Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spanish football is not gone, but going.

Liverpool's Luis Suarez's fang testing drama, immediately followed by the Manchester United's title winning antics orchestrated by the crazy boot of Robin van Persie, was overshadowed by the paltry penalty from his club and the FA. If he bit my son, with chances of rubies, I would have him locked up.

Anyway. the latest debate in the football world right now, of the shift of football power from the English to Spain and to Germany is very interesting. After a single swallow, it is summer to many fanatics and pundits. Firstly, there is still second legs to be played. After then, let us talk football. I am not saying Bayern Munich and Borrusia Dortmund chanced their way in the first legs in their Champions League semis, but wait and see.

The woes at the Camp Nou and weeping and gnashing of teeth at the Bernebeu may not be temporary setbacks and surely, they are not events but a process. The rise of Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho saw the decline of Barcelona, a process that ate into the Spanish football philosophy and devoided the progression of the west European superpowers.

Mourinho made irrelevant the national and traditional way of playing football in Spain, naturally by his club's tradition of buying talent. The home-grown development players approached the game in that famous tiki-taka fashion that is being exposed by the Germans. Many wrongly believed the Germans were the masters of defence, but 4-0 and 4-1 results are no traits of defending.

For many years, the English were known to be strong and physical with the long balls demanding the hard-running game. The defensive tactics of the Italians were admired by many while the impenetrable Germans got their tags for their high concentration levels that made them unbeatable.

Barcelona came with a strong Dutch philosophy introduced by Johan Cruyff, and during the days of the physical game, that type of football was unplayable. The maturity of tactics ushered the advent of mind games and the balance between pace and accuracy. Spanish football, especially Barcelona, depended much on the accuracy, a trait Real Madrid never had. It reminds one of the Brazil of many decades ago, when they came to Europe and complained that the Europeans kicked them and did not allow them to play football.

Madrid came to a point where their aggression translated to quick attack at the transition period, that is a time the ball changes hands (feet). Working on the strengths of his players, The Only One managed to increase the efficiency of moving the ball around without dropping pace. The Galatico managed to win the ball hastily and spring into attack, naturally by the speed of Cristiano Ronaldo on the ball. 

Those 4x4 results in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals in Germany over the Spanish got the tongues wagging. It can be looked at in terms of what exactly transpired on the day or from a global picture. On the day, Barcelona were without Lionel Messi, well almost. It was a 11 versus 10 affair, just to give the Spanish some excuse, but it was their own making. Over and above, if one tossed the ball up anywhere on the pitch, Barcelona defenders will reach it last because of their height. That is what the Germans exploited.

The next day was however different. Real Madrid's central defence is probably the most aggressive in the world today. If one runs at them, the ball carriers are bound to bounce off and retreat, usually with scares to show for it. Dortmund went round the central position knowing Pepe and crew will bring them down or they will defend facing their own goal. Again, that is what happened. 

The calmness of taking the goals bordered around the situation of turning a goal opportunity from those wide positions or from the penalty spot. The German attack were prepared to be tackled and take the penalty kicks or score clean. There was a balance of both events and the good thing is that Mourinho was watching. But why did it come to that?

Big matches used to be unpredictable. Technology made football too difficult. The calamities at hand are surely a trend of times but the Spanish are not yet finished because they will be back. There will be long and wide studies by all four camps as to what transpired.

Germany teams fought with grit, winning first and second balls. Their confidence in duels and combats fed off the vociferous home support. They have the mental strength to hold their nerve in the return legs. Their dilemma will be the point where they have to draw a line - the line of engagement. Defending deep will result in dead ball situations around the Messi - Ronaldo territories, and committing too early up field inviting the two to run with the ball into the spaces available.

If you are a fan, it is foregone, but if you are a footballer, it is game on. These matches are not over by any measure. For both Spanish teams, besides being outplayed, they were unlucky. They may be unlucky again, but if not, you will see what I am talking about.

But, has the balance of power shifted? Not yet and the second leg results will determine that. Actually, they may be points of reference as events of a process that started some time back while people enjoyed the dinosaur football Barca played. Football has since scurried off in the direction of the discipline of the strategy based on fast ball pace on the ground and effective transition periods taking place in the final third. The new concepts of countering the counter-attack are being employed effectively.

The game now depends on the collective effort of committed tacticians who compose 60-70% of the good teams while the value of technicians has diminished almost completely. The deterioration of individual dependency is seen at Barca, how much they cannot function without Messi. Real will suffer the same in the absence of Ronaldo. 

Teams without stars blossom and function effectively. Only yesterday, Liverpool blasted Newcastle 6-0 in the absence of their talismatic Suarez, who many had come to believe was among the top five players in the world today. It must be appreciated that some football philosophies are meant to be trend setters and all the other coaches, usually the selected few, work to diffuse them. The rest swing in between without a clear-cut grasp of the intentions of the concepts. In this case, Barca and Spain's tiki taka may have come full circle and the antidote is the German pace and aggression going forward, as exhibited by both Dortmund and Bayern. 

As for Madrid, it was just a once off unfortunate incident that I believe can be reversed. The good thing about the German football is that it is a national program played across the leagues. The same is being tried in England, where academies try to follow the same philosophies up to senior level. From under-8 players up to the Premiership, the ideologies are the same but the breed of foreign coaches and managers ingraining their own philosophies complicates matters.

Spanish football is not gone, but is surely going