Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Spain is dead, long live Spain

I've been surprised to find so little support for Spain among the rest of the Minus contributors and other friends.

Partly this comes down to them being, as Mark put it, one of the smugonauts' choices – one of those teams that a certain kind of post-Hornby football fan will rave about as part of a leverage system to put them above the drudgery of supporting England. And as with Messi, as with Cristiano Ronaldo, as with Kaka and the entire Brazil squad, Spain have ended up introducing a kind of cognitive dissonance into the experience of watching the tournament. Whatever the evidence before them to the contrary might be, commentators and pundits simply cannot conceive of departing from the logic which sees the World Cup as the culmination of the season, and the inevitable stage for the reiteration of Messi, Ronaldo and Brazil as incantations of the Footballing Sublime – they know their appointed roles as cheerleaders and hype-merchants too well. Like Messi and Kaka, Spain have never quite clicked. They've still not shaken off that defeat to Switzerland. Torres is a shadow of himself. It's also true that at times they occasionally betray a sense of entitlement: Xavi, say, seems a little too convinced of the aesthetic and thus *moral* superiority of Spain's football.

But why wouldn't they? Contrary to M. Toledo, the commenter here who wonders if nostalgia has got stuck, unable to move beyond the 70s, I think this Spain team will be remembered as a highpoint in football history to file alongside Brazil 70 and Holland 74. It may only be when they're retired that we fully appreciate again the practically precognitive short passing of this Spain midfield. Why precognitive? Because the spectator may be able to see the pass a player should make, but they lack the skill to execute it. Good players can see it and execute it. At their best, such is the speed of Spain's one-touch passing that they're creating and exploiting situations before the average viewer can even take them in.

And I say this regardless of the outcome tonight. Because if Spain win, and then beat Holland, they will have confirmed their greatness in terms of the historical record: reigning World and European champions. This would tear up some of the seemingly immutable narratives discussed by DigitalBen here. But even if they lose, their unshakeable commitment to constant short-passing will only come to be seen as quixotic failure, exactly like Holland 74, and there is surely a windmill/Cervantes connection in there which only proves its profound cosmic rightness.

Maybe after the last few years of press gushing and international dominance many would love to see Spain toppled, but I remember the years and years of unsuccessfully tipping Spain as dark horses (not to mention the Czech Republic). This was a team as morbidly resigned to failure as any England team. Before Euro 08 they had only Euro 64 (on home soil) in the trophy cabinet. Spain should be cherished by anyone with even a glimmer of hope that England can overcome its own footballing fatalism.


  1. If Spain were playing like that more often, I'd wish them well with all of my heart, and to hell with anyone who called me a smugonaut. But they're not. As you say, they haven't clicked.

    The problem with getting enthusiastic about Holland and Spain is that (so far) they've only spent the bare minimum of energy in each game - neither of them have really taken the tournament by the balls.

    I mean, fine, that's how you progress in World Cups, but you do hope for the winner to be the team who've played best throughout.

  2. As far as their chronic underachievement is concerned, I like to remind people that they were robbed of a semifinal in 1994 and in 2002. It's a team that deserves a break. And I like them, in spite of the fact that they benefited from an easy draw and spluttered along the way I still think they have played better than the Netherlands thus far. And they do show good skill up front if not exactly the exhilarating brilliance of Germany.

    I was supporting them today and will again in the final.