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Spain success built on clear football identity

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Tim Vickery | 08:00 UK time, Tuesday, 3 July 2012

With a goal scrambled in from a set piece, Brazil beat Spain 1-0 in the final of the 2003 Under-17 World Cup in Finland. Spain, though, played most of the football.

“We were the Brazilians today,” said their coach Juan Santiesteban, after his team of little ball-players had lost out to opponents who carried much more physical presence.

The overriding objective of youth football is to groom players for the senior side. Nearly a decade on, then, it is clear who really won the game. Not one of the Brazil team has played a serious competitive international.

Cesc Fabregas and David Silva, meanwhile, have gone on to better things, combining on Sunday to put Spain on the way to a third consecutive major tournament win.

Claudio Borghi

Argentine coach Claudio Borghi (left) has helped Chile to go top of the South American 2014 World Cup qualification table: Photo: Getty

Spain’s run of success is no coincidence. Anyone who has seen their youth sides in recent years will have been struck by the excellence of their passing – not only the technique of receiving, delivering and moving into position to receive again, but the patience of their play, and their commitment to a certain idea of football.

What Spain have is a footballing identity – a successful assimilation of Dutch ideas plus a twist of their own making.

This question of identity is fundamental. Football is such a fluid game, with myriad options available to the man on the ball. Defining which of these options is preferable determines the objective and the style of the team.

Tactics have their importance, but they spring from the central thing – the idea.

I understand that Jurgen Klinsmann was explaining this in midweek to a British TV audience. Back in 2005 I saw him make similar points to a conference of Brazilian coaches.

As he set about rebuilding the German national team, he had to think long and hard about what he was trying to do. His conclusion was that Germany had to be aggressive and attacking, playing high tempo, physical football.

Putting this into practice entailed a tactical switch – the belated adoption of the back four for German sides at all levels. His big regret was the lack of players with genuine, special ability.

They have since appeared – a process surely eased by the fact that the central idea had been well defined.

This question of identity is making Chilean football especially interesting at the moment. After falling well short of qualifying for the World Cups of 2002 and 2006, Chile were the neutrals’ favourites two years ago in South Africa.

They currently top the South American qualification table, and with a third of the campaign gone already have half the points necessary for a slot in Brazil 2014.

And the clubs are looking stronger too. Over the past decade it has been rare for Chilean teams to get out of the group stage in the Copa Libertadores, South America’s Champions League. Now Universidad de Chile have reached the semi-finals in two of the last three years, as well as winning the continent’s Europa League equivalent.

Universidad Catolica reached the quarter-finals of last year’s Libertadores, while Union Espanola made a good impression getting to this year’s second round.

Financial changes underpin this progress, with Chile’s clubs moving towards a business model which, if no panacea, is an improvement on the administrative free-for-all that ruled before. Events on the pitch, however, have been even more interesting.

In early 2004 I was told by Elias Figueroa, Chile’s all-time best player, that his country’s football lacked a defined identity. “We’ve tried to imitate Argentina,” he told me, “we’ve tried to imitate Brazil. We’ve tried to imitate Germany and Spain. There’s been no continuity.”

More than eight years later he might see things differently. Much has changed since the reign of Marcelo Bielsa, the Argentine coach who took Chile to the last World Cup.

Bielsa, who has gone on to success with Athletic Bilbao in Spain, has a fixed idea of how he wants his side to play – high tempo, in the opponent’s half of the field, with a front three and a constant quest to create two-against-one situations down the flanks.

There was always tension when Bielsa was in charge of his native Argentina. The demand for dynamic play left no room for an old-time playmaker such as Juan Roman Riquelme, and was thus often seen as a betrayal of Argentine identity.

In Chile there was no such problem. The lack of identity gave Bielsa fertile soil in which to plant his seeds – indeed, his favoured style of play dovetailed nicely with the kind of quick, stocky players Chilean football produces.

Current Chile coach Claudio Borghi, also an Argentine, clearly has a problem with Bielsa and enjoys criticising him in the media. He should save his breath. True, there was life before Bielsa.

Borghi was crafting attractive, attacking sides with Colo Colo in Chile long before Bielsa came to the country, and he helped bring on some of the players who have become fundamental to the national team.

But the Bielsa years have eased Borghi’s task as national team coach. The success of the team in South Africa has legitimised an attacking mentality, and has helped ensure an interesting rise in the level of play in the Chilean Championship.

The current tournament came to a close on Monday with a two-legged final showcasing the debt owed to Bielsa.

Little O'Higgins of Rancagua were seconds away from winning their first title. They won the home leg 2-1 against Universidad de Chile, and went into stoppage time in the return game level at 1-1. But they conceded a goal, forcing a shoot-out and, their nerve gone, O'Higgins missed all their penalties.

The final produced two pulsating matches, as might be expected given the background of the coaches.

O'Higgins boss Eduardo Berizzo is a Bielsa protégé, both as player and coach, and former assistant to his mentor with the national team. And Universidad de Chile, who have played some of the most attractive football in the continent over the past year, are coached by Jorge Sampaoli, a self-confessed Bielsa disciple.

Their two teams went for each from the first to the last. Indeed, with the muddy pitch in O'Higgins' small stadium and the gung-ho approach of the teams the first leg was a game with an old world air, like a rerun of 'The Big Match' from the early 70s.

But if it was retro then this is Chilean football going back to the future, forging an attacking identity which should ensure that the national team remain the neutrals' favourites.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to, and I’ll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week’s postbag:

Q) I really like the look of young Romarinho of Corinthians. Is he highly rated at the club?
Neil Badmin

A) You sent this in after his first start for the club, last weekend when Corinthians fielded a reserve side and he scored both goals in a 2-1 win over historic rivals Palmeiras.
Since then the story has got even better.

