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June 23, 2014
Fifteen years ago I had the privilege of living one of those adventures that remain with you for life. Back then I was quite far away from the academic world, working as a reporter in a Spanish sports newspaper. One day may boss decided, who knows why, that I was the best person to travel to Nigeria to cover the 1999 FIFA Youth World Cup. Little I knew then that I was going to have the opportunity to report on the first major triumph of a group of players which, defeated, bowed out of the 2014 World Cup yesterday after cruising to a meaningless 3-0 win over Australia. Certainly, I would have never thought when writing up a report on the final 4-0 crushing of Japan in a humid evening in Lagos, that some of the names in my text would feature eleven years later in other journalists’ reports of a World Cup final. It is perhaps because of this personal link that I cannot help to feel for this group of players who, as I argued in a post in this blog, made so many of us happy.
Brazil 2014 is certainly the end of a glorious generation of Spanish footballers that came to dominate the game in a fashion I could never have imagined. Not even when I first met Xavi, Iker Casillas or Carlos Marchena in the Spanish hotel in Calabar, a small city neat the Niger River, where Spain played two group-stage games of the 1999 Youth World Cup. The story of that month-long competition was one of coming out of age for a group of players and quite a privilege for me. Given the informality of the tournament, players and journalists shared hotels and many of the difficult moments in Nigeria. We were even able to forge some friendships that were maintained over time. It is also perhaps because of that more personal element that I have really struggled to see Xavi suffering because of his lack of fitness and his patellar tendons over the last couple of seasons. It has also been difficult to see the state of Casillas in the World Cup. The great captain who took us to heaven was a caricature of what he used to be.
Be that as it may, in this very sad and disappointing moment I can only have a word of gratitude for those who made this possible. It is of course necessary to start with Luis Aragonés, the scorer of Atlético de Madrid infamous goal in the 1974 European Cup final. Luis was a particular character, but he needs to be credited with giving a complete turnaround to the way Spain used to play and to feel on a pitch. He relayed of course on a bright group of players, later evolved by Vicente del Bosque to the work of art of Puyol’s header over Germany in South Africa, Casillas save on Robben or the team demolition of Italy in Kiev in Euro 2012.
This Brazil World Cup was perhaps one too many for some players. It is the moment to evolve the team, but it is not the moment to throw an idea of playing football in the bin. Some would say that Brazil changed and it does not play the attacking football of the Pele years. True. But it would be a real pity not to try to persevere in the idea of Luis Aragonés and Del Bosque that made many of us dream. In the meantime, in the moment to hand in our trophy of world champions, it is also the moment to say thanks. Thank you, guys. It was a very enjoyable journey.