9’ Spanish possession.
13’ …Spanish possession…
17’ Malouda and Benzema are taking turns to look tearfully at the ball; accusing it of not liking them anymore and asking where it all went wrong, was it something they did, things weren’t like this before, life was filled with happiness and balloons and cheesecakes, they would do anything to change, but just please come back.
19’ Xabi Alonso scores after a passing marathon of 19564738 to the power of 35 space monkey years.
27’ France string four passes together and immediately lose the ball in shock and excitement. Spain keep it till half-time.
49’ I drink my fifth cup of coffee, using two pencils to stay awake, Tom-style.
61’ I cry.
66’ My tears start crying.
70’ Spain just remember that they don’t have a striker on, and Fernando Torres readies himself.
90’ Spain score once more, by which time I am rocking back and forth, a despondent acolyte of perpetual motion, begging it all to come to an end.
90’ + 4’ Full time.
90’ + 5’ Spanish possession.
You see how it goes, yeah? It’s a different category of boring, a different category of negative. There’s no hoofing, cynical tackles or over-dependence on set pieces; but there is condescending control of the ball without the willingness to do anything with it for long spells, a pretty-sounding defensive tactic but a defensive tactic nonetheless. You have to get the ball from us to score, practised to a tee. France had one shot on target last night, Spain had three.
Spain are not the teeth-baring orcs birthed from the depths of Mordor like, say, Stoke or Greece are; they are soulless clones of perfection chiselled in air-tunnels by precise lasers, marching in unison to devour all before them, viewing pleasure be damned. In addition, Greece or Stoke are fuelled by desperation to adopt the tactics that they do; Spain just seem hair-pullingly, frustratingly cautious.
Of course, no advocate of Spanish football would give two hoots about any of this. It’s a results business, even for the idealists of Iberia, and Spain’s current gameplan gets the job done just fine. And I’m not taking some moral high-stand, imploring them to change the way they go about their ninety minutes. As this article by Miguel Delaney points out, excitement is derived in football due to errors or attacking play. Spain don’t commit any errors, and their opponents don’t dabble in anything close to attacking football. This leads to a flummoxing impasse, and all matches become a case of 22 men kicking a ball around, before the Spanish win in the end.
Barney Ronay said it as early as the World Cup: Spain are boring. In a nutshell-
Playing against Spain must feel a little like playing a chess computer: strangled, impotent, you gawp helplessly at its robotic grace.
I harbour no particular ill-will towards Spain; all Cesc Fabregas grudges have also melted into good-natured guffawing after a (relatively) lukewarm season and Pep Guardiola’s exit from Catalonia. I hope they become incisive one day, and I abandon my match-time espressos to clap a goal in 20 passes instead of 200. But I don’t see that happening unless Spain’s current modus operandi is toppled.
So the task ahead is clear. Someone needs to find some cheat-codes and whoop this chess computer’s behind. For everyone’s sake, lest all live text commentary overflows with Spanish possession. Non-exciting possession.
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