Last Wednesday he came off the bench in the last 10 minutes of the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final away to Boca Juniors. With his first touch – not just of the game but of the entire campaign – he came up with a subtle little finish to score the equaliser.

He’s only been with Corinthians a month. Two weeks ago he was not even a household name in his own home. Now he’s scored one of the most important goals in the club’s history, and Ronaldo is talking up his chances for the World Cup. What a story!


  • Comment number 1.

    Interesting article. I watched several of Chile's World Cup qualifying games and they seemed to be prepared to concede goals in order to score one more than the opposition. They were very open at the back with just 3 men defending most of the time and everyone else steaming forward at great pace. They beat Peru 4-2 but could easily have lost 6-4 - it was that type of game. Very exciting but nerve breaking for Chilean fans. With Brazil automatically qualfiying it should be Argentina and Uruguay as certainties to finish in the top 4 and Chile seem to have a good chance of clinching one of the two other automatic places - provided they tighten up away from home and not go 'hell for leather'.

  • Comment number 2.

    Maybe the English will indeed look for a footballing identity and stick with it. Not everyone is good enough for "boring" tikitaka, fast attacks added to good wing play aint so bad. If truth be told a lot more intresting than watching ice melt...

  • Comment number 3.


    Interesting Blog as always.

    What are your thoughts on Seedorf's move to Botafogo, will Seedorf fit into the Brazilian league or struggle as some South Americans have when they have moved to Europe, and could this be the beginning of aging European stars making there move to South America like many do to the Middle East and the MLS?

  • Comment number 4.

    Interesting article as usual. The identity thing is very important, but there has to be some sort of arrangement between clubs and the national team. Germany managed to work it out. Can't see that happening between the English FA and premier league clubs.

    English club sides dominated European football from the late 70s to mid 80s, teams made up of predominantly British and Irish players, but the respective national teams were all average. I remember in the 70s the England team trying to play a continental style of passing and patient build up, it was terrible and didn't work.

    It would be very interesting to see Bielsa coach a team in the English premier league.

  • Comment number 5.

    Interesting article Tim. What are your thoughts on the south american teams that will qualify for Brazil 2014? Who are your picks?

    Argentina, Uruguay & Chile? What about the likes of Peru and Ecuador? Bolivia and Venezuela?

    Why are Colombia so poor in comparison to their potential? It's not as if they are short of stars such as Guarin & Falcao?

  • Comment number 6.

    I watched the Gremio and Miniero game at the weekend, which was shown live here in the UK on ESPN (which looks like a weekly show much to my surprise) and I really liked the look of a younster by the name of Bernard (i think), whay do you think of this young guys chances of making it?

  • Comment number 7.

    Great article and exactly what’s needed for England. Define a vision, based on your natural tendencies and become very good at it by all pulling in the same direction.

    Hopefully this will help show there are different ways and stop the “we must play like Spain” rhetoric.

  • Comment number 8.

    Nice blog again Tim.

    With Spain completing the treble and the next world cup in South America, I guess the pressure is on Chile, Brazil and Uruguay to prevent them from becoming the first Europeans to win in that continent.

    Personally I have always had a soft spot for Chile i grew up watching Salas and Zamorano in Serie A and I couldn’t help but be impressed by Biesla team in 2010; hopefully Borghi will continue his fine form into WC 2014.

    Whether they can beat La Furia Roja though is very questionable, maybe the intervening years will be unkind to them, it is the rest of the worlds only hope.

  • Comment number 9.

    The idea of grooming a group of players to play a certain way really highlights how badly Team GB has squandered its Olympic opportunity.

    Brazil and Uruguay are going to be coached by their senior coaches and are using squads which are basically 2014 World Cup embryos.

    Team GB could have aligned:
    Jones Smalling Cahill Gibbs
    Wilshire Ramsey
    Oxlade-Chamberlain Cleverley Downing

    Instead they have picked a squad of nobodies mixed with has-beens.

    One imagines that Suarez/Cavani and Cisse/Ba are quite looking forward to being in their group, and see Team GB as an opportunity to fill their boots while they tune themselves up for the knockout stages.

    Meanwhile Menezes and Tabarez are actively using the three weeks before the tournament and three weeks of it to drill their 2014 World Cup teams, while in England Olympic football is viewed as meaningless and the opportunity is squandered.

  • Comment number 10.

    Smalling, Wilshere and Cahill are all either injured or recovering from injury
    Oxlade-Chamberlain was reasonably well involved in Euro 2012
    Jones went to Euro 2012 and, although he didn't play, it would hardly count as a holiday
    Downing is widely agreed as being absolutely abysmal as a player
    Cleverley, Sturridge, Butland and Ramsey have all been selected (and the latter is Welsh so is hardly a great choice if you want a 2014 'embryo' team)

    Gibbs is the only player you mention whose absence I can't explain. He could be injured as well for all I know.

    Personally, I'm really looking forward to the tournament now I've seen the squad. A lot of exciting players who actually have the potential to play some nice football.

  • Comment number 11.

    I can see the relevance of needing a football identity to be successful, though it is not a necessity. However, the first few paragraphs about the under-17 championship and its overriding objective can be a bit misleading. Ganso never played in the Brazil Under-17 squad of his time yet is certainly a hot prospect and is now playing for the senior team. If you are good you are good and not playing in an under-whatever team is not going to hamper your chances.

  • Comment number 12.

    When the Premier League finally eats itself and disappears without trace I think I've found my new team - O'Higgins of Chile. What a great name, they sound like a group of ne'er do wells from an Irish Pub.

  • Comment number 13.

