15 March 2013

The Spanish Armada

Midway through yesterday's post, I commented on Monreal and his potential ability to negate Michu on the flimsy grounds that having the same nationality as the Swansea striker might give Monreal some kind of edge--and while we're at it, wouldn't the same logic suggest that Michu would have an edge over Monreal, creating a Fibonaccian spiral of edges, one after the other? Anyway, between that and Málaga's 2-0 victory in the Champions League, I was struck by just how dominant Spain has become, not just in international competitions, but also in the Prem. I'm not claiming that I'm onto something new or that you should be amazed at my journalistic intrepidity by any means. I may have just accidentally revealed my secret superhero identity: Captain Obvious. My sidekick is The Oblivious Kid. We're quite a team.

Anyhow, we're all familiar with Spain's performance at the international level, so I'm not going to go into any detail there. Strangely, they haven't won gold at the Olympics, but that's merely a sidenote to the bigger picture. Beyond that, there's Barcelona and Real Madrid, obviously, both still competing and among the favorites to win the UCL. We could have had a Barça-Madrid final last year, and the same could happen this year. With  Málaga's advancing past Porto, La Liga has three teams advancing in the UCL. Three out of eight teams still competing are from La Liga. The Prem, for all of its history and pageantry? None. Yes, yes, three Prem teams persist in the Europa League, but that's small potatoes, a consolation tournament for, let's face it, second-tier competitors, could-be's, and also-ran's. It's one thing to compare the Prem and La Liga top to bottom to see who's better--is it true that La Liga is dominated by two teams, followed distantly by the rest? To an extent, yes, but the same could be said of the Prem. It's a difference of degree, not of kind. The Spanish league is so good, apparently, that many of its players leave La Liga for a chance to play elsewhere. Top to bottom, the Prem is peppered with players who are key to their teams' successes: Azpilicueta, de Gea, Mata, Michu, Reina, Silva, Torres...there are others who feature for smaller clubs and whose impact I could probably do some research on, but you get my point. The influence of Spanish soccer is not confined to Spain, but is infiltrating the Prem.

The reverse--British players venturing abroad--just ain't happening. the only Brit of note playing outside the Prem would be David Beckham, playing for PSG, which even he admits is more about selling kits than scoring goals. There's a smattering of gents playing here and there, but few who register and even fewer at clubs that can claim any notoriety. Partly, this might confirm the superiority of the Prem and the natural inclination to play not just at home, but in the world's best league to boot. Sure, the Prem is also the first-choice destination for a lot of other countries' players as well, lending further evidence to the Prem's eminence. The best of the best, though, arguably either play in La Liga or hail from it: Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi, Iniesta, Falcao, Casillas, Busquets, Alonso, Ozil, Ramos...FIFA's World XI for 2012 consists entirely of players from La Liga. And where would Arsenal be if not for Spanish players? Between Almunia, Miquel, and--wait, I mean Arteta, Cazorla, and Monreal, we rely on Spanish players now almost as much as we've relied on French players in the past. It's not for nothing, either.

Even past the level of individual players or even of teams, the Spanish style of football is seen as far superior to that of any other league. The passing, the dribbling, the technique, the skill--we would be hard-pressed to find another source of footballing-style that matches how they play in Spain. Dispute that if you must, but do so carefully--we at Arsenal, for all of our French connections, arguably play the most "Spanish" soccer of any team in the Prem. It offers a brilliant contrast to kicking the ball very far and hoping it lands somewhere near the goal or giving it to that one guy who dribbles and runs fast and getting of his way.  The Spanish style is a beautiful way to play--motion, fluidity, passing--in American basketball, it's akin to the Princeton offense in which players and ball are constantly moving. When  comes together and all of the elements click, it's sublime. Spain may not have invented total football, but the concept seems to have reached a pinnacle there. It's as much an aesthetic as a philosophy, and it's what makes football so much better than all of the other sports of the world combined. Thanks, Spain. Thanks, Johan.