What is the first thing young players do when they arrive at soccer practice? If there is a goal on the field, no matter what size it is, how far away it is and how many people are using it, they will inevitably be seduced by that open net and be magnetized towards it. The attraction of 'belting' a ball into an open net is something that almost all young players cannot resist. And why should they? Kicking a ball in the open field is the very nature of the game of soccer and it results in the sidelines erupting into screams of joy when a player kicks the ball as hard as they possibly can.
However, if you are expecting to see this at 2:45pm tomorrow when Spain meet Italy in the Euro 2012 Final, you will be left hugely disappointed. Sorry!
Spain do not, and will not kick the soccer ball. From an early age the Spanish players have been taught to stroke the ball around the field with care, love and affection. They are gentle with it. They treat it as if it is made of glass and could shatter at any moment if it is mistreated. "Leathering" the ball as hard as they possibly can is not a sign of strength to the Spanish. Instead, it is a sign of weakness as it demonstrates that you are not comfortable with the ball at your feet. But having seen the Spanish play for many years using their "Tiki-Taka" style of pushing the ball over every blade of grass on the field we have come to expect this every time they take the field.
Tomorrow will be no different. If they go 1-0 down, it will be no different. If they go 2-0, it will be no different. To love the game of Football, you must learn to love the ball, because without it you cannot win. And if by keeping the ball, being patient and stroking ball all over the field a chance is created, it must be taken. So as Spain enter tomorrow's final trying to win their third consecutive major tournament, the thought of a 1-0 win is not boring, but mouthwatering for those looking for a Master Class in loving the ball!
Waiting for Spain in the deafening atmosphere within the Olympic Stadium, Kyiv tomorrow will be a team lead by a 33 year old has-been. A player who, "Should call it a day by now". That, at least, was the view of AC Milan 12 months ago when they allowed Andrea Pirlo to leave their star studded squad and move to Juventus for free last year. Whoever allowed that to happen is surely collecting their P45 around about now.
Andrea Pirlo has been nothing short of magisterial over the past 2 weeks. He has put on a 14 day Master Class, with the emphasis being on the word 'Class'. At 33 he knows he cannot compete physically with the younger players in the tournament. However, he has dominated every team Italy have played almost single handedly. But how has a 33 year old standing at only 5'10 and weighing no more then 130 pounds soaking wet through dominated the best players in the world? Simple! He too has developed a love for the ball. He too caresses and strokes the ball around the field. He has developed every technique required to play the game and knows exactly when, where and how to use them. He doesn't rely on his speed, nor his strength, nor his power because quite simply, he doesn't posses these traits. Instead, he beats teams with his ball mastery and decision making...
And that is why "The Final" is going to be so intriguing to watch...for me at least. Yes, it may be a slow paced game to start with. Yes, Spain will inevitably dominate possession and be patient in their build up play. Yes, Ballotelli will inevitably have a ridiculous hair cut. But when Spain do lose the ball, will they be able to stop Andrea Pirlo? Will they be able to shackle him, as no other team have managed to do? Will they be able to spot the passes that seemingly only Pirlo can see?
One thing is for sure, those same people calling Spain's performances 'boring' and 'dull' throughout the tournament will be the same people screaming at the top of their lungs the next time they see a ball kicked from one end of the field to the other. Or a ball 'punted' so far in the air it comes down with snow on it. They will not enjoy tomorrow's master class.
The rest of us who appreciate the unbelievable difficulty and class it takes to 'stroke' the ball' around the field and treat it with care and affection, for those people...watch, learn, smile, laugh, applaud and simply ENJOY!
Current European & World Champions Spain
Tom Butler is Youth Elite Soccer's Regional Manager for New England, and an avid fan of football and football fashion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org