“Change” and “stability,” while obviously completely contrasting concepts, are both vital in soccer. Most would agree with the notion that a successful team is built upon the appropriate amount of each, but it’s a precarious balance to strike. After all, too much change and the players will lack familiarity and cohesion. Too little and a squad can become damagingly stale.
The latter of the two was on show in earnest as Spain kicked off the defense of their world title in Brazil. The nexus of players that have been so consistent, so wonderful and so successful suddenly looked decayed; they were blown away by a Netherlands team bristling with fresh faces and youthful exuberance.
Against Chile, while Vicente Del Bosque made a couple of changes to his starting XI, he remained loyal to a host of players that have served him so well in the past two tournaments, and to Luis Aragones in the years preceding that. Spain needed a result after all, and those players had the experience to get it; they’ve done it before. Unfortunately for the legendary boss, it cost him.
Iker Casillas was badly at fault for the second goal, David Silva failed to make an impact and Xabi Alonso was dragged off at half time. The team as a collective were without spark and they were lackadaisical off the ball, when in years gone by they had been relentless in their pressing. They lost 2-0, becoming the first holders in history to become the first team knocked out of the tournament.
Both Netherlands and Chile showed them up. Not courtesy of any great tactical master-plans or due to a conspiring of bad luck; they were quite simply faster, stronger and hungrier. The defending champions scored one goal—a penalty—and conceded seven in their two games. They have emitted an aura of cautiousness and complacency throughout this World Cup.
“Tiki-taka, ta’ra!” as Gary Lineker put it as the BBC signed off their coverage of the game.
And despite Spain’s exceptional spell of longevity at the peak of international soccer, there is a warning for all, here. The modern game moves so quickly and Spain have stagnated. There is by no means a shortage of young talents coming through the ranks, but the unshakeably loyal Del Bosque hasn’t blooded them in competitive action.
And that brings us onto the second of the aforementioned concepts: change. Where do the Spanish go from here? Del Bosque’s future will naturally be a case for debate, but whoever takes this team forward must look long-term.
Those young talents coming through must begin to establish themselves at the core of this Spanish side. Players like Koke —who is the heir apparent to Xavi—Cesar Azpilicueta,—who is blossoming as a standout full-back—and Diego Costa—who has developed into a striker of real quality despite his disappointing performances in Brazil—must take this team forward now.
But a little bit of stability is vital too, and the likes of Andres Iniesta—La Roja’s standout man against Chile—Jordi Alba and Sergio Ramos are established figures that still have a future with the national team. They can help facilitate this inevitable passing of the torch from a golden generation to a burgeoning one.
Chile, by comparison were marvelously enterprising and superbly effective. There was an unyielding intensity in their play and a ferocity in their attempts to win the ball back, a quality that was at the heart of the successful Spanish team’s of years gone by.
Jorge Sampaoli’s team have the attributes to go far in this tournament, and if they were to take on Brazil in the last-16, they are more than capable of sending the hosts packing as well as the holders.
Spain have been the shining light in the international game for the past six years. They’ve played with a encapsulating flair and unique set of stylistic mantras. They’ve been the example to follow and the benchmark that soccer hierarchies around the world have aspired too.
But the game continues to motor on, and it always will do. And no matter how good you are, no matter what has gone before, if you stand still, soccer can pass you by in an instant. Perhaps you can have too much of a good thing after all?