"Football is a game played over 90 minutes and then the Germans win."
Whether forecasting the result of a European Championships or a World Cup, this has traditionally been a fairly safe statement to make, and certainly not a prediction that would end in you being embarrassed after making it. Recently, however, things have changed in European football and the change is all a result of natural footballing talent.
Spain is now the national team that 'wins after 90 minutes' and when they lifted the European Championship trophy on Sunday, the critics who had dismissed them as boring suddenly returned to wearing the colours of La Roja, or The Red Fury (the name given to this recording break team by their own media).
Spain had been almost written off by some. They were getting older, they played without a striker, and they were not having enough shots on goal. Others dismissing their chances felt that this was to be the tournament where Germany returned to their former glory. It was also, according to others, the tournament where Ronaldo would be crowned King of Portugal at last. After 'avoiding the Spanish' in the quarterfinals, some even suggested it would be the year that England finally ended what has now become 46 years of hurt.
Despite what their critics said about them, Spain once again conquered Europe with ease. With all the immense pressure on their shoulders, they demolished a talented and ambitious Italian side, and did so by a record score line. They also broke two records, becoming the first International team to win three major trophies in a row, and the first team to retain two consecutive European Championship trophies.
Spain never apologizes for their style of play. They keep the ball with relentless greed and they wear you down. When you get bored and start to retaliate they suddenly hit you and leave you shell shocked. It may not be exciting but it is effective and it is extremely hard to imitate.
But it is not just the system or their style of play that has returned the Spanish to the top of the pile once more. No, there is something else, something that keeps them playing the way they do, something that makes them stand alone amongst their contemporaries.
This generation of great Spanish footballers has something that goes beyond ability. They have trust, trust in one another and trust in their collective desire to win. Even when things get tough, when everybody around them is suggesting that they need to change, the Spanish just keep going. They maintain their trust in one another and continue to play, such is their belief in the way they play that they could be losing by five goals and would still play the same way, would still trust in one another.
This level of trust can be seen in all of the Spanish players. It is not about individuals with the Spanish team these days. The damaging Real Madrid and Barcelona rivalry within the camp has long gone. It was buried alongside Spain's historic failure to win an international trophy, even when they did have some of the most talented players in the world amongst their number.
You only have to look at Fernando Torres in the final. Here was a player who had a nightmare season, arguably a nightmare two years. But, in this Spain team it is not just about Torres. It is about the collective group. Nobody is solely reliant on Torres and he can play with a freedom he has rarely enjoyed in his whole career. His teammates have trust in him to play his role and he has trust in them to find him when he makes his runs.
Torres would not take a penalty for Chelsea earlier in the season but came on as a substitute for Spain and scored the decisive goal in the final, setting up the fourth goal shortly after. There is collective belief and a collective sharing of the pressures for this record-breaking squad.
As managers prepare for the new English football season to commence, they would do well to absorb the best of what can be learned from the Euro's. Managers can try and imitate the Spanish model, they can send their players out with clear instructions to keep the ball, to always look to play and to retain possession.
All of these are simple lessons of football. But, perhaps they overlook the simplest lesson of all, football is played by teams and not by individuals. Perhaps building this sense of team camaraderie and trust is the most valuable preseason exercise any manager can undertake in the next few weeks.718190