    Phil, very interesting yet again. On “footballing identity,” I’m reading Pele’s autobiography, and he stresses the incoherent nature of Brazil’s approach in 1966 as the reason for failure. I’ve just read Greaves’ autobography, and James Autar’s description of Chilean football (#1) sounds like the English Division 1 of the late 50s and 60s, which Greaves sees as a golden era in which football rather than money pre-dominated. I recall plenty of cracking matches from that time.

    As for a successful English identity, who knows? As has been suggested, the pre-dominance of the multinational Premier League which takes precedence over the England team may make it difficult to have the consistent and coherent approach seen in Spain. Both Pele and Greaves stressed the cultivation of ball skills at an early age, something which doesn’t seem to be a sufficient focus in England.

    (The books were recently given to me in Brisbane by a Spurs fan who I first met in India in 1972, although we must have attended many of the same games at White Hart Lane in the 60s.)

  • Comment number 14.


    In fact, they are named for Bernardo O'Higgins, a hero from the Chilean war of independence, whose father, I believe, was born in Sligo.

  • Comment number 15.

    @tpc33, Juan Mata and Javi Martinez were in the Euros too, but have just been announced in the Spain squad.

    And I suspect that Smalling, Walker and Cahill will all be fit enough for full per-season training when they could have been at the Olympics.

    We complain a lot about England's style, but even when they have an opportunity to groom youngsters against decent opposition they choose to prioritise the EPL instead. As a former Englishman I can honestly say that England have the national team they deserve.

  • Comment number 16.

    I think Tim's point was that the Spanish players grow up with a footballing philosophy that pentrates their national teams at all levels/age groups. There is little doubt that Brazil has talents for the future, but its youth sides are perhaps set up for short term gain (to win competitions at that level) whereas the Spanish equivalents are more focussed on the long-term (teaching their players this philosophy so that they are better equipped if/when they graduate to the full national side).

  • Comment number 17.


    Cheers for the info, that makes them even more appealing.

  • Comment number 18.

    15.At 12:08 3rd Jul 2012, yakubusdiet wrote:
    @tpc33, Juan Mata and Javi Martinez were in the Euros too, but have just been announced in the Spain squad.

    And I suspect that Smalling, Walker and Cahill will all be fit enough for full per-season training when they could have been at the Olympics.


    And Bale? I can't quite work out how a back problem is going to keep him out of a tournament taking place in over a months' time.

  • Comment number 19.

    The problem is that England's 'idea' is that of a talismanic heroic messiah lifting the level of a mediocre side around them to champions.

    Kevin Keegan, Bryan Robson, Gazza, David Beckham and Rooney are the players who have had this mantle placed on them in the last 40 years and all have failed to live up to these irrational expectations.

    I think people are now getting ready to hail Jack Wilshere as the latest messiah.

    It's the British mentality to see this way of thinking as a solution, but also a symptom of the fact that England have had a very average national team for the last 40 years with just 2 or 3 genuine top class players in each side. If England want to be successful, teamwork is the key. The best teams, the successful sides, don't rely on one superstar, they are teams in the true sense of the word.

    This applies particularly in modern football. Greece-2004, Italy-2006, Spain-2008, 2010, 2012. For all these tournament wins, who was the country's superstar? None of these countries had one. They won because they played a perfect game according to their abilities and tactics.

  • Comment number 20.

    @15 Mata and Martinez didn't have the most involved of tournaments. They are both also a fair bit older than Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jones, the latter of which had a pretty tough debut season with United and his performances noticeably dipped towards the end of the season as a result.

    I agree that in general the priorities are skewed too much in favour of club sides these days, but in the case of the injured players, it would be foolish to rush them back in time for the Olympics (particularly when we're limited to an 18-man squad anyway).

    In terms of style, I'm not too sure which selections you are unhappy about. The majority of players selected have a decent technique and we're very much free from any Andy Carroll style forward who would encourage hit-and-hope football. In fact, if you try and pick a first 11 from the 18 selected, I think you'd be more inclined to play a Swansea style 4-3-3 along these lines:

    Cork Tomkins Caulker Bertrand
    Ramsey Allen Cleverley
    Sinclair Sturridge Bellamy

  • Comment number 21.

    @Vox Populi, have you seen Team GB's Olympic draw? A full-strength team would have started out v Senegal's two excellent strikers, then UAE, then a strong Uruguay and probably Switzerland, Brazil and Spain to follow.

    The FA could have acceded to the other home nations' refusal to cooperate and pick a full-strength England U '23 plus three team. Let the players have three weeks off post Euros, then instead of pre-season pick the best three over-23s plus the best Under'23s, which is precisely what Uruguay and Brazil have done.

    At that point forget my earlier eleven, it could have been:
    Walker Smalling Cahill Gibbs
    Wilshere Jones
    Oxlade-Chamberlain Cleverley Rooney

    That is a plausible 2014 World Cup team, playing a modern formation against good opposition.

    Yet these players will instead be playing exhibition matches in America and Asia for their clubs. I find that scandalous.

  • Comment number 22.

    11 - as a conveyor belt to the senior side, the Under-20 team is clearly much more important than the U-17s. Ganso played at U-20 level - not very well, in fact - in the 2009 World Youth Cup, and seems to be losing out now at senior level to Oscar, the hero of last year;s World Youth Cup win.

    Right from the off current Brazil coach Mano Menezes highlighted Brazil's youth sides as underperforming - not so much in terms of results, but in terms of producing players for the senior side. The clear implication was that coaches, trying to make a name for themselves, were going with big players instead of thinking long term.

  • Comment number 23.

    7 - agree 100% on the need for England to define a vision - I can't believe that anyone would want to go on using New Zealand in the last World Cup as a role model!

    But I wouldn't be too reductive when defining 'natural tendencies.' Once in their lives everyone should sit down and watch England push Brazil all the way in the midday sun of Mexico in 1970 - it's a remarkable performance, especially of ball retention. If that was possible then, why not now?

