Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Euro 2012: On Spain and Popular Culture

When the immortal celluloid “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” flickered onto my television screen last year, I got quite excited. Carefree days of sixth grade came flooding into my mind, so I decided a re-viewing was in order.

It was rubbish.

It was typical, arch Costner replete with florid dialogue, a full-scale Swiss Family Robinson tree house in twelfth century Britain and Brian Blessed dying very early. Let's not even mention Celts making the unlikely silent pilgrimage from Wales to England's Midlands so as to attack said treehouse.

And the less we talk about Costner's mullet, the better.

However, re-watching left me in no doubt as to the film's best line, delivered in a cadence that linguists can only describe as Ultimate Rickman: “Locksley … I'm gonna cut your heart out with a spoon!

In contrast, the novel “The Princess Bride” features the Spaniard fencing wizard Inigo Montoya. After watching his father cut down by the evil Count Rugen, the boy Inigo spends his entire life practising sword fighting so as to take his revenge. By the book's conclusion, Inigo cuts out his opponent's heart out so deftly, so precisely, that Rugen is able to keep fighting until the killing stroke. Montoya had planned this so Rugen could experience the same as heartbreak and pain he had felt as a boy.

So why is this relevant?

Because Spain, the best international team we've seen in years, have played throughout Euro 2012 balancing uneasily between the two. The Spanish midfield conjures memories of Inigo Montoya's ruthless precision, while their conversion rate (11.9%) exhibits spoon-like execution. Rather than Spanish forwards merely lacking a sharp edge, for all their time in possession – 221+ minutes over four games – la Furia Roja have mustered only 67 shots. In comparison, semi-final opponents Portugal have had the ball for only 166 minutes for seventy shots.

Like Inigo Montoya, Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso cut the heart from their opponent; but when it comes time for the killing blow, they discard Montoya's magnificent weapon and pick up a Rickmanesque spoon.

Going back over Euro 2012, we've posted several times about Spain failing to adequately capitalise upon their possession. With David Villa missing, manager Vicente del Bosque hasn't used Fernando Llorente, apparently distrusts Alvaro Negredo like a bent bishop while Fernando Torres has regressed almost into a glint in the eye. Their continued dominance while carrying baggage like this is nothing short of amazing. Even devoid of top class strikers they are indomitable – but not undefeatable.

The time has come for del Bosque to use his squad depth. It is time for Llorente, the target man who looks like an inverted pyramid and whose finishing instincts (and luxurious bouffant) have him desired across Europe. It is time for Spain to stamp their authority on Euro 2012 and well past time for Spain to put away Rickman's spoon.


  1. Spain's problem is they are a basketball team without the corner three.

    That probably needs explanation. Most football players run forward after playing a ball, looking for the return pass. But Spain/Barcelona, particularly Xavi, run backwards, looking for the return. It is more basketball than football, spreading the floor, trying to draw out defenders, looking for the cut to the hoop.

    The easiest defence to that is to play narrow and deep, refuse to be drawn forward, stop the drive, make them take the shot. When teams do that to the Spurs (boring beautiful flopping Spurs, just like Barcelona) they get slaughtered because they find the corners and rain threes.

    But Spain can't take a corner three because even though they can spread to the wings - but rarely did - the crosses are to midgets. Llorente is the obvious answer, the others are to overload one side of the field to give the midfield space when it is played back, and to find a way to use their technical ability to open space for long-range shots. Basketball possession is one thing, but their movement in the forward line can be pretty static.

  2. Russ - Can't say how much I appreciate a corner-three basketball reference! Shane Battier and Bruce Bowen certainly do...

    You're right - the corner 3 is a pressure-release button that comes about as a result of a draw-'n'-kick. I'd not thought of Barca/Spain like that. I guess the best comparison is also when you look at the ostensible wide players going forward for Spain (Silva/Iniesta) both are just as, if not more, comfortable playing in the middle of the park. They looked much more dangerous yesterday (v. Portugal) when they used flat-out "wingers" Jesus Navas and Pedro.

    Still think it's a pity those players were aiming at the Happy Meal-sized Fabregas, rather than Llorente, but Fabregas scored the winning penalty - so apparently Vicente del Bosque knows more than I do about his side!