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October 17, 2013
Believe it or not, there are people in Spain who criticise, and quite severely, our national football team. ‘It is just plain boring to watch them play, I fall asleep’, say some. ‘Del Bosque has no idea at all, he inherited a team from Luis Aragonés and he is just a lucky guy’, say others. ‘They only play their friends, it is always Xavi, Casillas and Iniesta even if they are limping’, can also be read in the social networks. Invariably, more often than not, there is a common denominator amongst these severe critics: They are young. Too young, I may add. Young enough not to remember a time when Spain was ‘the constant underachiever’, as I read many times on the BBC website for a long time.
At the risk of sounding like my late grand father, there are many now in Spain who simply did not have to suffer going out on penalties in Mexico 86. Or the simple and plain ridiculous performance in our own World Cup in 1982. Not even the referees could help Spain out of our misery. There are of course more recent examples, such as losing to South Korea in 2002 or to France in 2006. Not least watching Zubizarreta to score an own goal against Nigeria in France 1998, where Spain did not make it through the group stages.
For a long time I quite simply thought that I would never see Spain winning the European football championships, let alone the World Cup! Little I knew back in 1999 that some of the players I was sharing a month with in Nigeria (for the FIFA U18 World Cup) would made the dreams of many football fan come true. It was a young Xavi, together with Iker Casillas and Carlos Marchena who won in Nigeria the first football tournament for Spain after the gold medal in the 92 Olympics.
Xavi and Iker Casillas are now integral part of ‘La Roja’, the team that has dominated world football over the last six years. I cannot even believe I am writing it, but it is true. And I can only say one thing: thanks. Thank you for allowing us to experience what we thought was only reserved for Italians, German or Brazilians. Thank you for being an approachable group of players. And thank you for sharing your success with the rest of the country.
Of course, the Spanish national team is not always perfect. It is impossible to destroy rivals every game as they did with Italy in the Euro-2012 final. Perhaps more importantly, we need to realise that victories at that level are extremely difficult. Spain has made a habit of winning 1-0 during the knockout stages of the last two tournaments. It is actually the resilience of the team what made them champions. We may discuss style of play, we may discuss players of course. But this winning era for Spain will end sooner or later. We cannot win all the time, unfortunately. So let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
Outside Anfield, Liverpool’s stadium, there is a statue in tribute of Bill Shankly with a famous quote: ‘He made the people happy’. This group of players have made me very happy over the last six years and the end of their cycle may be very close. I can only say, again, one thing: thanks!