Can the Spanish football model be repeated in England?

10:59, May 02, 2011      

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The image could hardly have been different in the World Cup in South Africa last summer: while England made their way prematurely home following a 4-1 defeat to Germany in the last 16 to be met with anger and ridicule by the fans. Spain returned to a hero' s welcome after beating Holland to lift the first World Cup in the country' s history.

While England relied too much on the traditional virtues of pace, strength and long early passes looking for mobile and powerful strikers, the Spanish game could hardly have been more different. Orchestrated by the Barcelona midfielders Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, the side coached by Vicente del Bosque was content to keep the ball.

The Spanish felt no need to play the ball forward; they were content to move it around the pitch, backwards if needed, waiting for a chance.

Whilst some English players gave the impression that the ball burned their feet, Xavi and company positively welcomed its presence and that different attitude was noticed in England.

Just before the World Cup fiasco, the FA has acted to put into operation a scheme called The Future Game, aimed at helping the development of young players and now the question is 'Can you import the Spanish model into England? Although it could also be argued that a further question needs to be asked 'Is there a single Spanish model?'

Xinhua interviewed two experts on the Spanish game: journalist Sid Lowe, who is well known for his work with The Guardian and the magazines, Four Four Two and World Soccer, among others and writer Phil Ball, who has written two major books on the Spanish game, 'Morbo' and 'White Storm' , a history of Real Madrid.

"Speaking generally, there is more emphasis on coaching and training and it is a lot easier for kids to find a good coach in Spain," Ball told Xinhua.

"There are 40 or 50 times more qualified coaches here, so they work much better at grass roots level and the coaching puts more emphasis on technique," he said,

The writer, who helps coach a youth team in the city of San Sebastian, has personal experiences of the differences in football culture.

"My 15 year-old son recently had trials with Norwich City and it was interesting to see him play, alongside the youngsters of a top Championship side. There was a lot of emphasis on speed and physical strength and as a central midfielder, who is used to having the ball at his feet, he hardly saw the ball," he explained.

Sid Lowe took a slightly different approach, highlighting that it would be more accurate to call what many consider to be a 'Spanish' style a 'Barcelona' style. Anyone who has watched the recent clashes between Barcelona and Real Madrid will have been able to see two totally different styles of play, with Barcelona relying on keeping the ball and Madrid looking to play hard, fast and on the break.

Followers of the Spanish game will also know that there are different types of players produced in the hot, dry south of Spain, while players such as Jose Antonio Reyes, Jesus Navas and Diego Capel have come out of the Sevilla youth system in recent years.

Meanwhile in the more temperate north, Athletic Club Bilbao and Osasuna have seem powerful players such as Fernando Llorente, Fernando Amorebieta and Javi Martinez come onto the scene.

"I don't think we can talk about a Spanish 'system' as such. The (Spanish Football Federation) RFEF is not that rigid or organized. Maybe we can talk about the 'system' more in terms of the contribution from Barcelona."

"Spain's football culture, attitude and approach is not the same everywhere. Certain key aspects can be imposed, and may be beneficial (a more technical, small-sided approach, less obsession with pace and power). But a simple copy is probably unrealistic," explained Lowe.

"Different pitches, attitudes, history, even climate all have an impact. You have to take into account the different structure of the two states. Spain is consciously federal in terms of identity, projects and funding. Meanwhile the clubs decide their own approach to youth development. There isn't a centralized structure or single approach," he told Xinhua.

Ball agreed with this appreciation of the situation.

"What we saw in the World Cup is a Barcelona rather than a Spanish approach with the two sides keeping the ball and not being afraid to pass it backwards. The way you play and your style of play depends on the players you have available and the FA should know that you can' t adopt the Spanish system wholesale, that wouldn' t work as you have to take geographical factors into account," he said.

Lowe also highlighted the fact that Spain' s national team has only become successful in very recent times.

"It's also worth adding that until the last 3 years, Spain's international record was largely the same as England's. This is an exceptional generation of players that has a very clear footballing identity," he said, before adding that Spain has also reaped the rewards of players such as Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fabrigas, all playing abroad, which has given an extra dimension to their game. "It has given them a broader perspective," explained Lowe.

Ironically this broader perspective has come thanks to them playing in the English Premier League, which possibly goes to show that although the English can certainly learn from the Spanish, Spain has also learned from England.

Source: Xinhua
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