Another el Clasico comes and goes and Real Madrid and Barcelona demonstrate while their derby is the most exciting football match on the planet. Spanish football is great isn’t it. Isn’t it? Well not if you're looking for competent defending.
Football in England is the only male soap opera and every football fan loves to talk. Sometimes, however, opinions become fashionable and without a word of warning those opinions set as hard as concrete. They become indisputable tenets of the game. One such famous footballing monolith was the power of “experience”. Alan Hansen said famously “you don’t win anything with kids” which seemed reasonable, until it wasn’t. Now children barely able to tie their own boots are waddling onto pitches in front of expectant crowds. More recently another statue to laziness was desecrated by Swansea City. We were told a budget team built on an ethos of passing and control would get bludgeoned into submission by the mighty Premier League, until they weren’t (finishing 11th). Occasionally the record gets stuck until someone jogs the turntable. Well this might jog the record; in my opinion Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos are hugely overrated.
The closest thing they will often see to an attack is two or three brave players sprinting from their own penalty area with all the guile and cunning of a botched prison break.
Defending has never been the exciting part of football. Only two players who regularly got their kit dirty have ever won the world player of the year award. Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 and Lothar Matthaus all the way back in 1991. There is little doubt that the focus of attention in the game has always been at the other end of the pitch. This is completely understandable in terms of a casual fan, a great goal is an oil painting in its precision, sharpness and clarity and is easy to admire. However a superb defensive display is a water colour, done in approximations. But both styles are beautiful if executed correctly, so why does our ability to acknowledge great defenders fall so badly short? What are people valuing when we speak highly of defenders? or are they just slipping into old familiar ruts ground out by zombie pundits who have given up caring what they say anymore. Im looking at you Hansen!
It was no great surprise to me that after the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine two Spanish central defenders appeared in the team of the tournament. But why were they chosen? It certainly couldn’t be for their stellar defensive work over the tournament, because there was hardly any. Teams playing against Spain fear one thing. The Spanish midfield. This fear is so strong that almost every team the Spanish face remould their entire formation around trying to interrupt those tiny tikki takking robots. To very little success. What does this mean for Pique and Ramos? A very easy hour and a half. The closest thing they will often see to an attack is two or three brave players sprinting from their own penalty area with all the guile and cunning of a botched prison break. These desperate flairs of forward play are often mopped up before the hopeful inmates can even make it past the centre circle. The Spanish defence is built on propaganda and its proven wonderfully effective, Pique and Ramos (for the most part) are just live bodies.
When we consider Lionel Messi to be the best player on the planet we do so with catalogues of examples of his genius. Importantly, even when teams intend to contain him they cannot. Undoubtedly the mark of greatness. Our assessment of attackers comes from a much more scientific thought process. Lots of evidence is key to the conclusion. The same cannot be said for defenders, our thought process is based on faith and assumption and a name. What evidence of world class defending is available for Pique and Ramos? Very little. They amble around the back line, the closest opposition player to them is often on their subs bench. The closest thing to pressure Gerard Pique experiences in a match is deciding where to take Shakira for dinner that night. When they do meet a team with the guts and quality to take them on in a real game of football often they look all at sea (Arsenal, Chelsea, el Clasicos et al).
They will never know the horrors of the real world (playing for Stoke City)
But they play for Spain so they must be amazing right? Possibly. Is this their fault? No. They may be great players but behind the greatest international midfield to ever grace the modern game we will never find out. These two players are born into privilege. They are the footballing equivalent of the teenager on MTV who cries herself to sleep because her favourite rapper isn’t available for her 16th birthday party. They will never know the horrors of the real world (playing for Stoke City). Ordinarily this should make you angry. In the case of the stroppy teenager anger is a healthy reaction, she deserves nothing but a life of toy dogs shitting in handbag. However Pique and Ramos receive my pity. Those of us with our brains switched on will never recognise their anointed genius until we see them perform in anything other than an unfair fight. David Ginola was often labelled a luxury player because he only wanted to be involved in the beautiful game. I am declaring Pique and Ramos luxury defenders for that same reason.
Pique and Ramos, perform anything other than erratically in a few high level games and I will return to this subject and possibly revise my damning assessment. The ball (as always) is in your court.
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