Saturday, 14 June 2014

New Labours

Well, Mark got there first but there's going to be lots written about the Spain vs Netherlands match. It may all come to nothing (it won't) but it certainly felt like an end of an era, even if it's quite hard to settle on exactly what the era was. Tiki-taka ended sometime around Guardiola moving on from Barcelona but the end was coming even before then, when the Italians played Spain in their first match at the Euros. The 4 - 0 in the final was a false number nine for Spain, and more of a freak result than people understood at the time. In the earlier game Italy simply refused Spain's a priori superiority & found no logical incoherence; turns out that that little pass & move game was not beyond everyone else, was dully simple, was just a tactic after all. The spell broken, Italy retained less possession but did so with a swagger.

A few people must have taken notice. Italy weren't all that formidable going forward and so, ultimately, didn't have the firepower required to endure but it was obvious in the 1 - 1 draw that teams with a decent level of proficiency at simple triangles plus some lethal and quick strikers could, in theory, take Spain apart.

Here then, in the experimental cauldron of Brazil, was a time to test the theory.

The Netherlands had van Persie and, especially, Robben, who looks more and more like Phil Mitchell on methedrine but seems quicker than ever; Spain seemed to go backwards in time as he swept past them, you could swear Ramos was hallucinating Franco as he got sucked into that Robben vortex. The Netherlands seemed to win by virtue of winning almost all the, as my Dad would say, "Billy Basic" running races on the pitch. They wanted it more, they had more to give. Spain are skilful but they never saw it coming, especially because I don't think even the Dutch remembered what part they had to play until van Persie's surely symbolic salmon leap to head the equaliser. A good time to score?

In fact, the well played long ball had already featured throughout the Mexico vs Cameroon game, when Mexico simply negated the power of the Cameroon midfield by spraying it diagonally above their heads to smaller, faster wingers. This isn't Allardyce-like physicality creeping into the World Cup; it's a variation of the Bob Paisely anthem: "Its not about the long ball or the short ball, its about the right ball." A simple, self-evident mantra, seemingly rendered obsolete by the Spanish at their prime and now seemingly back with a vengeance via an exemplary Dutch annihilation. What was especially significant is that you felt that more than a few commentators, entranced by the Spanish method, had already written off their 3 - 0 defeat by Brazil as a kind of (inevitable) glitch in the system, a moment of chaos before the return to robotic stability.

But this game was different. This defeat was more like the defeat of New Labour, when eyes suddenly opened and saw the real behind the language and (importantly) felt shame and embarrassment at never having seen it before. When the Left shook Labour as it has become (Miliband surely cannot survive holding The Sun) and heard just a death rattle of capitalism, they understood that the battle was always lost, that the dawn was always false, that this wasn't anything like it seemed to be. New Labour passwords like "Education education education" used simple truths against us, like spells, like short passes, to make us think we were seeing something new and dangerous and left-leaning and familial and homely i.e. something impossible. We knew we couldn't be seeing these things but, for a while, we lived in that dream, failing to notice the monsters of capital being wrapped in layers of targets (even that seems a homely word) and bureaucratic filth. This was National Socialism with all the necessary fetishes that went along with it and, thankfully, less of the outright racism.

Spain wilting like that, under skilfully worked but fairly simplistic Dutch intensity, felt like a rupture in football and it wasn't just the Dutch that ripped Spain apart - all of the first few games have been fought in a kind of anti-Spain tirade of direct, fast, attacking football. It was like everyone was trying to send Spain a message: we no longer believe. Caution has been winded, precision is there in parts (in shots, headers, well-played passes and well-timed runs) but it is no longer an exemplar; teams seem to have finally shrugged and thought that wars can be fought on all kinds of fronts. Even Australia's much abused get-it-on-cahill's-head approach almost worked for the them. I'll bet Zizek's rearranging the words "Spain", "tiki-taka", "The Big Other" as I write...

That 1 - 5* is so significant because maybe everyone is waking up at the same time...

*Of course, I can remember a seemingly significant 1 - 5 at the start of the 21st Century that sadly came to nothing but this just isn't the time...