Boring? Not in the least bit. Watching greatness and history unfold is never tedious. The Spanish have now won three straight major tournaments, an unprecedented achievement in the modern era, playing some of the finest football ever witnessed. Most of the cast of Euro 2008 are still in the squad and are still tremendously influential while new, younger players have been woven seamlessly into the fabric of the team. Before the tournament, it was impossible to mention the names Austria’s Wunderteam, Hungary’s Magical Magyars, Pele’s Brazil, Beckenbauer’s West Germany and Holland’s Cruyff-led total football without putting Spain in their company. Now they have unquestionably surpassed them all.
Dynasties are rare things in international football. Even Pele’s great Brazil side that lifted the 1970 World Cup lasted just six games. They were cobbled together before the tournament by Mario Zigallo and were broken up just as quickly. Johan Cruyff’s total football side in the ’70s never won a trophy and the groundbreaking Hungary side of the ’50s failed to lift the World Cup.
In the modern era only the Germany side that won the European Championships in 1972 and the World Cup in ’74 – before losing the ’76 European final on penalties – and France’s World and European champions at the turn of the millennium can be truly compared to a Spanish side born of a ruthlessly executed philosophy, the seeds of which were sown over two decades ago.
Not only is this Spain side the most successful in history, they also played some of the most magnificent football ever witnessed on the international stage. It is a testament to them that when they hold onto possession for 70 percent of the game, they are labeled boring. Winning is rarely boring, certainly for the victors, but superbly crafted passing displays never are.
It has to be remembered that this Spain team don’t play Catenaccio. They don’t sit back and knock it around between their defenders. Instead they work perfectly crafted triangles of passing, only giving the ball back to the goalkeeper when they absolutely have to. For Spain, that is their resting time, for the opposition, it is torture, for the purist, it is positively hypnotic.
Spain, and their domestic cousins Barcelona, have reinvented the way countries look at playing football. To challenge Spain, countries now have to revamp their training methods and youth development from top to bottom. Only time will tell if it is only this generation of Spain players that are capable of playing such football.
In Euro 2012, Spain did not just win the tournament with distinction, they also mastered the unmasterable formation. The 4-6-0 formation, or 4-3-3-0 depending on how you look at it, has been talked about for years among the footballing intellectuals.
Carlos Alberto Parreira, a World Cup-winning manager with Brazil in 1994, spoke almost 10 years ago about how the formation was the future, providing limitless fluidity with players changing position with ease while defenders would be left flummoxed by the kaleidoscopic movement.
In truth, the formation has proved inaccessible to everyone. Roma briefly dominated with it, using Francesco Totti in the “Fabregas role,” before being blown out by Manchester United in the Champions League.
From there it has been viewed as the “Triangle Offense” of football – the triangle offense being a tactic used in basketball to tremendous success by Phil Jackson, yielding 11 NBA championships between 1991 and 2010, but completely unfathomable to the average coach or player.
Early in the tournament it looked as though Spain would be another team to try the 4-6-0 and fail. By the final they had it down.
Spain’s win over Italy was a master class in fluid movement, passing angles, off the ball movement, combined thinking and supreme symbiotic play.
What is scarier is that only Xavi Hernandez will be approaching the end of his career come the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The rest of the starting XI are either young, young and experienced, in their primes or having a playing style that is unlikely to be ravaged by age. There are also stacks of players in reserve ready to play when anyone drops out.
They could go on to make more history by becoming the first European team to lift the Jules Rimet trophy on South American soil.
Enjoy this team while they are still here. They are history-makers, pioneers and, most of all, not boring.