Spain's magical football a revolution

Spain's magical football a revolution

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MUMBAI: A nation under deep economic stress can play football. Originating from the 19th century British English miners and managers and growing continuously under foreign influence, Spain has learnt to charm the world with its own brand of soccer that is poetic and sublime in execution.

These artists of eleven, with more sitting in the reserves, march across the football field in grace and grandeur as they set out to conquer the world with bodies that are not anywhere near raw muscle and strength. The Europeans had changed the way football was to be played and won, strategy ruling over aggression, making even the classy Brazilians adopt to a game that they have been king of so often.

Not the Spaniards, not those men dressed in red, as they celebrate their third triumph in a row. The Euro championship is theirs twice and so is the World Cup in 2010. They play a totally fluid game that follows no pattern and moves in all directions without a fixed striker position.

The last sheer magic one saw was the Brazilian duo of Ronaldinho and Ronaldo who played together in two World Cups and even lifted the trophy in 2002. The artistry of Ronaldinho would suddenly find space to dribble past any crowded corner occupied by the enemy and the final pass would create an opportunity for Ronaldo who would put the ball to the net with his strong legs and an amazing scoring ability. Brazil in attack was always dangerous and beautiful to watch.

The style of Latin American soccer could find success in another country in the mid-80s at a time when the wonderful free game was beginning to fall slave to strategy just because of another individual brilliance: Maradona. But the ?dwarf? had strength in body and the legs to bulldoze his way through. He could run with the ball and in one scoring spree against England could pierce ahead despite his shirt being pulled by an opponent desperately trying to put him off balance. This genius won the World Cup for Argentina in 1986.

Spain has none of that muscle power supporting their artistry. The whole troop moves in harmonic orchestra and the final blow when it comes is a movement. There is no shock or brutality; it is like the wind blowing gently, the river flowing perennially. It is the inevitability of winning in a quiet world.

There is no element of mad rush seen in Ronaldo, the man who took Portugal almost to the final in the Euro 2012 championship. There is no wild Balotelli removing his shirt after scoring twice in the semis for Italy and dedicating the victory against Germany to his mother Silvia who adopted the child born of Ghanaian immigrants when he was two years; the temperamental footballer who grew up with a life-threatening intestinal condition as an infant was also demonstrating to Italy?s half million children of immigrants that they too could aspire to rise to glory.

Spain has Xavi and Iniesta and others who play like the musicians; they are possessed by their game, drawn to their style and want to control their art form. When football has become more physical, Xavi and those from his team who are weaker than the many powerfully built footballers wouldn?t have been winners. The style of the Spanish play suited their game and made them emerge as winners.

The winning team has built an architecture which it can only ape to perfection. They call it ?Tiki-taka?, a style of play characterised by short passing and movement to maintain ball possession. The Spanish players have mastered the art and can use it to attack and defend so smoothly that you keep wondering at their magic. The individual brilliance of these players also gives them the flexibility to change their game strategy ? from a defensive ploy to an attacking game.

Their display was the finest against Italy, a team which had put behind the match-fixing scandal affecting their domestic leagues to reach the final contest in Euro 2012. Spain?s relentless ball possession and attacking game narrowed the scoring opportunities against them and tired the energetic legs of the Italians. No wonder Spain scored four goals and gave away none.

Forget the tottering economies of the Euro zone, the slide towards deep recession and the unemployment that is spreading wide and fast. Forget the despair and the hard reality. It is time to hunt for the opium that is football.

In a country where there is a deep economic crisis, the sport has offered joy and triumph. The match against Portugal, decided in a penalty shootout, had a record 18 million television viewers in Spain watching passionately, much more than the 14.5 million that witnessed their country?s first triumph in the World Cup in 2010 beating the Netherlands.

Spain?s soccer lore is sure to expand the most popular sport?s global television viewership. In the many generations that have played the game, it has moved from the individual brilliance of certain players like Pele to a team of attackers and later, unfortunately, to the dull defensive ploy of many countries. The Spanish style signals another wave of evolution. Countries like India can now begin to hope that their footballers with less powerful built can still find space through skills that the Spanish team has excelled in.

Soccer began as a sport for the working class in the UK and gradually evolved to attract private capital to support clubs, some of whom are now publicly listed. The sport?s mass base attracted Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp lapped up the television rights for the English Premier League that catapaulted BSkyB to a hegemonic position. For British tabloids, soccer has gone done as a popular diet along with sensationalistic content.

Sports broadcasters in India need to popularise soccer. In a single-sport country that loves cricket, there is no other escape if they are to run profitable networks. There are baby steps taken to develop the sport. IMG-Reliance has pocketed the All India Football Federation (AIFF) media rights for Rs 7 billion for 15 years, but has done very little with it. Another league in West Bengal is yet to take off.

Let?s hope Spain?s rise is an inspiration for us to sow the seeds so that in future we can hope to have India participate in the world?s soccer economy.

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