The 2010-11 season has been the first one in which I was able to enjoy having Sky Sports in the house. Don’t think I had it before, and if I did it wasn’t for long. The provision was made this season, however, as a concession for the tremendous personal sacrifices I was sharing elsewhere to allow me to have the full Sky Sports package knowing full well that I would indeed utilise it particularly for its football coverage.
As a result this is the first season I’ve been able to enjoy watching Spanish Football. I remember back in the early 1990’s’ where following Paul Gascoigne’s move to Lazio, Channel 4 gained the rights to broadcast Italian football and the initial interest in viewing what was meant to be the cream of European football at the time. Though not as exciting as English football, it was a lot more tactical, technical and all round fascinating in the approach the teams made to the game. So though I enjoyed watching it, I wasn’t too fussed when it stopped being shown on terrestrial television and when it was on again I wasn’t that bothered about watching it.
Spanish football bears some similarities with Italian football, but endeavours to be a bit more adventurous. To be fair, though, I only watch Spanish football for the top two teams Real Madrid and Barcelona. Even before Sky Sports I was aware of these two giants through their games in European competition and the reputation they had around world. These two for differing reasons capture the interest more than the rest of La Liga and has made for me to be the best teams in Europe. Better than anything else I’ve seen even in the Premier League.
Funny thing was I wasn’t that keen on Real Madrid. When I got interested in football beyond these shores Johan Cruyff was producing a football side that was threatening to leave its mark on European football with the likes of Stoitchkov and Romario. Then Real Madrid had their Galacticos project which I actually found off-putting especially as the funds appeared to be invested in attack with no concept of actually defending. The signing of David Beckham didn’t help. So before this season I wasn’t all that fussed about what Real Madrid were doing. Then they only went and got the most successful coach in Europe at the moment in Jose Mourinho. I am a fan of Mourinho so it raised my interest to see what they are up to.
Watching their football this season has been really intriguing, because everyone is expecting to see him hit the ground running and produce a team already capable of winning La Liga. To be fair their playing personnel suggests that should be the case. There have been a signing or two the Jose has made, but what has been of far greater interest is his tactical set-up. I especially love the arrangement that was similar to Liverpool’s set up of playing a holding midfielder and Xabi Alonso next to each other deep in the midfield with three more attack minded players ahead and behind a lone striker. Alonso’s role this season has proven again why he is the best in the world at what he does. Picking his passes carefully and maintaining the rhythm of the team’s development the team struggles without him.
It is also a genuine joy to see Ronaldo being so prolific. Ozil has had his moments as well and it has been exciting to view the prospect of a side with those two and Kaka all given the liberty to exploit weaknesses in the opposition. Some of their performances especially in Europe earleir on in the season were simply sensational and gave the impression that Mourinho would again come up trumps in his first season. Of late, however, there have been a few slips and things have not been working out so well leading to rumours of an unsettled Mourinho and dropping points and leave a large gap between them and their bitter rivals at the top of the table. for all that, though, I look forward to seeing how the story continues, if Mourinho will stay longer than a season and if so will he be given the support to shape the team further into his own image and make an even more concerted effort at the top titles. At their best their football has been only bettered by one other team in the whole of Europe.
Unfortunately for them that other team happens to be Barcelona. Hearing some of the commentary team on Sky Sports you’d have thought they had died and went to football heaven such are their superlatives concerning the football exploits of Barca. To be fair I too cannot think of another team in my lifetime that have played so consistently well and so insistent in its domination over others. From back to the front the passing, the movement, the goals, the chances, the pressing, the covering, the skill, the tactical flexibility, all of this has made for a style of football light years ahead of anything the Premier League produces and that includes Manchester United and the closest comparison in Arsenal.
I remember watching the Barca-Real Madrid match and being excited at the prospect of one of the encounters of the season and being utterly amazed at how Barca simply dismantled Real completely and 5-0 was not a flattering scoreline at all. It could have been so much worse. Now they’ve gone on to break the record for consecutive wins in the league and there doesn’t seem to be any stopping them. Attacking they are irresistible and it’s good football to watch how long the inevitable will be and who will get the breakthrough. Their persistence in pressing to retrieve possession is another commendable feature that others could learn from. In as much as they are rightly getting the plaudits now, I am enjoying their blooming season now, because there is also the element in which it doesn’t look as if this is a dominance that will last longer than five years.
Some people see the fact of La Liga being a two-horse being a bad thing. From my couch perspective, it’s no harm watching majestic, clinical, expansive, efficient, expressive and essentially effective football from two teams. I enjoy the view and find it good football. There’s nothing to say it will always be thus, but whilst it is and they are producing football of contrasting styles but both eye-catching and of a quality that most envy, it is something to admire and enjoy.