Euro 2020: New-look Spain seek reinvention as traditional tiki-taka set to phase out

·5-min read

When I first came across the term 'FOMO' I looked it up thinking it was a kind of medical condition or something.

The dictionary definition could have come back with a picture of former Spain captain Sergio Ramos attached to it, and it wouldn't have been inaccurate.

The Real Madrid man who's been left out of the Spain 26-man squad would be the perfect definition of 'fear of losing out.' A fear realised in a season eroded by injury, a natural sense of entropy. A fear realised at the end of a cycle for the Spanish national team and Spanish football in totality.

We take a look at some of the talking points for this Spain team who look destined for heartbreak, but could also find grounds for a new tactical revelation.

Shedding the Dad-bod

The lean muscle of that hare-sprinted Spain side that pranced through, over, under, across every team in the continent for the longest time is now surrounded by loose, jiggly love handles.

There was a dad-bod look to not perhaps the players in particular but the way the team moved as a unit, aesthetic of a tortilla-stained man moving sluggishly from the sofa to the remote, fumbling things on the table, but making it in just in time for his favourite show. That's what Spain's qualifying form looked like, equal parts comfortable and awkward in their own newly sedentary skin.

Luis Enrique, the former Barcelona manager and current Spain manager wanted nought to do with that. The Spain squad selection was like an onset of spring cleaning - hair net on, dust the cobwebs. And most of it was in the Real Madrid side, with a sum total of zero players turning out for Spain at this tournament. Unprecedented in recent memory, but one saw it coming miles away.

What's symptomatic of Spain is usually symptomatic of their two biggest clubs.

Once there is a hegemony in place consisting of decisions coming from a select group of players with sole interest in keeping their clout, influence, and place in the team, natural stagnation sets in. Players who should have shipped away have been allowed to stay in Bernabeu and Camp Nou.

Zinedine Zidane's second coming as manager for Real for the second time was not so much out of the romance of it as it was about saving face. Slapping wallpapers on cracked walls. Certain movies shouldn't have sequels.

At Barcelona too there was a sideshow of administrative mismanagement that has sunk the club in debt of over 1.2 billion Euro. The prize show dog of LaLiga is flea-ridden.

The top two of Spain were once thronged by the best players in the world. Now there's a vacuum. Now, in this moment of time, LaLiga as a league has fallen behind the viewership of the German Bundesliga; once again, unprecedented in recent times.

Spain once attacked in tightly conducted tiki-taka waves, now they attack in ripples. Once their frontline (2007-2011) was the most feared in the world, now Juventus striker Alvaro Morata gets booed by his own fans after a friendly draw against Portugal.

Life After Tiki Taka

Before their 2008 Euro Championship win, Spain won matches miserably. The 2006 World Cup in Germany was their platform as a young, budding team to fail profitably. This edition of Euro could mean the same for a young Spanish team that must stumble, perhaps repeatedly, before they can find a system again. It is unlikely to ever be tiki-taka again. Luis Enrique anticipates this.

The trend now is that the most talented, young Spanish players that feature in his squad have moved away from Spain in search of better academy standards and administration.

The earlier iterations of the Spanish team were held together by a large chunk of players hailing either from Valencia, Barcelona, or Real Madrid. LaLiga was the oyster and the pearl for exciting sponsorship proponents. Since then, there has been a low-key bureaucratic civil war between the central Spanish state and the Catalan state, the latter seeking autonomy after a stark economic downturn that they haven't yet recovered from. As in life, as in football, and vice versa.

Unity lacks due to unfamiliarity. There are only random spatterings of cohesion when this Spain team plays. Some look unprepared by the reality of playing in the national team shirt. Some look like they arrived separately for a high school reunion match after years. This tournament may be taken up as an opportunity to conduct a series of controlled experiments in terms of team shape and personnel, and you are encouraged to have zero expectations if you are a supporter of this team.

Like a musician learns his instrument mostly by playing it, this young Spain team and their fans need to leave themselves open to the idea of capitulation. That it was only because the late Luis Aragones' Spain failed so dramatically in the 2006 World Cup, that they won the Euro in 2008 so gloriously and redefined possession-based football.

The young gun

Let's talk about 18-year-old Pedri. The Barcelona backheel merchant plays with concerted abandon and courage that comes from being sure of where one belongs. His numbers prove it.

Jotting more than 50 caps since his imperious run since December 2020, there has been no looking back. Barcelona even made exceptions to make sure the boy had enough rest for the Euro by keeping him out of the last game against Eibar. The hype should be warranted.

He'll join the likes of France's Jules Koundé and Germany's Jamal Musiala as ones to keep an eye out for in this tournament.

Also See: Euro 2020: Spain coach Luis Enrique banks on youth as old guard fades away

Euro 2020: Seasoned coach Senol Gunes ready to spring another surprise for Turkey

Euro 2020: Poland wary of overdependence on superstar Robert Lewandowski as new coach Paulo Sousa gears up for first major test

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