Amidst all the superlatives being thrown at the World and European champions, I cannot help but yawn when watching Spain. It’s not naivety, ignorance or a typically obtuse response to incite controversy but is in fact a reaction to their dominance and their supposedly superior playing style.
Before I dissect the many reasons why I think Spain are ruining modern football, it should be said that I appreciate the way they play and I understand why they’re so dominant. When watching the beautiful game I expect a certain competitive edge conducive to professional sport and while I accept their supremacy is evidence to support a passing style, I still cannot understand why fans across the world are impressed by matches that are so uncompetitive they end up more like training sessions.
Spain’s ability to maintain possession is the key reason for their success and it’s fully deserved but the problem is there’s keeping the ball for controlled reasons and there’s keeping the ball for the sake of it. Spain’s attacks are supposed to be fluid and intricate but the majority of the time they can’t go forward so they stop and go backwards, teasing fans with a frustrating strategy. It destroys the rhythm of the game and stops the opposition having any sort of attacking response because the move rarely breaks down. In many ways that’s the aim of their game but it appears laboured and even if the ease of passing 5 yards sideways is preferable to losing possession, I now find it more impressive to watch Spain defend. It amazes me that no other teams can fan out so effectively as a unit, closing down every passing option available to the opposition and quickly regain possession. It’s a quality I admire but also loathe because it means the other team have lost the ball and while I understand their commitment and applaud any team that sticks to their principles, from a neutral perspective the match has no substance.
As an avid fan of the Premier League, I have become accustomed to the blood and thunder of our domestic game so my impatience is naturally heightened when watching International matches but seeing one team pass another to death isn’t what I call fascinating football. Defender Alvaro Arbeloa is aware of this perception but feels standards are exceptionally high because of the expectations placed on them.
“I’ve played in England, I know what kind of games they like: open, loads of chances. Maybe when they see our type of game, a game defined by control, they find that boring. That’s normal. I can understand that.
“But all that speaks volumes about the demands made on Spain. People don’t seem to realise that in a competition like this the difficulty is huge. You can’t win every game 3-0; you can’t be brilliant every time. The opposition play too but it is as if they don’t exist.”
The former Liverpool star makes a fair point but unfortunately their dominance comes at a price for opposing teams choose to prioritise defence and fans often suffer through a dreary ‘snooze fest’, especially when Spain go a goal up and pass it sideways for the rest of game. The situation has been made worse by their decision to play without a recognised striker meaning there’s even less chance they’ll risk a more direct pass or play the ball in behind. In recent seasons I’ve also found Barcelona fairly dull to watch because of their insistence on possession football and if it weren’t for Lionel Messi I would’ve lost interest in La Liga altogether. The Argentine’s incisive running brings an attacking purpose to their play that’s otherwise lost on his Spanish team mates who make the game so arduous and now that Spain are happy to play Cesc Fabregas as a lone front man the situation is exacerbated further.
At this point I feel it’s important to reiterate how impressive Spain’s perseverance is and how attractive they can be in fits and starts but their style is still to the detriment of the game because even the top teams end up putting 11 men behind ball. When England played France, Les Blues had 61% possession but when the French faced Spain they went for a more defensive approach. While it may be a case of needs must against a superior side, it still doesn’t allow for a competitive fixture when one team is resigned to defending for 90 minutes. England’s style is definitely not a blueprint for success but they play to their means. English fans expect backs to the wall performances while France fans expect possession football and despite praise from Coach Laurent Blanc, their match against Spain was still awfully one sided. Blanc told TF1:
“I think the boys gave their all. Against Spain, it’s hard.
“It is very difficult to create danger for them. They are so tough to beat – you have to be very clinical when you only get 30-35% of the possession.”
Of course Spain aren’t playing boring football but their superiority has created a situation where their matches are tedious to watch. It’s not their fault, they’ve found a style that works and it’s up to the rest of the world to chase them but for the good of International football it would be better if they were more direct like Germans who have found a much more enjoyable combination of power, flair and speed.
Spain are the best team in the world for a reason but what matters most to me in football is the competitive back and forth nature of professional sport. There was an initial majesty to their style because it was so revolutionary but fans will grow weary of their superiority as results and indeed entire matches become horribly inevitable. If Spain continue to stifle the opposition then their footballing makeover will only make themselves look beautiful and sadly, unless the rest of the world catches up, the aggressive give and go that makes football so popular will soon be a thing of the past.
So what matters most to you in football?
It’s a simple question isn’t it, but there are so many ways of interpreting it, and any number of ways of answering it. Samsung have asked football fans ‘what matters most’ to them. I have added my thoughts on what I like to see from a football team and I suggest you do the same by clicking here to be in with a chance to win a whole host of Samsung goodies. Why not join the debate…