  • Comment number 24.

    Another excellent blog as usual Tim (not Phil).

    Also I couldn't agree more with your comments @23 about everyone being able to find the time to sit down and watch the England v Brazil game from the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Most neutral observers agree that the 1970 team were better than the 66 World Cup winners and ultimately would have given Brazil another real test in the final had Alf Ramsey not taken Bobby Charlton off with over 20 minutes still to play in the QF against West Germany. Hopefully Roy Hodgson is of a generation that remembers how that England team played and realises that it's not beyond us to emulate the style and achievement of the 1970 team. Of course having world class players like Charlton, Gordon Banks and Bobby Moore would be a big help too!

  • Comment number 25.

    English football is filled with arrogance. Because the EPL is brimming with money doesn't mean its English contingent have skill. Football has a quite simple basis - if you don't have the ball you rarely win. England cannot keep the ball; hence our 'talismanic' figure cannot win it for us - better examples Ronaldo/Portugal & Pirlo/Italy. It is easy to defend aka Chelsea; but Chelsea had the players who could pass the ball accurately when it mattered - England do not have this or are not trained to do it. We praise good old Parker because he runs his socks off - ask yourself why the poor bloke has to run his socks off - because we can't keep possession at any place in the team - simples!

  • Comment number 26.

    Before Euro 2012 I thought England would have difficulty in negotiating the group, having a manager who only had one month to prepare. In truth we didn't do too badly in relation to general expectations.

    Hodgson is generally a 'set your stall out' kind of manager which isn't entirly a bad place to start, where we struggled at the euro's was expanding that up field and playing with the ball in the final 3rd.

    If England can defend in blocks as hodgson is good at getting his teams to do, and then evolve an attack which moves forward as a unit and uses the ball in the final 3rd then we should have a fairly decent side that is difficult to beat.

    Jack Wilshere I think will be important for us in future, but the likes of parker, gerrard, lampard all ageing who do we really have to step into the breach? we don't really have an ozil, inesta, gazza type of player to make things happen from midfield.

    The emphasis at youth level should be on creativity in midfield, I saw chris waddle talking about this some time ago, he was saying that england youth players almost have the skill coached out of them. In Spain/Germany they focus much more on the technical and playing with the ball then we do.

  • Comment number 27.

    If you watched England at the Euros, the one thing that really struck me vividly was that those who didn't have the ball weren't making decisive, short moves to demand the ball. Our opponents often were. Too often there was only one option for the man with the ball which at international level makes the team too predictable.

    If you looked at Spain and Ozil in particular of Germany, there was much more freedom to roam which made the defensive challenge greater. England tended to be either left, central or right far more often.

    If I were advising the FA on one thing concerning an 'identity', I'd ask them to focus on spatial inter-relatedness between the team players. What evolutions of shape they wanted to see. At what tempo. In which parts of the pitch.

    But most of all, you have to remove political pressures from the England manager where clubs are concerned.

    You won't get anywhere if the England team is, in effect, picked by club interests.

  • Comment number 28.


    Very interesting piece as always.

    I wa wondering what the reaction to Spain's victory in South America is? A team dominating the Copa America rarely strikes fear into teams over here. Do South Americans view the Euros as on a par with the World Cup and are the likes of Brazil and Argentina now terrified at the prospect of facing Spain in 2014?



  • Comment number 29.

    Interesting article ––– wonder what your thoughts are about Brazil's current NT setup? The Identity seems a bit confused, with a return to the "savior-playmaker" but not really. I've watched Brazil under Mano Menezes and have been disappointed by what I've seen ––– I really don't see anything resembling the "old-school" Brazil teams of yesterday. And its not the passing thats a problem, Brazil play with no flair, they seem too "European" at times, to me they've lost their identity or South American ethos.

    I see the same thing with Uruguay as well, to me it's bore-ball, result-oriented football but nothing really interesting to watch. Take Uruguay's 4-2 win over Peru, 3 of the Uruguay goals were scored by defenders (4 if you count Godin's own-goal) but where's Uruguay's frontline? All this talk about Cavani being worth $100 euros and Suarez yet the team is still built around the aging Forlan. Tabarez will say that his team has an established identity, and that Uruguay is playing to it's strength; a centralized defense. But to me this is their weakness, Uruguay's origins stemming from the '24 Olympics up until the 1930 World Cup was built on a playing style that combined short-passes with long-ball passes ––– now Uruguay is just another counterattacking defensive side in the Paraguay mold. If Tabarez wants to defend this as Uruguay playing with an Identity, more power to him but to me, all he really did was hijack Paraguay's NT concepts. Watching the last 4 Uruguay matches (Romania, Russia, Venezuela & Peru) left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. All the fan is really left with is nationalistic pride but nothing there to really be proud off in terms of playing style and football.

    Going back to Brazil, I think there is a chance for them to recover their lost identity as well, I'm not saying they should do something as ridiculous as hiring Pep Guardiola but maybe firing Menezes would be a start in the right direction. The damage he's doing is repairable. They need to forget about trying to play like Argentina '86 with a "can-do-anything" number ten. Neymar is the only keeper in this current lot. The Brasileirão still has more than enough players to assemble a decent XI, but too many of these european players they continue to call up, play with disinterest and really go against the "identity" issue at heart in your article. Brazil's identity can be found in Brazil not in Europe.

    An example to look to is Argentina who has finally learned that you don't need to play like Barcelona in order to win. Sabella also seems keen in tapping the player resources Argentina has to offer, as the recent capping of Clemente Rodriguez demonstrates.

