The era of total dominance by Spain in world football must seem like nothing more than a distant memory in the eyes of its fans.
Three successive major trophies between 2008 and 2012 – two European Championships with a World Cup sandwiched in between – was an unparalleled achievement, and the side that so emphatically and triumphantly destroyed the reputation of the Iberian nation being serial chokers will justly go down as one of the greatest sides in football history.
However, every golden age – no matter how prosperous – must eventually come to an end, and in the case of Spain this collapse of an empire occurred in spectacular fashion. If the heavy defeat to hosts Brazil at the 2013 Confedarations Cup served as a prescient warning, the catastrophic showing at the World Cup in the summer proved to be the definitive death knell for a once glorious team. After the abject humiliation of losing 5-1 to the Netherlands, elimination in the group stages was confirmed following a 2-0 defeat to Chile.
The prompt retirements of David Villa, Xavi and Xabi Alonso – so integral to the greatest period of success in Spain’s history – were keenly felt, yet more than anything, it was the death of an idea, a philosophy, more than the loss of certain players, that marked the end. Tiki-taka – so synonymous with Spain, so ingrained in its DNA – was no more, as the German model emerged as the superior style of play.
Indeed, seven of those who started in Spain’s recent defeat to Slovakia in the Euro 2016 qualifiers were also in the starting line-up for their Euro 2012 final triumph over Italy, which further suggests that La Furia Roja‘s demise is more to do with an outdated method rather than the loss of a few key players.
After all, the Spanish talent pool remains preposterously deep – David de Gea, Cesar Azpilicueta, Pedro and Santi Cazorla were only able to make the bench in the Slovakia game, while the likes of Fernando Llorente, Isco and Alberto Moreno did not even make the squad. Such is the wealth of talent that Spain has been producing on a consistent basis for a number of years that these players could all walk into the sides of most teams in world football.
An array of technically gifted footballers is all well and good, yet without an effective system in place, potential will always remain unfulfilled. Although the aesthetically pleasing, possession-oriented tiki-taka is Spain’s trademark system, it’s effectiveness has worn off, as teams have begun to suss out its deficiencies, namely through direct, rapid counter-attacking football – Arjen Robben’s complete destruction of the Spanish backline in the summer is a particularly thrilling example of this.
So does this signal the end of Spain as a footballing superpower? Not necessarily. They still possess a frightening amount of wonderfully gifted footballers, and a tactically astute coach in Vicente del Bosque. What is urgently needed, however, is a significant update, if not a drastic overhaul, of their style of play. Football is a constantly evolving sport – from catenaccio to total football, every system has its day, and the tiki-taka of 2008-2012is no exception. Spain have the coaches and the players to come up with a revised method which can bring them success again, and the simplified qualifying campaign gives them enough time to implement this.
They just need to get with the times.