27 June 2012

Bonus batter

Oh, hey there. From the looks of you — your eyes weighed down with hope betrayed, your face deadened by months of uncaring and ceaseless weather, your split ends really acting up — it seems that you have been waiting here like a dog lying by his master's grave, his ever-dimming yearning for said m. to reappear forming an ever-weakening web of love keeping his heart from sinking past its terminal point, somewhere between six feet under and Hell itself.

But what's this you see? What's making your eyelids audibly creak open, your tail wag so furiously it might send you into orbit? Could it be...

No. I'm not really here. I'm afraid that if you're that keen to look on my works and, who knows, maybe despair a little, you'll have to go to The Classical, which is where you'll find (amongst other delights) a piece of mine on Spain in their Imperial Phase. In it, I touched upon the "are Spain, like, actually dead boring? And stuff?" argument that has gone on for ... well, a couple of years now, but especially strongly since their win in their Euro 2012 quarter-final against France's formation genuflection team. But it's crying out to be touched upon even more, so here are my thoughts on the subj. Apologies in advance for using forty-nine words where fifty would do. Good dog.


People are entitled to their boredom. Some less lovely than me might say that being offended by how boring a game is is like sitting out in the rain for an hour and a half and raging against the disgraceful water cycle. But hey, sometimes complaining is fun. And I don't think those who found themselves in the warm embrace of tedium on Saturday were necessarily being contrary. I'm inclined to give people the benefit of whatever doubt there may be in such things, and assume that these feelings are sincere.

Naturally, it's easier to do that when you have some sympathy for them. For my part, I did find the game a bit on the leadránach side. In fact, most of the time that I watch Spain, I find myself having to admire what they do more than being thrilled by it.

Now, there's an odd strain of criticism about Spain and Barcelona** that they are somehow meek, airbrushed, "frictionless", when in truth, they are badass to the core. It's one thing having the technical ability to play their kind of possession football. It's another to actually do it, and do it so comprehensively that it becomes you, and not just dominates the match itself but invades your opponents' dreams beforehand. Its practitioners may be self-confident to the point of self-righteousness, but they haven't just happened upon their superiority; there weren't born with it. And their style may seem dainty at times, but it's mean as hell. They may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but they have the heart and the stomach of a concrete elephant.

(**Yes, no, Spain ≠ Barcelona, but there's an undeniable overlap both in the teams' respective styles and the criticism — positive and negative — of those styles.)

The trouble, so to speak, is that they can deal so easily with teams who play them almost entirely reactively. Which is most teams. They won a World Cup by dealing with that sort of thing time after time. They don't even flinch anymore. So unless a team is willing to dare (as Italy were in the opening Group C game), you pretty much know what the outcome is going to be**. All you can do is appreciate what Spain are doing. You won't be falling to your knees thanking the god you don't even believe in for what you have just witnessed. So there's no tension. And I love me some tension.

(**See? Badasssss.)

But there are two points to make here.

Firstly, it takes two to tango, and it's no good when one partner lets their body go limp. Of course, Spain are always going to dictate terms to a great extent, but some teams who should know better (les enfants de la patrie amongst them, I'd say) make it too easy for them. If Spain games are boring, their opponents are complicit. Grumbling about how boring Spain were while ignoring the other lot is weird.

Secondly, when Spain do take wing, it is incredible. Infuckingcredible. I'm willing to sit through (almost?) any amount of eleven-man, full-size-pitch rondo because I know that if I wait long enough, something mad will happen that you'd think you'd have seen coming given that you've seen it so often before, but somehow never do. And besides, even if it doesn't happen, there's always Andrés Iniesta and David Sliva to watch. That's some consolation prize.

But then, I love that kind of football. Not everybody does, nor is it compulsory for them to do so, nor does a failure (probably not the right word) to do so indicate some lower status of football love. As if that's the point, anyway: fans aren't, or shouldn't be, in competition with one another. I would find it strange if anyone with a feel for the game doesn't at least appreciate the greatness of what Spain do, but if you don't love it, you don't love it, and that's fine. Those of us who do love it should do those who don't the courtesy of not presuming them to be deficient.

But so too should those who don't get it do everyone else the courtesy of not parading their boredom as if they've uncovered a conspiracy. It may be frustrating to hear people bang on how great Spain are and how if you don't like them, you don't like football, and similar guff. That doesn't mean you have to take them at face value. Which is often the problem with debates like these. We're really talking about matters of the heart, but discussing them as if they were completely rational. So when someone strikes a blow against what we feel on such matters, we're apt to take it personally. God knows that's true when it come to football. In the glossary of the first FreeDarko book, soccer is described as "a sport [...] whose cult of style puts the NBA's to shame". That seems about right. As I say in the piece, if something bores you, then to you, it's boring. If it doesn't, then it's not. "Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home," Arsène Wenger once said. Arguing over whose is the prettiest might be even fun, for a while.


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