It’s as if the football gods had decided the fate of the Spanish national team long before they even touched down in Brazil this summer. While many pegged them as a tournament heavy weight, though not guaranteed to make the final in the mind of most, surely those looking down from above felt it necessary to punish success with humiliation.
When they crashed out of the tournament in stunning fashion in a 2-0 loss against Chile two days ago, it signaled the ending of an era. The likes of Xavi Hernandez, Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso and maybe even Andres Iniesta will never play at the World Cup again. Were they allowed to bow out gracefully? No, and instead, were subjected to cruel and unusual punishment this summer. But did the punishment fit the crime?
Vicente Del Bosque, the ringleader of the Spanish juggernaut that so ruthlessly held Europe and the world at ransom since 2008, was the one that committed the crime – but it shall be his subordinates that will suffer the most.
Like the CEO of a fortune 500 company that goes belly up, he will take a slap on the wrist and then retire into private life, but it’s those that are under him, who worked for him and who made him look like a genius that will be left to deal with the aftermath. Many will still find their way back into the national team, but others will be saddled with blame upon returning home that will be directed at them, regardless of fault.
What was Del Bosque’s crime? Simple – he didn’t read the writing on the wall that was the 2013 Confederations Cup semi-final and final. That writing was placed there in Azzurri blue and the green and yellow of the Selecao. The phrase on the wall? Adapt, or perish.
So, where do Spain go from here in the wake of their complete capitulation? First things first, is the immediate sacking of Del Bosque almost the minute after they land in Madrid once the group stage is complete – don’t even let him clean out his personal effects, just have them shipped to his home address. The further they distance themselves from him, the better.
When looking at the player pool for Spain going forward, the options are endless. One thing is certain however – Xavi Hernandez, Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres and many others that were mainstays for the national team also need to be distanced from. It is time for Spanish identity to be reshaped in both playing personnel and on the tactics board. The bigger question is, do you keep the current system (tiki-taka) and select players to fit it, or, do you select players that are contrary to that and switch to a high-pressure counter attacking set up? One thing is for sure at current, is that counter attacking football is destroying all that come before it, and it may be time for Spain to hop on that train before it leaves the Madrid Puerta de Atocha.
If you need further proof, you only need to look at how Barcelona (the champions of tiki-taka at club level) and Bayern under Pep Guardiola (who have adopted a style closer to tiki-taka than traditional German football) were ruthlessly exposed in the Champions League in recent seasons by sides that pressed without the ball and then quickly broke and exploited the space behind the defense, especially the wing-backs. It was not just a defeat when it occurred, it was a mauling that was all too similar to Spain’s embarrassment this summer.
In their current system, Spain managed a single goal combined in their matches against the Netherlands and Chile, and it wasn’t even from the run of play. If they were quite poor going forward, they were abysmal at the back, allowing seven. Combined at Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012, Spain had allowed only six goals. How did both the Netherlands and Chile deploy? High pressure without the ball and quick counters once they regained possession. It is not rocket science really, this style is at the forefront of the modern game, while tiki-taka surely is dead.
Do Spain have the players to transition to a high pressure and counter attacking set up? Yes, yes they do, and some of them are currently in Brazil as we speak.
Potential Spain 23-man squad moving forward
GK: David De Gea, Vicente Guaita, Roberto Marino
DF: Alberto Moreno, Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, Inigo Martinez, Marc Bartra, Nacho Fernandez, Daniel Carvajal, Cesar Azpilicueta
MF: Cesc Fabregas, Javi Martinez, Thiago Alcantara, Ander Iturraspe, Isco, Koke, Gerard Deulofeu, Juan Mata, Iker Munian
FW: Jese, Jose Callejon, Diego Costa
Potential starting XI given the above
GK: David De Gea
DF: Alberto Moreno, Inigo Martinez, Sergio Ramos, Daniel Carvajal
MF: Cesc Fabregas, Javi Martinez; Isco, Koke, Gerard Deulofeu
FW: Diego Costa
Naturally this is only one example of the direction Spain can go, but for me, this is a very strong option. Only Diego Costa and Sergio Ramos retain their place in the XI, while the vast majority of the 23-man squad is a fresh look from what we have seen since Euro 2008. Cesc Fabregas is finally given the key midfield role he should have had for some time now, and the front players bring a blend of pace, creativity, interchangeability, but most importantly, the ability and willingness to work off the ball and track back if needs be.
Did you notice a trend in the new team? There are only a total of three players from Barcelona in the 23-man squad, and only one of them makes the starting XI – why? Because Barca have been the champions of tiki-taka, and if Spain are to truly progress, they must distance themselves from any and all remnants of the style. Instead, the players that need to be trusted moving forward are those that play direct and counter attacking styles of football at club level.
Clubs being represented in the 23-man squad example
Real Madrid (5)
Bayern Munich (2)
Athletico Bilbao (2)
Manchester United (2)
Atletico Madrid (1)
Real Sociedad (1)
Take Diego Costa for example – so ruthless at club level for Atletico Madrid, but despite potential niggling injury concerns still, was awful for Spain this summer, but that has nothing to do with him being overrated and everything to do with him not fitting the tactical system. Costa is accustomed to playing counter attacking football, where service from Koke and others look to set him loose behind the defense, rather than the slow build up play preferred for so long that so often times see’s the striker marked out of the equation far too easily – he will continue to be used in that same tactical make up at Chelsea.
The proposed abandoning of the tactical status-quo for Spain is not to say that in the end it failed, by no means did it fail. In all honesty, what Spain has done over the last six years was nothing short of magical, and in truth, produced one of the greatest if not the greatest national team in the history of the sport.
The truth however, is that football is forever changing and growing very much like an organism. To say that football is in fact organic in nature is the gateway to understanding that, much like in the natural way of things in the world, those who adapt survive the longest, while those that stay too static usually end up with the short end of the stick – football is no different.
Spain’s current tactical set-up with Tiki-Taka
How Spain should set-up in the post Tiki-Taka era
Formation: 4-3-3 – WB’s do not press too far up the field, with five always ready to react to the opposition break. The wingers, forward midfielder and striker all break quickly through the forward channels
Tiki-taka truly did have its time in the limelight, and no one can say that they did not enjoy the pure dominance it had in the game for its period of time. But as the game is changing year by year, it has become exposed time and time again to the point where it’s legacy is now being threatened.
Unless Spain wants to revert back to being the national team of Luis Enrique, Fernando Hierro and Fernando Morientes that for so long had all the talent in the world but failed to deliver, they too must adapt to survive – they must be more organic.