    I've said it here before, but if Brazil really wants to dazzle and play with a more South American mindset, they need to cap Diego Souza again. Don't rule out this player because he doesn't fit the European mold, this guy is an assassin, a Forlan with a pulse.

  • Comment number 30.

    Until this notion that the Premiership is the 'best in the world' changes, then England are going nowhere in terms of World football. It's all speed and strength and youngsters who have ball skills are kicked from pillar to post. Walcott at 23 has had so many injuries and will never be the player he was 2 years ago. You can see that his confidence is shot. Wilshere has the country's hopes sitting on his shoulders for Brazil 2014 but he too is being kicked all over the place and has recently been out for a long time through a severe injury. It is a matter of time before Oxadle-Chamberlin gets badly hurt as some 'clogger' will take him out sooner or later.
    Sadly the English game allows for horrendous tackles and breakneck speed football.
    There was not one English player at Euro 2012 who could shift the ball from foot to foot like Pirlo and the entire Spanish team. I see a bleak future under Hodgson.
    With Ukraine and Poland to play in the qualifiers England may well not make it out of the group.

  • Comment number 31.


    Tim, Ganso is only apparently losing out to Oscar in the senior squad simply because of his injuries and Oscar is being selected and played due to it being close to the Olympics and he is of the relevant age. But my previous point still stands, if you are good you are good, no matter what junior squad you played in. Lucas Moura is another example of never playing in the under-17 squad.

    I do agree however that the coaches in Brazil tend to want to make a name for themselves but it is not essential that your junior teams produce players for your senior squad, winning is still the aim not producing players. Your whole youth system must be good and if this produces players that are very good but left out of junior squads, so be it. The fact is that these players exist.

  • Comment number 32.

    I recollect watching the final of World youth cup in Abu Dhabi, UAE, where Spain lost the final to Brazil. Despite attacking and keeping the possession Spain lost to lucky Brazil. Incidentally Iniesta was one of the star of that tournament. I was supporting Spain after seeing wonderful attacking football, but got disappointed when Brazil. Now Iniesta and company knows how to win matches even by playing percentage football.

  • Comment number 33.

    Good article as most people have pointed out.

    I found your views on "national footballing culture" interesting interesting. And since Andy Murray pointed out fairly bluntly in an interview that British tennis didn't have any play style to speak of whilst the Spanish and the french and other nations had a distinctive style. He cited Barcelona as an example for other nations to follow in that from the youth team to the senior squad all the players train and play the same way. Some of these drills are very repetitive and dull but the results speak for themselves and is a system that Barcelona and Spain can look upon with pride.

    I'm not arguing that British teams start playing like Spain. We simply don't have the mentality for it. But we should try to develop a system and style that suits us and that fans can buy into. However we seem to lack the confidence in our coaches, players and FA's to develop a coherent and systematic youth policy. We are too easily dazzled and seduced by foreign players. People on here asking about a South American youngster with a mind on how they would do in the premier league is but a small example of this. In addition the various footballing organizations and their competing agendas has been a drag on youth development. The Premier League with their fixation of foreign players and coaches and their thinly veiled contempt of our national teams being the biggest hinderence of all. As long as the various footballing bodies are star struck by foreign imports I can't see us developing an English or British footballing culture.

    I think we should really ask ourselves if the likes of Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea or even Arsenal should be the ones we rely on to develop youth players. Are clubs with their short term interest and short sighted chairmen really the best environment for youth development? I don't think so. Youth development should be taken out of the hands of clubs. Their track record of developing players is appalling. For every Wayne Rooney or Ashley Cole there have been countless players that the system has failed.

    One world cup is an appalling record for a country with the population and footballing tradition of England. It's not just the fact that England has only won a single major international tournament, but also how they have performed in these tournaments. That simple observation should tell anyone that there is something very wrong.

  • Comment number 34.


    Good stuff. The problem of "big" clubs dominating youth development will continue to hinder the national team. I know there's talk of allowing the "best of the best" youth players to go to the best training grounds and teams. That's all fine and dandy for the "big" clubs, but what about the smaller clubs. It will kill the game. Smaller clubs depend on player sales to stay in business and generate income to scout, recruit, & sign youth talent. If the "big" clubs automatically get the "best of the best", the small clubs will have no chance.

  • Comment number 35.

    Tim. In answer to your question as to why England could play that way in 1970 and not now is that in 1970 England had players who possibly could be considered for an all time, all World team like Banks, Moore,Charlton as well as some very, very good players like Alan Ball. Since then England has become suspicious of so called luxury players i.e. players who had technique, who could trap a ball and pass more than 10 yards like Alan Hudson, Tony Currie, Glenn Hoddle in favour of good, honest but really limited players like Gerry Francis Kevin Keegan, Bryan Robson, David Beckham ( yes I am ready to be slated by most readers for these as examples) and we are reaping the reward for this "idea". Ramsey could afford to omit Jimmy Greaves because he had a collection of very good or even great players. We all raved about how well Pirlo played in Euro 2012 but if he were english he would not have been selected in the squad let alone the team.

  • Comment number 36.

    English players cost more in the prem, you can buy arguably better quality foreign players cheaper. I think most people would agree that the prem is the most competitive league but the foreign influx is to our national teams detrement. Adam johnson, probably our most skillful dribbler of the ball, sits on the bench at city but he doesn't want to go anywhere as he gets paid ridiculous money, city also wont sell for less than 20 mil, he doesn't get picked for england because he is on the bench. same situation with sturridge, the problem is with the money that has overtaken the prem, yes it makes the league better but a poor national team is the price we pay. doesn't really explain why we failed to win anything since 66 though, nor does it explain why we dont pick players who play regular football, grant holt, ryan shawcross, leon britton etc. the england team doesn't just have to be utd and chelski - and seemingly above all else liverpool for some reason.

