Capello puts stranglehold on Spain's innovation

World champions are halted in their tracks but this was more a self-imposed siege than a glorious victory

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Condemned by unkind providence to watch from Wembley's stands on a November evening as the best team in the world exposed all of England's flaws, all of her complexes, all of her inferiorities, the country's talisman could only sit back and admire. "I came away wondering to myself what we had been doing all these years," he said. Not the words of Wayne Rooney, of course, absent for Fabio Capello's side's victory over Spain yesterday, but those of Tom Finney, almost 60 years ago. These were words uttered in defeat, not in victory, issued as an attempt to comprehend what had just happened, the destruction that had just been wrought on Walter Winterbottom's team by those Magical Magyars.

A new conception of football, the newspapers called it the next day. The cradle of football, robbed by Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and the rest, England's reputation as the game's pre-eminent force in tatters. A nation, its eyes closed to the world, humbled.

The parallel may not seem obvious at first. After all, Hungary came as a surprise, something Spain, world and European champions, are not. That 1950s side, honed at Honved, have become a byword for glorious failure, for unfulfilled potential. Not a description that could be applied to Spain. And, at Wembley, Hungary won. Spain, somehow, did not.

England and Spain would do well to consider that afternoon in 1953, and what followed. Once again, England have come face-to-face with a new conception of football; once again, it is likely to be ignored, though this time through the balm of victory,rather than arrogance.

Puskas and Kocsis, later to become the presages of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi at Real Madrid and Barcelona, were the star names of that Hungarian side, but the one who wrought the most havoc was Nandor Hidegkuti. He played as the deep-lying forward, dragging England's defence out of position and creating the space for his team-mates to cause chaos.

David Silva would probably call that position the "false nine". It is more commonly known as the Messi role, after its most famous exponent: it is the striker who is not a striker. It is the playmaker as pivot. Hidegkuti's role was Hungary's great new conception. Silva's is Spain's. Except that it isn't. Not really. The false nine, as imagined by Messi, the forward with licence to roam, is the great tactical development of the last 10 years, just as the Makelele role was the great change prior to that. But it is an idea that has been employed by Luciano Spalletti at Roma and by Sir Alex Ferguson, among others. It is simply that Barcelona, as in so many things, have perfected it.

And so Vicente del Bosque, the Spain manager, has almost found his hand forced. So many of his team have been crafted and honed by La Masia that he, seemingly, has little choice but to copy the blueprint. It is not a purely philosophical decision, though: it is a practical one, too.

Like Hungary, Spain know all too well what happens to a side who achieve a pioneering perfection. The former, their reputations established by successive victories over England, travelled to the 1954 World Cup as favourites, only to be ambushed by West Germany. Their rivals had concocted a plan to stop them. Such is the fate of the innovators, stymied by the establishment.

And so, too, Spain. Xavi and Iker Casillas detailed the need to continue adapting, to remain a step ahead of their opponents, on the eve of this game; Pepe Reina even discussed it in his autobiography. "It was in South Africa that it dawned on me that Spain may never again be able to play in the free-flowing style for which we have become known," he wrote. "Our success has meant that teams will now go to extraordinary lengths to try and stop us from playing."

That is what England did, and it worked. At least Finney's team-mates had the decency to try and match the Hungarians. Jackie Sewell even scored. "They weren't bothered," he said. "They just kept on doing what they were doing." Capello had no such ambition. Forget about parking the bus. England jack-knifed a lorry.

And if England are prepared to stifle and asphyxiate and no more at the home of football, then what is likely to happen to Spain in Poland and Ukraine next summer? Their rivals will only have taken heart from this defeat; the only option is to perfect the mimicry of the Barcelona model. The impression did not work here; they must continue to innovate, if they are to avoid that Hungarian fate. They will leave England, gorged on fleeting triumph, to their own.

Glenn Moore's Wembley watch

Flop of the poppies

There were poppies everywhere at Wembey yesterday, except, soon after play began, on the arms of England's Frank Lampard, James Milner, Scott Parker and Phil Jones. Their poppy-adorned armbands were instead to be seen lying on the turf, probably having simply fallen off. The bands had been restored when the quartet reappeared after half-time. No doubt a sharp-eyed FA official, aware of the opprobrium that might be heaped upon the four by the poppy-campaigning newspapers, had intervened with some sticky tape.

Every second counts

If Frank Lampard had wondered whether he was destined only ever to captain England once, after receiving that honour against Denmark last February, his father could have told him the value of patience. Frank Snr, a left-back, made his international debut against Yugoslavia in 1973 and seemed likely to remain a one-cap wonder, but was eventually called to the colours again seven long years later for an away game with Australia.

Benitez makes his bid

Rafa Benitez made his pitch to become England manager yesterday morning, unabashed by the knowledge that two players he sold while at Liverpool, Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa, would later be playing for the world champions at Wembley. Benitez, speaking on Sky Sports' Soccer AM programme, said of the prospect of succeeding Fabio Capello : "I would have time to improve my English so maybe it would be a good option... I say yes." Benitez's English may be better than Capello's, but the FA seem to want an English manager.

Capello blossoms

Fabio Capello was a florists' delight yesterday. Not only was he sporting a poppy, he was also wearing a corsage to mark his son's wedding in Milan yesterday. The England manager was unable to attend after this fixture was switched from Friday night because Barcelona had to play in the Spanish Cup on Wednesday.

Green with envy

Sam Allardyce was "staggered" that his West Ham goalkeeper Robert Green was not brought back into the England squad after missing the last game against Montenegro because of injury. Instead Scott Carson, now playing in Turkey, and David Stockdale, who is on loan from Fulham to Ipswich, retained their places as deputies to Joe Hart instead of the man who began the 2010 World Cup as first choice. As Carson has played 45 international minutes in four years, and Stockdale is uncapped, it would seem sensible to give them half a game each on Tuesday.

Fourth to fall

Spain were the eighth World Cup holders to play England at Wembley and the fourth to be beaten. West Germany have twice been beaten while global champions, in 1954 and 1975, while Argentina, with a teenaged Maradona, were defeated in 1980. Since then, however, England have lost to three successive Word Cup winners in a unified Germany (1991), Brazil (1995) and France (1999). Brazil, without Pele, were also held to a draw in 1963.

Plenty of mixed messages

It is possible, without knowing the score of an England match, to surmise the result from attending the "mixed zone", the part of the stadium where the players have to walk past the media and are entreated to stop and reveal their thoughts on the match. When England lose, most players walk past wearing headphones or pretending to be on their mobiles. Yesterday player after player stopped to detail their part in the defeat of the world champions.