Spain Goes Suicidal

By: Alfonso Duro

It’s been all bad news out of Spain lately: what was once the biggest bank in the country has seen its top executives involved in an embarrassing embezzlement scandal; the first case of Ebola in Europe has affected a Spanish nurse; and as if things couldn’t get any worse, the National soccer team, La Roja, seems to be keen on letting down, again and again, the few faithful supporters remaining after the Brazil World Cup debacle. The former world champions seem to be inching closer and closer to the edge.

BURYING TIKI-TAKA, FOR GOOD. The Spanish team that consecutively won two Euros and a World Cup by means of the infamous Tiki-Taka style seemed to have achieved world dominance in such a simple and effortless way that many believed it would last forever. But as Spaniards learned last summer in Brazil, that was hardly the case, and now the path back to glory seems as uncertain as it ever was before this golden era. With Xavi Hernandez’s retirement from the National Team after the World Cup, the old magic seemed definitely gone. And last Thursday, losing against Slovakia for the European Championship qualifier, La Roja paid its last respects to Tiki-Taka, closing the chapter of its most glorious episode.

THE VILLAINS ARE THE TARGETS. The Tiki-Taka era was so productive for Spanish soccer that it couldn’t just end peacefully. Fans want blood, and right off the bat they have chosen four clear culprits for the team’s present situation. Iker Casillas, who made one of the biggest duds of his career in the match against Slovakia, may have played his last game with La Roja, despite Vicente Del Bosque’s efforts to keep him around. Gerard Piqué’s open support of Cataluña’s right to decide whether secession from Spain is a viable option has got everyone questioning his patriotism (for Spain, that is), and debating if loyalty to the crown is a key attribute needed to wear the red jersey. (They may have forgotten that the defender is 61 games into his international career with La Roja.) Meanwhile, newcomer Diego Costa has also been caught in the crosshairs of the critics, as it has taken him—the English Premier League’s leading scorer no less—seven matches to net his first goal for his adoptive country. It won’t be easy for these players to get on the fans’ good graces again, but it’s perhaps coach Vicente Del Bosque who has the toughest job of all: his approval ratings have floored since the Brazil fiasco, and every single one of his decisions is being scrutinized like never before.

EVEN VICTORIES DON’T CHANGE A THING. The Spanish team has entered such a severe state of depression that not even a victory can help them. Their clear 4-0 victory against Luxembourg—without Casillas on the pitch and with Costa’s first goal—didn’t seem to change things much. These types of games used to be a celebration of attacking football, a jubilee of high-possession and high-precision soccer that helped evangelize Tiki-Taka throughout the planet. Now, they have become a collection of frustrated chances and a few goals by a group of super-talented players who have decided to stop trying their best. Spain’s present is a great example of the fact that success is a double-edge sword.

WHAT WILL THE FUTURE BRING? What the Spanish federation and its managers need to figure out now is more along the lines of conceptual change. Tiki-Taka was great because a few players understood and embraced that style in a way no one had ever done before. And while the newer generation may have the talent to do the same, perhaps they need to be allowed to find their own style. Right now, it seems everyone is more preoccupied with trying to keep the old flame alive than with picking the pieces up and rebuilding the team. Hopefully, the depression stayed in Slovakia, along with the last sighting of Tiki-Taka, and now the path is open for a new Spain to flourish.

Alfonso Duro is a Spanish freelance writer. When he's not managing Google's agency in the United Arab Emirates (his current job), chances are he's watching and writing about soccer.