  • Comment number 37.

    Leon Britton btw maintained a better completed pass ratio than Xavi throughout the season, why a player with this understandiong of posession retention, an eye for a pass and who can continually move the ball around (a la pirlo, xavi, sweinstegger etc) would not be thought about for england is beyond me.

  • Comment number 38.

    Interesting article unfortunately i can't see us learning from the Spanish, Chileans or anyone else for that matter until we address the ridiculous situation of having 3 competing organisations running football.

    The EPL have bullied the Football League into accepting there terms only recently at the expense of decent fees for the leagues youngest players so the league aren't going to subscribe to anything they might want.

    The FA keep trying to implement new ideas but even with recent changes its still way behind youth training in the best countries in europe and the other 2 block most of it.

    Jurgen Klinsmann succeeded because the whole of German football was behind him.

    Sadly that won't here until we scrap all 3 and start afresh with a new organisation that cares about all of football including the national side, then we might have a chance, until then we'll be light years behind everybody else.

  • Comment number 39.

    The La U match last night was outstanding. The referee had a bit of a mare really, both reds were harsh. Can see why the O'Higgins man went, but Rojas did nothing.

    Anyway, this is probably the end of an era for La U. Diaz, Fernandes leaving, with Rodriguez, Rojas, Henriquez and Aranguiz all linked with moves away. Not to mention Sampali, the coach also linked with a move away.

    I love Chilean football, pace is relentless and even people from this country are starting to realise how awesome it is.

  • Comment number 40.

    An interesting article.

    What Spain have done really well in the last decade is develop a brilliant team ethic and improve their mental toughness. They have always had talented, skilful players. Until recently they used to get to the business end of major tournaments but then lose to teams such as France and Italy when the pressure was really on.

    Since 2006 Spanish teams no longer seem to buckle under pressure, they remind me a lot of Germany in the '90s in that respect.

  • Comment number 41.

    @ 21 yakubusdiet

    An interesting idea. I don't really understand why players who represented England at Euro 2012 were not considered for the Olympic team (although Butland has been). They would be involved in pre season training anyway so I would have thought it really makes little difference if they are involved in the Olympics.

  • Comment number 42.

    #30: good point about what happens to fast, dangerous players in the Prem. Bale is another one who gets the crap knocked out of him on a regular basis. A good league doesn't let thugs destroy its stars the way the Prem does.

    On the Spanish: what may be underrated is that they appear to be in just plain better shape than their opponents. Portugal had the skill to keep up with the Spanish for a half, but lacked the conditioning to keep up after that.

    Also, if you were ever to do a really simple analysis of tactics, you'd find that the better and more enjoyable teams like Spain and Chile seem to be the most determined to surround the ball, both when they have it (to create easy passes for the ballkeeper) and when they don't (to surround the ballkeeper and take it away.)

    England deserves a little credit for doing significantly better at the Euros than they'd done the previous couple of tournaments, but it was painfully noticeable how often most of the players near the ball were from the other team. In addition to greater technique, it takes both nerve and conditioning to attack the ball. Lacking all three, you cluster your players around your own goal, as England did.

  • Comment number 43.

    Very interesting article. The problem with the English philosophy is that it has for so long adopted the 4 4 2 formation and the pinning of all hopes on Wayne Rooney and before him it was Steven Gerrard. You don't see all the other big national teams putting so much pressure on one player. The likes of Germany, Spain and Italy expect team performances. The 4 4 2 formation doesn't allow England any time on the ball, they need to start playing with three centre mids. They should start setting up their team with a hard physical defense and fast, direct attacks (like Man Utd). They've got the players to achieve this and it could be effective come the World Cup.

  • Comment number 44.

    Not long ago I watched that Brazil-England match (I was too young back in 70) and England were indeed very impressive and I wondered whatever happened?

    Re. Euro 2012, I hope the comments that the Champions League has superseded national team tournaments dies down for a while. Is Barcelona better than Spain? Not a chance. Can't wait for the next World Cup.

  • Comment number 45.

    #23 yes, Tim, that 1970 game is a classic, featuring a highly skillful and ballanced England team.

    But I don't think you have to go that far back to find English players with supreme skills and flair like Gazza, Le Tissier, Barnes, Hoddle, Waddle (his OM years), Scholes, Lampard, Rooney...

    That said, one of my favorite games of all times is the 1971 final between Arsenal and Liverpool, featuring G. Graham, C George, a young J Kennedy, etc (Liverpool fields Toshak, Heighway, non-English greats). The rythm is fast and physical, but controlled, ellegant, intelligent, no long balls, no brawn over brains. More than discovering a way, English football has to rediscover its old way. Actually, it never went away completely. At the moment it's semi-dormant, with a few brilliant exceptions.

  • Comment number 46.

    There is nothing like first hand experience..... i am English by the way !!!

    i have experienced English football.. training / training facilities / training regimes and amount of Training / Regularity of training ...... playing in the highest league in Cornwall...

    I have Experienced playing Football in Germany for some 15 years . There Training Facilities and same a s written conclusion is !!!

    Germany is miles ahead...... talking about creating winning team means that you just dont need superior facilities but you also need (like phil is going on about )
    a vision and a change in the way you need to find a way that can create success.. to create a team ( s ) that can cause fear in the hearts of the other teams.. these other teams ( Germany Holland Italy Brazil and yes SPAIN ) go into games with a great psychological advantage... all these teams have been very successful in the top competitions in the last 40 years.. any National teams that want to emulate them in the Modern time is going to find it very tough indeed ...because these teams have created there success partly from creating new ideologies some 30 years ago....after looking at the way Spain play it seems pretty impossible to find a way which could be more successful... this is the dilemma of the FA...

    they are on the right road trying to create new coaches.... and they are on the right road creating St Georges park.... but for the full equation and real success they need a proven footballing ideology that will create world beaters and also they need a new financial ideology where the emphasis is on us the people to create / generate our own training facilities by building high quality training in our facilities in our own cities towns and VILLAGES and charging the people who train on them twice a week... letting people know that if you want to win something its not just the FA who have to invest its also the people who have to sacrifice and make the effort also .

    john Winters

    " The footballing philosopher " albany books

  • Comment number 47.

