You probably know that yesterday was Spain’s first ever World Cup win. It was also their first final. But did you know that aside from their 4th place showing in 1950, they had never gone beyond than quarterfinals? What’s behind their recent surge? In a very real way, a Dutchman.
What’s strange is that when you see Spain play these days, you are seeing Barcelona FC. And when you are seeing Barcelona FC you are seeing the legacy of the great Johann Cruyff, who had one foot in each camp yesterday but as usual left no doubt as to what he was thinking, in this piece from the WC Blog at NYT:
“Spain, a replica of Barca, is the best publicity for football,” Cruyff wrote in his Thursday column in the Barcelona newspaper El Periodico de Catalunya. “Who am I supporting? I am Dutch but I support the football that Spain is playing.”
Cruyff came to Barcelona in the mid-70s after starring in the ’74 World Cup. He played five seasons, captivating me with his spectacular style, tight control and creativity. After calling a close to his playing career he returned to coach from 1988–1996. His mark on the club is indelible. They still play with Cruyff’s influence and until very recently he was part of the board that manages Barcelona FC. So while Spain was gearing up to defeat Holland on the way to winning the World Cup they were also doing so by following the tenets of their best player of all time:
“Lo paradójico de la situación es que esta España, inspirada en el Barça de Pep Guardiola, se gestó de cierta forma de la mano del holandés Johan Cruyff, que en los años 90, inspirándose en el modelo del Ajax Ámsterdam, decidió que todos los equipos juveniles del Barcelona jueguen con el mismo sistema.”
In other words, Cruyff influenced the famous La Masia training school of Barcelona and gave it certain Dutch characteristics. Until the current generation of Barça players (Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Valdez and Pedro) came to la selección, Spain’s national team played leaden, uninspired football. It took Cruyff, Holland’s greatest player ever, to transform Spanish football into the best in the world. While his own country departed from his vision of attacking play, his adopted country took his vision and captured the World Cup with it.
When you mix red and yellow together, the colors of Spain, you get orange.
“I am Dutch but I will always defend the football Spain play.
“If you play attacking football, like Spain do, you have more chances of winning. And if you try to play on the counter against a team that really wants the ball, you deserve to suffer.
“The fact is that if you try to out-play Spain, they will kill you and Holland now know they face the best team in the world.
“When you look at Spain, you see Barcelona, you see Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Pedro in midfield, players who want the ball but then will put pressure on high up the pitch to win it back.
“Now, deservedly, Spain are in the Final, a match that is only about winning, as I know. Spain have a great footballing generation, who may never get another chance like this.
“I know the whole of Holland wanted to play Germany in the Final, because they fear Spain will simply keep the ball for 90 minutes. Their only chance is if Spain fail to take their opportunities, like they did against Germany.
“It is Spain’s game to lose but I will take intense joy if they win it.”
Holland’s win-at-all-costs mentality put the final in disgrace. They were cynical, violent and thuggish. Afterwards Cruyff pulled no punches as he criticized Holland for abdicating the game to Spain, trying to intimidate them with dirty play and abandoning any pretense of trying to match them with skill:
“without having great players like those of the past, the team has its own style. I was wrong. Of course I’m not hanging all 11 of them by the same rope, but almost.
“They didn’t want the ball and regrettably, sadly, they played in a very dirty fashion. So much so that they should have been down to nine immediately, then they made two such ugly and hard tackles that even I felt the damage.
“This ugly, vulgar, hard, hardly eye-catching, hardly football style – yes, it served the Dutch to unsettle Spain. If they got satisfaction from this then fine, but they ended up losing.
“They were playing anti-football.”
To see Cruyff playing in Holland and also for Barcelona, go here:
Other links on this topic:
“Lo siento pero el estilo de España es el estilo del Barça.” (“I’m sorry, but the style of Spain is the style of Barça.”)