El Centrocampista

WORLDS APART – Why England must go Spanish

By Richard Thorburn

Over the past decade it is fair to say that English and Spanish football has travelled in opposing directions.

This weekend the pair meet at Wembley in a game which will provide many a clue as to how both teams will fare in next summer’s European Championships.

While Spain may have finally rid themselves of the tag of ‘perennial underachievers’ with a spectacular World Cup and European Championship double, England’s widely lauded ‘golden generation’ have simply not lived up to lofty expectations.

The memory of the team’s abject performance in South Africa still lingers on and has raised alarming question marks as to why a country of England’s stature repeatedly fail on the big stage.

England’s unconvincing displays in qualifying for the European Championships in Ukraine and Poland next summer have done little to lift the ‘gloom’ that suffocates the national team.

In stark contrast, the rise to prominence of Spain and the unrelenting stranglehold that La Roja are currently enjoying over the rest of the world holds no bounds.

It is a remarkable change in fortunes for a team who have gone into past tournaments as one of the favourites, only to fail to perform when it really counts.

Sound familiar England?.

Fast forward back to the modern day and the vast array of talent that manager Vicente Del Bosque has at his disposal is quite staggering, only highlighted by the ‘bit part’ role that the insatiable David Silva currently has for his national side.

At the heart of this recent Spanish footballing revolution is ‘Tiki Taka’ a style of play focusing on short passing and movement, combined with an ability to keep possession of the ball.

Perhaps the biggest reflection on the system is that all of the top three players with the highest pass completion rate in South Africa were Spaniards – Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets.

Relying on patience rather than a ‘gung ho’ mentality, the system sees Spain toy with the opposition before delivering a final critical blow.

And although the regular conception that it is an overly attacking system is false, when it is played with the ease, flair and fluidity that Spain so evidently has, it is hard not to be impressed by it.

Football is an easy game, often made harder by people with misconceived ideas and formations – Spain’s ‘pass and move’ tactics are a refreshing throwback to the foundations of how good football was seen to be developed.

As well as using the formation as an attacking outlet, it also provides Spain with great defensive cover. Before going into the World Cup there were doubts as to whether Spain’s defence could handle the attacks of the world’s best.

Quite simply put however, no matter how good you’re attacking force is, or how many goals your striker has scored that season, it is impossible to attack when you don’t have possession of the football.

On those rare occasions when the opposition are able to take the ball from Spain, they are harried and chased down until the ball is lost again. Using the energy conserved by keeping the ball for long protracted periods of time, Spain is able to squeeze with hunger, speed and determination.

Barcelona has a philosophy of winning the ball back within five seconds if they lose it, and it would certainly be no surprise if Vincente Del Bosque’s training methods focus around the similar desire to regain possession.

The rhythm is systematic – keep the ball, lose it, win it back and then be hell bent on making sure that they don’t lose that ball ever again.

It allows Spain to control both the ball and the opposition with equal effectiveness.

After the 2006 World Cup it was reported that senior officials in Spain decided that they were ‘too lightweight and weak’ to dominate opponents and so they decided to dominate the ball instead.

Judging by the results we have seen since then, it’s fair to say it’s a decision that has proved fruitful.

Tiki Taka is a million miles away from England’s one hundred mile an hour approach to their game which, although cannot be faulted for effort, is often found out against teams of greater technical ability.

Whilst physical brute strength may be needed in the Premiership, when it comes to the world stage, internationally the flaws are there for all to see.

When compared to Tiki Taka, questions have to be raised whether the English method needs to change, with a glance at the quarter finalists in South Africa last year showing that flair and flamboyance is needed in modern football.

It is simply no good being strong, powerful and workhorse like, if you don’t have the ball.

With the culture of English football demanding success instantly, how ‘Tika Taka’ would go down in the country remains to be seen.

At present, keeping possession among the back four for more than five passes is met with a sense of urgency and disdain from supporters desperate for an all attack football – patience is something that simply does not exist.

There does appear to be a recognition that something needs to change with the English FA confirming yesterday that they are following in Spain’s footsteps by increasing the age at which eleven aside football is introduced from under 11’s to under 13 level.

It is hoped that with lesser players on the playing surface then players will all get more time on the ball and in turn gain greater technical proficiency.

And while it may take time for the benefits of this to be truly appreciated, it is a move that can only be welcomed.

It will certainly be interesting to see the two styles collide on tonight at Wembley – bookmakers have already made Spain odds on favourites for the game and it is easy to see why.

As well as learning a lot about themselves going into Euro 2012, England should take a close look at the brilliance of Spain and use them as a benchmark as to what can be achieved.

It isn’t as simple as changing the manager or personnel in the squad, it’s a question of changing an unsuccessful culture that has been buried deep within the English game for many a year.

The English FA could do far worse than picking their Spanish counter parts brains during the game on Saturday.

Advice would be very much welcome.



  1. Tom

    16 November, 2011 at 14:53

    England needs to have Spain’s stellar results, Costa Rica 2 2 Spain, Italy 2 1 Spain, Portugal 4 0 Spain, Argentina 4 1 Spain. But I do know when you are World and Euro Champions, everyone will be doing their best to defeat you.

  2. Broom_Wagon

    16 November, 2011 at 16:44

    They were good under Aragones, He made España what they are and they will falter without him. Spain was hard done in my opinion by France at the 2006 World Cup. Spain had to bloody up Ballack to win the ’08 Euro. Some Portuguese fans will say Spain resorted to diving and other things to win in 2010. They aren’t all that holy.

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