    Its up to the people to invest also.. the burden for the Fa is in my eyes too much....we the people have to invest also .. this will add weight to the drive ahead.. charging someone 10 pounds a week for example is a must.. just think of the extra revenue you can generate if the people in your area have the choice to play on quality rather than a field full of dog S--t.. i would rather my son becomes better and plays on quality than run and trip and fall into some dogs mess thats for sure..... and lets face it there are many towns and cities which dont have the correct training facilities for people who have a passion for the game .. having better facilities will greatly improve motivation which will in turn give your nation more of a chance at actually winning something,,, every little helps

  • Comment number 48.

    @ WalkingMzungu

    In fact, they are named for Bernardo O'Higgins, a hero from the Chilean war of independence, whose father, I believe, was born in Sligo.
    I would like to mirror the comment of bigheavyballbag. As a Sligo man myself, I will be keeping an eye on their progress in future.
    Tim's blog informative as ever but on a slightly different note I must admit.

  • Comment number 49.

    Tim seems to make two points.

    One is about countries having an enduring national style, but I really don't agree (other than Spain for a few years now). Much depends upon the national team coach's philosophy. And I disagree with the idolisation of Chile - they remind me of a reckless Kevin Keegan team.

    The second point is that age group international football is a useful tool, and that the older the age (U23, U21) the more likely that the players are the future national team. This I do agree with, and I think that Brazil, Uruguay and Spain - and possibly Mexico and Switzerland - will profit from their Olympic experience in 2014.

    Look at Uruguay: their Olympic team may well deliver multiple World Cup starters (Suarez, Cavani, Ramirez, Lodeiro, Arevalo-Rios, Coates and Rolin) and all except two played in the 2007 or 2009 Under'20 World Cup.

    Then look at Team GB's selection, and weep!

  • Comment number 50.


    One small detail you seem to be forgetting. Team GB is not the same as Team England.

  • Comment number 51.

    @23 England do need to define a vision, but what vision do you define. Hopefully this latest batch of Internationals will provide a tipping point where something finally gets done.

    As said on numerous occassions we need to address the situation with foriegn players in the EPL we need more Emglish players in key roles playing for clubs, but until the calibre of players improve its not going to happen. Unless there is outside intervention.

    We need to define a style, initially you cannot go past Spain. But if we are to play more direct football, we still need to be able to keep the ball, pass the ball and be comfortable on the ball.

    Training facilities are a bit of blind, since they tend to made a scapegoat for poor performance.

    Really just adding to what has already been said

  • Comment number 52.

    The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish FAs refuse to deal with Team GB, and the English FA runs it.

    To be honest, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are dead as footballing national teams: I expect none of them even to qualify for a 24 team Euro 2016. They exist now because their FA executives like the status, FIFA beanos and power.

    Would the EPL not be stronger with Celtic, Rangers and a New Belfast team in it?

    I would have been happy to see Gareth Bale in a successful Team GB, and then the British people could choose between pooled success or endless individual failure. What odds that Bale will play for Spurs before the Olympics end? And I'm sure Walker and Smalling will make surprise recoveries too.

  • Comment number 53.


    I don't think it's just about a team playing style - although there is an archetypal Brazilian, Dutch and Italian footballer. It's more to do with how they approach the game in general. This is more an ideal rather than a reality. In my somewhat limited experience of the Dutch youth system taught me the importance of they place on the very basics i.e. kicking the ball. My son spent two hours just doing a flat 5 - 10 yard pass. He was bored out his mind by the end of it but after a few days he began to move differently. His back was straighter, he arms were down at his side and he could do it without thinking. There were six or seven of these very simple drills and the coach told me that if you went to any similar training ground in France, Germany or Spain they would be doing the similar drills. But for some reason not the UK.

  • Comment number 54.

    Phil? (#13) Sorry, short-term memory loss! My mind must still have been on Le Tour with Mr Ligget.

  • Comment number 55.

    I really do hope that Chile qualify for Brazil 2014, however due to the lack of strength in depth of the Chile squad, i doubt they can go further than the Q/F in a World Cup. Remember that Brazil beat them quite easily 3-0 in SA 2010 in the 2nd round. It is a real shame that Dunga's Brazil and the Spain of 2010 never met in that world cup, that would have been a really good match, possibly the two best sides there..Now in a world of average International sides, Spain are shining like a bright beacon.

  • Comment number 56.

    @ 55 Jogo_Bonito

    A lot of people in the media seem to be saying the current Spain team is the "best international team ever". I don't believe they are because as you say the general standard of international teams at the moment is not as high as in previous decades.

    Brazil haven't had a really good team for 6-8 years.

    Germany are not the force they were in the 1990's.

    Argentina flatter to deceive and have not been able to get the right balance between defence and attack.

    France haven't had a good team since Zidane retired 6 years ago.

    The current Italy team (apart from the brilliant Pirlo) do not have flair players such as Baggio, Del Piero and Totti.

    The Netherlands seem to have reverted to type being a group of talented individuals rather than a team.

  • Comment number 57.

