By Shane Thomas
One of Euro 2012's subplots has been the fates of Spain. The reigning champions advanced to the semi-finals after beating an insipid France 2-0. But why have their displays been met with such indifference, and even annoyance at times?
Most of the complaints seem to be aimed at their style of play. Vicente Del Bosque's reliance on mobile midfielders and no strikers, operating with the "nueve mentiroso" (false number 9). Their dominance of the possession, which always brings the possibility of a goal without much action around the goalmouth, has led many in Britain to denounce the Spanish as boring. Now given that Spain's football has been the envy of the world since 2008 - with its rapid fluidity and demonstration of how technical skill and movement can surpass robust physicality - why the sudden backlash? After all, the tiki-taka strategy has brought a World Cup, a European Championship, as well as 14 trophies for Barcelona (it's impossible to ignore Barcelona when talking about Spain, as their styles of play are near identical, as is a significant portion of the personnel).
I think the first problem some have is to do with sustained success. In any level of life, the topic of "tall poppy syndrome" can't be overlooked. High-achievement is something to be aspired to, but repeated success can engender jealousy, as if it's selfish for a team to perform to their best. "Look at these Spaniards, winning all the time, who do they think they are? Making the rest of us look bad."
Added to that, is the manner of their victories. Anyone who's played football - at any level - knows the best way to score and win; get the ball, pass the ball, keep passing the ball until a clear opportunity presents itself to shoot. The closer the shot is to the goal, the greater the chance of scoring. It may sound easy, but is damned difficult to execute.
However, Spain have managed to perform this with supreme proficiency. They can do the thing that is beyond the reach of so many others. To use a political idiom, they are are the 1%. But beyond supercilious carping, there's a second factor at play here. People who brand Spain's football as boring says a lot more about them than it does about the Castilians.
I'm sure we all know plenty of people who regard themselves as sports fans, especially if you're reading this. But many only like sport with certain caveats. Give me drama, sure, but perfection? Meh. Compare Liverpool's path to winning the Champions League in 2005 with Arsenal going 49 league games unbeaten from 2003-2004. It's obvious which was the more impressive, but which will be more fondly remembered?
Pete Sampras. Michael Schumacher. Names synonymous with sporting success and drudgery. Ronnie O'Sullivan or Kevin Pietersen on the other hand... They come pregnant with drama, for better or worse. Sport often doubles up as a soap opera, and the more unpredictable the events, the better for the casual viewer.
And that's the problem with Spain. They're a majestic group of players. One of the greatest in the history of football. But their excellence makes them a team for the sporting purist, not the casual viewer.
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