Aragonés ends the football hierarchy

20th November 2007, Comments 0 comments

20 November 2007, Madrid - A fundamental law of zoology has it that when two or more animals come to share a limited space, a hierarchy will form in which one will become dominant over the others, sometimes even resulting in death for those at the bottom of the pecking order.

20 November 2007

Madrid - A fundamental law of zoology has it that when two or more animals come to share a limited space, a hierarchy will form in which one will become dominant over the others, sometimes even resulting in death for those at the bottom of the pecking order.

Spanish soccer coach Luis Aragonés may not be a biologist, but half a century breathing in the atmosphere of the locker room was enough for him to see that within the national squad there was a group which not only dominated the physical space, but threatened to marginalize the very individuals who offered the team its best chance of future success.

When Aragonés stopped selecting Real Madrid idol Raúl, he thought he was uncorking a bottle with a new genie inside. A year ago, young midfielders such as Cesc Fàbregas, Andrés Iniesta and David Silva were still adapting to international soccer.

But their part in Saturday night's 3-0 demolition of Sweden in Madrid's Bernabéu stadium could be much more important than just sealing Spain's qualification for next summer's European Championships - it could also herald the dawn of a new era.

Those three young players were part of a five-man midfield, with veterans David Albelda and playmaker Xavi providing a sturdy framework for them to work in.

In the past two games - against Denmark and Sweden - Aragonés has found the regeneration he had been looking for, sometimes apparently desperately, since he took charge three years ago.

That search had become especially acute since that evening in June 26, 2006 in Hannover. World Cup defeat by France ended a tournament full of contradictions for Spain and Aragonés.

Raúl had been out of the team before returning to score a goal in the group game against Tunisia, celebrating it wildly with his fellow veterans, Michel Salgado and Santiago Cañizares.

It was the last goal Raúl would score for the national team. A few days later in Hannover, he sat dejected on the bench having been substituted by Aragonés as the clash with France turned sour.

Raúl has since shown patchy form for Real, but that has not stopped the barrage of demands for his recall to the national team, particularly from Madrid-based sports media. But Aragonés, even when under massive pressure to resign or capitulate after a bad start to Spain's Euro-qualifying campaign, has not wavered on the Raúl issue.

On the other hand, Aragonés has sometimes seemed less than sure who his future stalwarts would turn out to be. Since 2004 the coach has handed international debuts to 26 players - five of whom appeared in what can be considered the final article in the Bernabéu last weekend: David Villa, Sergio Ramos, Iniesta, Cesc and Silva. None of them is over 25 years old; they are all technically gifted, and strongly attack-minded.

"The boss has always been very clear," says Xavi. "He wants us to keep possession of the ball." In opting to employ wide players such as Joaquín or the belated discovery of the populous midfield, Aragonés has remained true to the idea of keeping the initiative, despite doubts expressed by some who envisage Spain deploying a more Italian counterattacking approach.

But in placing the Barcelona-trained trio of Iniesta, Xavi and Cesc (now a success with England's Arsenal, which poached the youngster from the Catalan club), Aragonés has found the true heart of Spanish soccer.

And the color of that heart is not the flashing white of Raúl's Real Madrid, but the burgundy of Barcelona, where the legacy of Dutch genius Johan Cruyff lives on and has created an archetype. Spain's second goal against Sweden involved 45 consecutive passes, ending in a sweet finish by Iniesta. As Aragonés put it: "This has been a group process."

[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ DIEGO TORRES / Jaume Bauzá Leira 2007]

Subject: Spanish news

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