can we, can we not? – Del Bosque
There is a sense of history with Spain at this year’s European Championships.
In the context of modern football, no country has ever held the continental and world trophies for more than 6 consecutive years in their period of dominance. For that to happen, it would require either the World Cup, or the relevant Continental crown to be successfully defended.
France almost did it. In 1998, they lifted the World Cup on home soil. Two years later, they became European champions. But 2002 saw them crash out of the World Cup in the first round, thanks in part to an injury picked up by Zinedine Zidane prior to the tournament.
Coming closest were the West Germany team of the 1970’s. In the years before Ronald Reagan told Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”, West Germany were the dominant side in international football. They lifted the 1972 European Championships, before defeating the Netherlands at the 1974 World Cup, on home soil. In Yugoslavia two years later, they were firm favourites to retain their European crown. They got to the final but faced a brave Czechoslovakia side. The game went to penalties, and after Uli Hoeness missed for the West Germans, it was left for Antonin Panenka to win it for the Czechs. Panenka went on to score the most famous penalty kick in football history, but more importantly, denied West Germany a second consecutive European trophy.
This is where Spain lies. In 2008, they were European champions. In South Africa 2010, they were crowned world champions. All signs point to them retaining the Henri Delauney trophy in Poland and Ukraine.
Spain’s current run is similar to that of West Germany’s. Both teams conquered Europe first before conquering the world. But that’s not where the similarities end. A closer look shows that both teams benefitted from the dominance of a great club side.
For West Germany, the bulk of their side contained players from Bayern Munchen. These players it should be said, were playing in one of the best club sides ever assembled in the history of European club football. They were the third (and last) side to ever win the European Cup (now, the UEFA Champions League) three times in a row (1974, 1975 and 1976). It is no coincidence then, that this team formed the core of West Germany. The winning momentum picked up by these players carried on to the national team.
The same can be said of Spain. It’s no secret that FC Barcelona provides most players to the national team. The Barca philosophy is also carried on; some clumsily refer to Spain as ‘Barca without Messi’. In Barcelona’s period of club dominance (2009-2012), Spain has also risen to international dominance.
So, just as Bayern Munich was to West Germany, FC Barcelona is to Spain.
The similarities however do not end there.
Bayern Munich were Bundesliga winners in three consecutive seasons; 1971-1972, 1972-1973 and 1973-1974. The1974-1975 season was their fourth. Theoretically, motivation ends after three seasons of dominance. Psychologically, the fourth title doesn’t feel as important as the first. The sense of invincibility brought about by 3 seasons of dominance brings about a slight arrogance. And then there’s the fatigue that comes with keeping up high levels of competitiveness for 3 years at the top level.
The same has happened to Barca. After 3 consecutive La Liga titles, the 4th became a bit of a challenge. Real Madrid pushed them all the way. In another season, they would have stepped up. But this was the fourth season. Games that should have been won were drawn. In the end, they fell short.
For Bayern however, finishing 10th in the Bundesliga in the 1974-1975 season did not prevent them from retaining the European Cup. They made it three in a row in 1976. But by then, the wheels had already started falling off. It was a labored and unconvincing performance against Leeds United. After that, Bayern would have to wait until 1999 to get to another European Cup final, and 2001 to win another.
Whether Barcelona’s recent slump will mirror Bayern Munich’s is another matter. Consider this however; Barcelona failed (somewhat) in their fourth year. And consider the fatigue. Barca players have looked a bit tired this season. The fatigue has already excluded Carles Puyol and David Villa from the Spanish squad through injuries. And it is widely known that Xavi has been playing with an unusual injury in his thigh muscle. The fatigue isn’t that difficult to decipher. Since 2008, Barca players have been competing in virtually every competition in which they were eligible for, either for club or country. And even when it hasn’t been competitive fixtures, they have had pre-season (for Barcelona) in various parts of the world, traversing from South Korea to the United States. For Spain, friendlies have been organized as far as Abu Dhabi and Argentina. This has been tough on them physically.
But if there is one way of overcoming the physical, it is through the mental.
There is no doubting that this Spanish side has character in it. After losing their first game in South Africa, they reacted well and went on to lift the World Cup. Far from that, they have players who’ve had to overcome a lot mentally this season. David Silva had to do it with Manchester City in their quest to win the Barclays Premier League. Fernando Torres had to overcome the lack of confidence that went with his lack of scoring. Juan Mata had to overcome being written off with Chelsea in the Champions League. It is these characters that they need to overcome their fatigue levels.
There is no doubting that Spain are the favourites for the European Championships in 2012. But whether they will, like West Germany, go on to fall short at the final hurdle; or whether they will overcome all and make history, only time will tell.
This post was made by guest blogger Mr Mike Njoroge, follow him on Twitter at @Mikenjoro
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