Roberto Baggio

Roberto Baggio
Il Divin Codino

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Spain's Quick-Passing Game Lacks Football's Greatest Skill

Since the World Cup of 1994 I have always been extolling the virtues of Spain - though, in the past, they looked like a team that was never going to win anything. That's to let you know that I can claim a long-time adherence to the Spanish style. And that is also by the way of unloading some of the guilt I feel as I now pick fault with it.
The Spanish have most beautifully reminded us that football is a game that is best played with the ball on the ground. That is where it can be coaxed and cajoled by the skilled players. The intricacy and artistry of such a game exposes the sheer crudity of a style based on aerial play in which the ball spends long periods in the air, uncontrolled by anyone.
My problem with Spain now is that, having got the ball back where it belongs, they fail to make much use of what is surely the sport's supreme skill: dribbling. The supreme skill, the unique skill, the most exciting and the most entertaining skill, going back to the days when the sport was known as "the dribbling game".

The atrophy of dribbling in sport is not blamed on Spain. A thoroughly unpleasant anti-dribbling culture has been allowed to grow up within football which sees dribbling as nothing more than a circus act, hot-dogging performed simply to show off and make fools of defenders.
A few tears back the anti-dribbling mentality came to the surface in, of all places, Brazil. In 2002 a player was yellow-carded for performing a series of step-overs on front of an opponent, with the referee judging him guilty of trying to provoke the opponent.
Under this mentality, the defenders feel entitled to retaliate, to foul and kick the dribblers.
Dribbling has become a dangerous, and therefore an endangered skill.
Robinho's early dribbling exploits for Santos in Brazil were met with hostility and veiled threats.
"He could end up having his leg broken," said Grêmio goalkeeper Danrlei. Muricy Ramalho, at the time the coach of São Paulo, regretted: "It seems that today you can't do a nice dribble any more."
Some players still try. Cristiano Ronaldo certainly does, and he in turn has been threatened. "After two minutes we will normally have to attack Ronaldo so much that he will have to leave the field," was Belgium goalkeeper Stijn Stijnen's matter-of-fact comment.
But it is of course Lionel Messi who currently personifies the magic of dribbling. It is Messi who makes Barcelona so much more complete a team than Spain. More complete, more dangerous and certainly more exciting. The brilliance of Messi's curling left-footed shot that scored the winning goal for Argentina in a recent 4-3 win over Brazil was unmistakable. But the quick surging dribble that led up to it, those few moments of thrilling suspense, made this goal so much more than the shot itself. Just as the final shot with which Diego Maradona scored in 1986 against England was totally eclipsed by the brilliance of the dribbling that preceded it.
Wonderful goals, complete football, goals. We don't get much dribbling from Spain. Why is that? Have the anti-dribbling forces won this battle? Have they made their view that dribbling is a provocation, the orthodox view? Is the cynicism of "he had to take him down, what else could he do?" now so widely accepted that it's OK to ignore the rules of the game in order to stop a dribbler?
Spain, with their quick-passing, on-the-ground possession game have found a superb answer to the curse of defensive play. But have they also found it necessary to sacrifice football's most precious skill, only because it might cause them to lose hold of the ball?

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