Del Bosque is laughing all the way to the bank.
When Italy drew with Spain or in other words; Spain failed to defeat the Italians in their opening Euro 2012 fixture, Del Bosque was thrown into the meat grinder. Why? Because of his tactical decision to leave Fernando Torres on the bench as well as any recognised centre forward. Instead, he inserted Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas who is more a nomadic figure than anything resembling a centre forward. Three weeks later Spain created history albeit against a team turned into invalids when they were down to ten men with a third of the match remaining. The most mind-boggling aspect of Spain’s 4-0 triumph was that it was achieved with the same “negative” starting lineup as in their opening match (gasp). Del Bosque’s detractors are flabbergasted.
The Spanish exclusion of an actual striker caused an understandable few grumbles across Europe. It’s already a general subplot that with the accomplishments of Jose Mourinho at the 09/10 Champions League and more recently Chelsea this year, that “anti-football” seems to be on the rise. While I don’t agree that parking the bus (especially when necessary) should be criterion to crucify a team, I will say that modern football has become increasingly pragmatic and reactive. Competitions have become so contextually important to respective teams, that they would rather hold the fort in spartan fashion if it guaranteed progression. So the combination of the Soldado exclusion, as well as neither Llorente nor “El Niño” in their starting lineup in Gdansk, suggested at the very least that Spain had inevitably succumbed to their “shortcomings” that is; the lack of an in-form striker to operate at this level, and no Puyol at the back to protect an out-of-from Piqué.
Well now that the dust has settled and order is restored (the perspective of tiki-taka aficionados at least), let us see where the critics may have overlooked a few factors. So Del Bosque deployed Fabregas as a striker. While it’s common knowledge that he will never possess the requisites of a centre forward, he did however play in a similarly advanced role à la Pep last season. This new autonomy to roam further forward was invariably successful, but yielded nine goals for a player more similar to a Xavi than a Raul. So okay Cesc has minor experience in the role but what guarantee was there that no actual centre forward in a lineup would be effective for their campaign? Did anyone watch a Barça match last season? When Villa went down in December they essentially had no striker to call upon, but Messi still bagged tonnes of goals week in, week out. Oh by the way, to the layman football fan Lionel Messi is not a striker. He can fit that nominal role but he is far more enigmatic and versatile to just stay near the penalty area sniffing out a chance in Inzaghi-eque form. Messi for the past couple seasons has revolutionised what was once an attacking midfielder or second striker into what is known as the false nine; or as I like to call it: “The Phantom.”
Excuse the corny monikers, but Del Bosque borrowed bits and ends from the Blaugrana system in order to buttress a team already overflowing with talent. So Fabregas when started would “ghost” out of position in order for another player; sometimes Iniesta, sometimes Silva, to fill that false nine role. The end result was mass bewilderment and confusion. One of the keys to Del Bosque’s tactics was that the midfield is the most important area of the pitch; it supports the attack while protecting the defense. Pretty relevant when you consider Spain’s for/against ratio was (12/1) at Euro 2012. His 4-6-0 formation constantly drowned the opposition whether they had the ball or not, which meant the Iberians could bide their time before one of their assorted midfielders felt like scoring.
Spain were boring! Well… it does get monotonous when one team can be so dominant. Remember what Manchester United home matches were like in the EPL about twelve years ago? Exactly. It also doesn’t help when teams like France deliberately shut-up-shop and try to stop Spain instead of playing them either. The only teams that really pushed the Spanish were the Portuguese in the semi, and the Italians in the opening match. That contest could have gone either way, although I personally felt the Spanish failed to crush a tired Italian midfield in the second half. The point is Italy led by another tactician, Prandelli took the gamble and it nearly paid rich dividends. When the ex viola coach reverted to Italian type in the final… well you know how that story ends.
Del Bosque’s tactical nous has ushered us into the post-modern era of football. So alright Spain are no Brazil by any stretch, but who said they never needed to rely on individual flair? The collective effort, technical superiority, pragmatic opposition and a coach known for winning the CL regularly were all they needed to re-create history. I would have hated if Del Bosque were Trinidadian. His catch-phrase from now on would have been: “Talk nah!”