You’d be forgiven for thinking your ears are playing tricks on you, but it is actually being suggested in some circles that Spain’s style of play is boring. Vicente del Bosque’s side came in for some criticism following La Roja’s 2-0 victory over France on Saturday. The Spanish were accused of strangling the life out of the game with their tiki-taka style of play. While it’s understandable that it can be frustrating for Spain’s opponents – sure, it must be disappointing to never get a kick with all of Xavi and Iniesta’s ball-hogging – describing it as boring is a little harsh. What would you prefer? A team like England sitting back and playing for penalties from the word go?
It’s worth pointing out that these negative Chelsea-won-the-Champions-League-with-it-so-it’s-got-to-be-the-way-to-go tactics are largely to blame for any stagnation that goes on in games involving Spain. And Barcelona midfielder Andrés Iniesta has done just that in response to the criticism directed at Spain. “When a team always wants to attack against an opponent who shuts up shop, football is not as attractive as when the game is open,” he said. Surely fans of football would rather see a team ‘kill’ a game by keeping the ball and patiently moving forwards rather than hoofing the bloody thing into the corner at every opportunity.
Something else worth pointing out is that Spain are not Barcelona. Of course, you shouldn’t have to, but one commentator actually referred to Spain as Barça at one point during the game the other night. For one thing, international football is different to club football. Spain cannot expect to get many 8-0 wins over sides like Osasuna in the Euros. Particularly when their opponents are so determined not to attack. Spain also have disadvantage of having to do it without the Catalan giants’ 73-goal man Lionel Messi. And believe it or not, the national team includes players from other clubs and the manager is neither Pep Guardiola or Tito Vilanova. While they will have several of the same ideas, it’s hardly out of the question to expect differences in the ways in which Barcelona and Spain approach the game.
Spain’s opponents know they are at risk of taking a hammering if they play an open game. They are either unable or unwilling to keep hold of the ball like the Spanish so they defend by getting players behind the ball. Since they are comfortable in possession and happy to play the short passing game, Spain are afforded the luxury of defending with the ball. Breaking down a team that refuses to come out of its own half is not easy. It takes patience and composure. Calling it boring because we’re not seeing five or six goals a game is a short sighted and even jealous reaction. After all, Spain managed to claim both World Cup and Euro glory with the tiki-taka football. What’s the next ridiculous claim going to be? If they hadn’t scored the two goals, France might not have lost the game?
But then a clash of styles is one of the things that makes football interesting. We don’t want to see everyone playing the same way and we won’t agree on everything. Look at Stoke City. Never has playing to your side’s strengths been so apparent. Let’s face it, we’re not going to see the Potters adopting tiki-taka football any time soon. Can you imagine Tony Pulis’ interviews? “The only difference between Jon Walters and Lionel Messi is that Walters is willing to track back..”