The End i
El adiós a La Roja (Goodbye to La Roja) ii
El fracaso deportivo de La Roja en Brasil (The Sporting Failure of La Roja…) iii
La Roja abdica en Brasil (La Roja Abdicates in Brazil)iv
La Roja de verdad echa a España del Brasil (The Real “La Roja) Throws Spain out of Brazil)v
Such were the headlines in Spanish news over the past week. Just in case you don’t know, “La Roja” is what Spain calls her national soccer team. Disappointing and disillusioning headlines indeed.
Now, I don’t know a lot about soccer. I know I love to watch it, especially when La Roja or Real Madrid are playing. Those are my teams. Yes, yes, I know; I’m American. So what? Americans suck at soccer. And I don’t like American football at all. I got hooked on Spanish soccer four years ago when I was dating an Englishman who was into the World Cup. I started watching with him, and lo and behold, I really liked it a lot. So much so that we were heartily cheering for two different teams at the 2010 World Cup final – he for Netherlands and I for Spain. Spain won, in spite of Netherlands’ questionable tactics and deliberate fouls, and I danced joyfully through the house. He huffed and said with superiority, “You’re NOT Spanish.” We broke up shortly thereafter.
So I’ve enjoyed this lovely ride along with La Roja as they have reigned as kings of the football field. Their players come from great teams all over, including Manchester United, Napoli, and Chelsea, but the roster was always heavy with starters from Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Champions of Europe, Champions of the World, virtually unbeatable for six years, they were a joy to watch, like magic. In the midst of a national crisis that has left one in four Spaniards under 30 out of work, this team was like money in the bank or a safe place to lay your head when all else was crashing around you. When they played, you knew they would win, or on the rare occasion that they didn’t, they would play well and mesh as a team.
So what happened? Heck, if I knew, I’d write a book and get rich! I suppose it’s very complicated, but I think there are two factors that played important roles in this debacle. First, the starters are too old, and like Xabi Alonso, defensive midfielder, regretfully said, not hungry enough. The team’s long-time Manager Vicente Del Bosque was reluctant to start the new young guys, and so had 33 year old Iker Casillas (my personal, very handsome favorite) as goalkeeper, and filled the field with other great, but older players, most notably, Iniesta, 30, Xabi Alonso 32, Xavi, 34, and 2010’s World Cup star, David Villa, 32. All of those players, along with a good bit of the rest of the team, have already won a World Cup (2010) and maybe didn’t want a second one as bad as the younger guys wanted their first. Unfortunately, most of the younger guys didn’t start.
The second factor has to be the fault of Jose Mourinho, the former coach of Real Madrid. Two years ago, before Mourinho left Real Madrid to coach Chelsea, he benched Casillas, the captain and goalkeeper of the club. Whether he was trying to make a statement about “who’s boss” or not is irrelevant for the moment; what is important is La Roja’s starting goalkeeper was on the bench for his own club, first for just a couple of games. Then he broke his hand, so was out for a time, and when he came back, he didn’t start. Neither did he start for the new coach, Italian Carlos Ancelotti. So for two seasons “San Iker,” (Saint Iker) as the press used to call him, arguably the best goalkeeper in the sport, sat on the bench. It is fairly obvious, isn’t it? To stay on top of your game, in terms of any sport, you have to play. Iker didn’t have a chance to perform up to his usual standard. How could he have after losing two seasons of regular play?
These two factors created a perfect storm for La Roja, and they led to a crushing and humiliating 5-1 victory for Netherlands in the first game for Spain – a vindication for my Dutch friends, of course – and then the 2-0 loss to Chile, and it is all over. Yes, Spain plays once more, but they are, nonetheless, out of the competition for the title of the Champions of the World.
So is it the end of an era? Reluctantly I concede that it is. Will Spain come back? Without doubt. One of my friends, the fan of a rival national team, said it will take decades, but I think that’s just gloating glee talking. It will take a few years, perhaps six until they are truly a winning team again. But for now we fans are thinking about the next eight years. Eight years of discovering more young and gifted athletes, eight years of honing their skills, eight years of of bringing all these youthful Spanish players together for the national team games, and eight years of retiring the older players and coaches. We will miss our beloved players (Casillas et.al.) and these glory days, but 2022 is coming. Inevitably.