I don’t think Spain is boring, but I understand the thrill that comes from saying they are. A couple of weeks ago I decided to advocate for benching Xavi knowing I’d get destroyed for it. A journalistic death wish. It felt great, even if I didn't let anyone read it. I’m not crazy, after all. There are finer football minds engaged in this debate, and every possible point has been covered. I thought a very forlorn Raphael Honigstein summed it best when he was asked on the podcast why Germany didn’t play the game we were used to seeing against Spain. “It’s difficult to express yourself when you’re being asphyxiated.”
And there you have it. Spain creates a vacuum of beauty on the pitch. The tragic aspect of their dominance in possession is the way they make the giddiest teams like Germany or Russia of 2008, teams that rely on counterattack, that run on oxygen and sparks, look cheap and desperate, even a little pathetic. Spain is a charming girl at a dinner party who wants you to laugh at all her brilliant jokes but won’t even let you tell yours. It’s a bit exhausting to always be in thrall.
I think everything else has been covered. Except- isn’t the problem also just a little bit that the whole world is suffering from Messi withdrawal? Can’t we just cop to it? Spain compensates, but it’s undeniable that at times they feel like Barcelona without the living, breathing livewire at its core.
I’ve become less interested in the question itself than the resultant conversation. While it’s occurring throughout the heated halls of the internet, in the States it instantaneously took on a regressive tone of “What side are you on?” After all the positive movement in the last month, I had hoped the discussion around soccer in the US had moved beyond immediate intellectual brittleness and overpoliticized arguments. It’s a bit dismaying, really.
Because if we did all agree that Spain is boring- well then, so fucking what? One of the best things I’ve learned from watching football is how to engage in the act of being bored. It happens. The attitude of viewer entitlement bewilders me. Here we are now, entertain us. I don't believe watching football is a passive activity. When a game bores me, I try to find different ways to approach it, to enter into the story of it. And I refuse the accusation that that makes me a snob. Actually, quite the opposite: it makes me a hard worker.
As people who really love football, we are absurdly fortunate to have a final that allows us to look at the states of two different forms. We should be down on our knees thanking the footballing gods for this final. I believe that in most cases, you can get as much out of a football game as you give to it. Both of these teams are playing thoughtful, intentional football, trying to reach a balance between purity and pragmatism. Both teams are stocked with superstars- it can be no small feat for these egos to have combined into cohesive units in such a short time, and yet they’ve done it. The coaching minds, backroom staffs and players of Spain and the Netherlands are working harder than ever to distill old forms of football and through those distillations, to create new forms of football. So why the hell shouldn’t we work a bit harder too?