Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Great Spanish Football Brigade and its Demise?

A lot has been said and written about the Spanish National Football Team's performance at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and I see things a bit differently.

After a disastrous Euro 2004, Luis Aragones picked about half the squad and formed a core group of players who can adapt to the Tiki-Taka style.  Despite being unbeaten in the 2006 World Cup qualification and group stage, Spain lost to the inspirational French team 1-0 in the next round.

This prompted Aragones to mix the traditional Spanish approach of "powerful, aggressive and direct" football with the Tiki-Tika style to evolve a new style which eventually helped Spain win the 2008 Euro, 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro under Vicente Del Bosque.  Despite an 80% success rate (win to games), Del Bosque is not a risk-taker and has always relied on a core group of players who he trusted.  To be honest, I am not a big fan of the celebrated coach due to this simple reason - resistance to change.

Despite having the best team in the world and having the most successful period in the history of Real Madrid, the team had only a 55% success rate - primarily because players were not rotated, fear to take risks, inability to infuse young blood into the team, etc.  The same has happened to the Spanish national team.

At this World Cup, there were several blunders by del Bosque that led to the dismal performance of the team.

1. Poor pre-tournament selection: The coach del Bosque has to be blamed clearly for leaving the in-form young players at home (Isco, Alberto Moreno, Daniel Carvajal, Illarramendi, et al). This is also a clear indication of how the coach does not groom new players into the side.

2. Inability to score goals?
a. While the Brazilian born striker Diego Costa is more than capable of being a goal machine for Spain, this would mean changing half the team and changing the style of the game.  Unfortunately, a football genius like Xavi had no clue whatsoever on how to feed the striker.  While Xavi is used to playing a short passing direct game, Diego Costa likes the ball to be a good 30 meters away from the body and chase the ball beating the opposing defenders with pace and eventually tiring them out.  If Del Bosque was keen to start with the in-form Diego Costa, then why he never started Diego Costa's Atletico teammate Koke or Juan Mata is still a mystery.  Also, there were question marks over Diego Costa's fitness and speculation that he may not be fit in time for the World Cup.  So, how Diego Costa started the first two matches despite not being 100% fit and not having the necessary resources to be successful remains unanswered.

b. It baffles me how a prolific scorer like David Villa who is also Spain's most successful striker was left on the bench despite having played more matches and scored more goals this season than in the last two seasons.  I distinctly remember the last friendly before the World Cup against El Salvador where Villa banged in two awesome goals as demonstration to his fitness and mental conditioning.  So, why was Villa not starting or even coming off the bench in the first two matches is illogical. I enjoyed watching Villa in the last match against Australia and the brilliant goal he scored.

3. Tiki-Taka a problem?:  I disagree.  One cannot blame the style if While the style itself is not the cause of the poor performance, a combination of various issues has resulted in the criticism of the style - ageing players, lack of match fitness / practice for key players, team selection, etc. has resulted in the style of play being ineffective.  Also, with years of perfecting the art, the players started to be boring, dull and slower compared to previous years.  So, we cannot blame the style of play!

4. No Plan B?:  This is to me was the most important reason for Spain's failure.  Except for the last group match where the coach "finally" changed the formation, the coach adamantly stuck to Plan A which failed for 180 minutes and not once did he make an effort to change the strategy.  I think a 3-0 win is testimony to what happened with change in strategy and induction of Villa, Koke and Cazorla in the starting line-up.

What does the future hold for Spain?  I think Spain should build a team that will carry the legacy of the current team to the 2018 World Cup in Russia rather than 2016 Euro.

Coach:  I think Rafa Benitez should be offered the role.  And, Rafa's 4-2-3-1 system will work well for Spain and knowing Rafa, he is bold enough to drop non-performing regulars and pick promising youngsters.

Goalkeeping: The obvious choice is David de Gea.  An experienced back-up Pepe Reina (not Victor Valdes) should be included as squad member. Another young goalkeeper needs to be groomed as third goalkeeper / back up and the next coach (presuming del Bosque resigns to keep his honor or gets sacked) has to work on this.  There are plenty of choices - Vicente Giaita, Roberto, Antonio Adan, Diego Marino, Sergio Asenjo, et al.

Wing backs: One of strong points in the rebuilding process - Jordi Alba, Cesar, Alberto Moreno and Dani Carvajal are certainties going forward.  Juanfran, Nacho Monreal and Coke have done nothing wrong and may feature in the team at some point of time but age is not on their side considering that the rebuilding process is a 4-year cycle.  Other notable youngsters who will be knocking at the door for a place are Montoya, Jose Angel, Didac Vila and Hugo Mallo.

Center backs:  Sergio Ramos is an automatic choice.  Pique and Raul Albiol have the experience and are likely to remain with the National team for a few years.  But in another 3-4 years, all three of them will be on the verge of retirement and hence it is essential to groom young central defenders under the guidance of Sergio Ramos.  Inigo Martinez, Marc Bartra, Nacho and Alvaro Domniguez should be considered and given sufficient playing time to develop with the National team. Other youngsters who may get a chance during the coming years are Alberto Botia, Andreu Fontas, Jordi Amat and Mikel San Jose.

Defensive Midfielders:  Another strong point for Spain - Javi Martinez, Sergio Basquets (if he stops being complacent), Thiago, Asier Illaramendi and Ander Herera are great players that can fit into the two slots ahead of the defence.  Others who may get a look-in are Javi Garcia and Ander Iturraspe.

Attacking Midfielders, Wingers and False 9:  Talent, talent and more talent for Spain in this section.  Cesc Fabrgas, Juan Mata, David Silva, Pedro, Santi Cazorla and Jesus Navas are likely to remain part of the team in the short-term.  But it is important to pick 1-2 new players in the starting XI to help the rebuilding process.  Isco and Koke are certainties in the future Spanisg squads.  Promising youngsters like Vitolo, Jese, Gerard Deulofeu, Christian Tello, Iker Munian, Rodrigo Moreno, Alvaro Vadillo, Bojan Krkic, et al will definitely play a part in the rebuilding process and also in the long term.  Other players who may get a chance if Rafa Benitez becomes coach will be Adrian Lopez, Jose Callejon, and Alberto Bueno.  The new coach has lots of talent to choose from and should be careful of how he brings them on board.  If these players perform, the coach will not need actual strikers as the Front 4 can swap roles and bring elements of Total Football whereby confusing the opposition defenders.

Strikers:  Diego Costa if he can convert his club form for the National team and also adapt to the Spanish style, he can be an apt replacement for David Villa and Fernando Torres.  Though age is not on their side, Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo will be looked at as short-term options. It is likely that Alvaro Morato and Borja may be groomed as strikers for the national team due to lack of alternatives.  As mentioned earlier, it is likely that a couple of wingers or false 9 will be converted to out-and-out strikers.

During the next few years, there will be a lot of other young promising players who will come from obscurity to limelight.  It is down to the Coach to identify such players and give them a chance in the National team.  So, Spain needs a coach who is pragmatic and has the heart to take risks and make changes.

Good luck, Spain!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

My 4 year sabbatical from blogging ends today.  I should've at least posted my articles from newspapers on the blog to keep it active.

I am actually overawed that I still have 10 followers despite no activity for 50 months.  Thank you folks for staying put!

I think the 2014 FIFA World Cup inspired me to write again (",)