Spain's Kings Can Leave With Their Heads Held High

It’s been described as the death of tiki-taka. It’s not. Some say Spain have been found out. I don’t think so. Others suggest they’re too old. Wrong. 

Why then, did the usually irresistible Spanish side crumble and capitulate so meekly at the hands of Holland and Chile? How come their undeniable talent didn’t help rip those two teams apart like we expected?

There’s no singular reason. There rarely is. Yet right at the very core I see a simple, primary cause that’s barely been mentioned. Not enough desire. 

It’s a rotten old cliché but where there’s a will there’s a way, and compared to their two conquerors, the Spanish appetite was insufficient. 

Systems, tactics, styles and philosophies all matter greatly in football. So too does talent. We wouldn’t bang on about them so much if they didn’t. Yet all largely become irrelevant, if a side doesn’t crave victory badly enough. Players have to push themselves to make plans work. And the plain, unmistakable truth about Spain’s early exit is that their medal-laden stars weren’t prepared to go the extra mile. This time, the prospect of failure didn’t frighten them into life. 

I’ve probably played in thousands of matches down the years and always intened to give my best and win. In five-a-side on a Thursday night, I still do. But there’s a difference between preferring to win, and being desperate to win - and every professional knows it. Human beings can’t conjure up the same passion levels, every single time. 

With two European Championships and a World Cup already on the sideboard as a collective, it perhaps shouldn’t surprise us that Spain’s yearning for another success has cooled. Their famous pressing game was a shadow imitation of it’s former self. 

Closing down is hard work. It takes effort, and a willingness to push yourself for the greater cause. If just a few players can’t be bothered, it renders itself ineffective and a waste of time. This is what we saw. 

Defending properly, tracking runners and making the right decisions at the back takes maximum concentration against top class opponents. Spain’s minds weren’t elsewhere, but they weren’t focused by the fear of failure. Their passing was also slow and predictable. Not because tiki-taka is dead in the water, not because Chile and Holland knew what to expect, but because they didn’t work hard enough to shift it quickly, and to move for one another off the ball. 

Where were the sharp runs in behind markers? Without two, three or four players showing enthusiasm on and off the ball, incisiveness becomes an issue. 

It starts from the very top. A Spanish hero, and rightly so, can Vicente del Bosque look himself in the mirror today, and say he gave as much as Louis van Gaal and Jorge Sampoli?Both rival coaches appeared to have studied hard, formulated a game plan that was different to the norm, and motivated their players to run through brick walls in a united cause. 

Del Bosque may have dropped one or two big names, but the pattern and make-up of his team was just the same as it always is. Even when things went wrong as plan B was nowhere to be seen. Catching Holland or Chile off guard with something new wasn’t considered.   

Complacency is an enemy of the greatest. In sport, we see it all the time. The Spanish won’t have deliberately rested on their laurels, but that’s what happened. With a raging fire in their bellies Spain were untouchable. Here, they barely got to lukewarm. 

It is definitely the end of an era for one of the finest (if not the finest) team we’ve ever seen in international football. Yet not necessarily, for the philosophies they cherish. 

All they need is new blood. By bringing in people who haven’t tasted champagne as often, I think we will see Spain come back strong again. 

All great champions lose their edge in the end. Those who’ve donned the red shirts for the last time can leave with their heads held high.