    A national "identity" certainly has merits but I think it is overblown. The successful WC teams of the 60's, 70's and 80's, 90's (Brazil, W. Germany, Argentina, Italy, England, France) did not have a fixed methodology as such but were blessed with talented individuals who got on reasonably well and blended into winning teams, sometimes by sheer luck or accident. The hard running, wing play and big center forward ethos of the English game WAS NOT the foundation for their '66 WC win. Brazil were a disorganized mess going into WC '70 and '94. W. Germany lacked belief and cohesion at the start of WC '74. Argentina stumbled to the final in '78. Italy's band of "mis-fits" took 4 games to gel in '82, and in '86 Argentina had no identity without Maradona.

    In fact, the national teams with established styles and "identity" failed miserably i.e. Holland in '74 and '78 and Brazil in '82. In this context, Spain have set a new benchmark by prevailing against an established norms. They have shown that it is possible to win by having a fairly cohesive playing style for clubs and country. Whether this will work for others is open to question.

  • Comment number 58.

    England's problem is not the players. They are talented, can control the ball and pass it well. The problems are the press hype, the pressure from 40 million people, and the insecurity that sets in when overblown players realize that waltzing past poor defenders at Wigan, Wolves, West Brom and Reading is no preparation for the rigours of an international tournament. Please contact Ashley Young, Rooney and Adam Johnson for further explanation.

  • Comment number 59.

    I wish England could fail miserably by reaching a couple of world cup finals and the Dutch philosophy has turned a very small country into a major superpower, which is more than can be said for our national team.

    The Spanish have taken a similar philosophy and applied it too a much larger country and they're now the best there is, the current German team have benefitted from a consistent philosophy it could just be this is the future.

    Its gotta be worth a try we're getting consistently worse, now at a point where we're turning into the international equivalent of Stoke grinding out results playing dismal football.

    As i said in my previous post i doubt we will change so we can look forward to more of the same rubbish for years to come.

  • Comment number 60.

    I agree with most comments about national identity and lack of in England. Chile were ready for a change in thinking after years of failing and Biesla gave them a sense of style and success that has been incorporated by the like of la U.

    I also believe the English focus too much on the celebrity culture of football. Rooney was famous as a 17 year old, the same can be said of Walcott. I was in Holland for the u21's in 2007 and Sweden in 2009 for the same tourney. Babel and Drenthe were stand-out performers for the dutch in 07 but after big transfers, their new clubs tried to coach them into playing new positions and both have since left without pushing on. The final of Germany England in 09 featured some players who have since gone on to become big international stars. Unfortunately they are all German! Where was Henderson, Joe Hart, Danny Welback and Andy Carroll then?
    The coaches need to identify players at a younger age and teach them through the youth sides building a team identity and hopefully success will follow.

  • Comment number 61.

    Have any teams in Brazil/South America gone the way of Rangers?? Are Rangers the biggest team to go bust in such a spectacular way? Extremely depressing view from abroad. I knew Scottish football was in the doldrums but this is ridiculous.

    In regards to the GB football/non-inclusion of jocks/goldenballs; I simply don't care and i will not be watching any of the tournament. The sport shouldn't be included in the Olympics (and i include Tennis, Rugby and Golf???? with this) as it is not the pinnacle of the sports competition. There are so many minority sports that deserve the spotlight during the competition.

    I got to the Nacional vs Loja game at the weekend..Good to see another new team although again in the Atahualpa.

    An ok game that opened up in the 2nd half.

    The Serie A season moves into the 2nd term soon which is really just another round of the exact same fixtures. The current positions will determine the Copa sudamerica places and should include at least to minnows in Independiente and Loja, along with Deportivo Quito as last seasons champs.

  • Comment number 62.

    @55 & @56
    Dunga's Brazil was lethal in their counterattacking, reason why they dispatched Chile with ease and would've arguably done the same to Spain but now we'll never know because they forgot about discipline against the Dutch.

    Chile's lack of depth? Indeed, although the Chileans don't help themselves in this regard by having 9 players currently banished from the team, including their most talented one: Valdivia.

    And about Spain, I was wondering the same thing...they are very good and a joy to watch, but the greatest ever? To me it's more a case of a big fish in a currently small pond as far as football strength is concerned. They don't seem to have much of a strong opposition from anybody. In any case, that is not their fault and they deserve the accolades.

    Now, if Argentina could solve their defensive woes and if Messi could have a decent run of games for them, then they would have a formidable team and would give Spain more than a run for their money.

    Brazil? their only chance is to go back to the counterattacking style of the Dunga days.

  • Comment number 63.

    @57 "Spain have set a new benchmark ...They have shown that it is possible to win by having a fairly cohesive playing style for clubs and country. Whether this will work for others is open to question."

    Spain, unlike most other countries, have the luxury of getting their national team play for only 2 clubs with very few exceptions. In 2010, almost all the first team played for just one team!. This means, they're together week in/out and so the national team becomes just an extension of the same pattern with some minor adjustments.

    South American teams don't have this luxury, in fact they used to be a lot stronger before the massive migration of players to Europe started in the 90s as they would usually have more time to gel together as a team rather than the last minute get together that is the qualifiers and even the World Cup.

  • Comment number 64.

    By the way Tim, great article and well done on predicting Corinthians winning the Libertadores.

  • Comment number 65.

    Hopefully this will help show there are different ways and stop the “we must play like Spain” rhetoric



    There are different ways to play.

    But some of more likely to win than others.

    England's "natural" style is always going to lose to a team that can possess and pass.


    Only one appearance in a major final in 60 years.

    Compare that to Germany = 13 appearances in major finals and 7 semi finals (20)

    Spain = 5 finals and 1 semi final (6)

    Italy = 9 finals and 4 semi finals (13)

    France = 4 finals and 5 semi finals (9)

    Netherlands = 4 finals and 5 semi finals (9)

    Portugal = 1 final and 5 semi finals (6)

    The "English way" just doesnt work.


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