The scenes in Madrid yesterday when hundreds of thousands welcomed home the World Cup winners and celebrated Spain becoming only the eighth nation to win the trophy were extraordinary, a homecoming fit for a team that has demonstrated to the world that flowing, creative football can triumph against all kinds of forms of negativity that stand in its way. It is a homecoming that feels like an important moment for football. Why? Perhaps not simply for what has been achieved, but for what is to follow. For I believe there is genuine cause to believe that this young team can rule the world for years to come.
Why? Well, for one thing, the team could already be so much stronger – Fernando Torres, after all, was not fully fit in South Africa. Hopefully, he will be back to his best in two years' time when Spain set out to defend the European Championship. He would have made things so much easier this time around. The record books will show we lifted the World Cup after three 1-0 victories, but in truth that only tells half the story. Spain were far superior in those three games and, with Torres fit and scoring, the team would not have had to suffer so much to win the tournament.
Cesc Fabregas is another who has it all ahead of him. He did not have the lead part that he would have liked this time, but he will be 25 in two years' time in Poland and Ukraine; he will be in his absolute prime in four years' time when he heads to the Brazil World Cup, aged 27.
I felt for him, watching the match on Sunday. He was so desperate to make an impact, having not had too many minutes in the tournament prior to the final, and he snatched at his first chance after coming on, shooting when he had David Villa to his right. But he made no mistake the second time around with the pass that led to Andres Iniesta's goal.
Cesc and Torres will be leaders in the next two tournaments, just as Carles Puyol and Xavi have been this time around. And the new players coming into the side will find it easy to step into the team, just as Pedro has during this World Cup. They must, of course, live up to some incredibly high standards to find a place, as Fabregas has found out. But what they do not have to do is force through changes. Contrast their task to the young players England must now call: they face the burden of helping to turn around the fortunes of the national side. Spain's youngsters will make their debuts in an already beautifully functioning team.
Everyone will now be asking what they can learn from Spain, just as we have asked in the past what we could learn from other World Cup winners. The biggest lesson is that teams need patience. This Spain team is based on a Barcelona side that has taken years to form.
Barça did not grow out of nothing two seasons ago. It started 10 years ago when Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Fabregas and many more were starting out at La Masia, the club's school of excellence, as young teenagers. I saw them for myself when I coached the Barcelona B team in 1996-97.
Generations of great players come along every now and then, and the process must not be rushed or forced, but nurtured. The important thing is to have that strong base at youth level, so that when three or four great talents do appear they have the opportunity to reach the national side together. The coaches at youth football level can share in this victory. A World Cup is won not just by the staff and players of the national side, but at clubs, where young home-grown players must be given their chance.
Iker Casillas, another player who was given his chance at a very young age was superb in the final, and the semi-final, and the quarter-final with the penalty save against Paraguay for that matter. It is worth remembering: so much is made of the Spain midfield, but this team was solid from the very back, too.
Spain needed Casillas to save us several times as the Netherlands played on the break. I was surprised that they played with so much fear. We saw it from Germany in the previous round when, despite having so many good players, they looked to defend deep and not commit too many men forward.
The Dutch have two of the best players in the world in Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, and did not need to play the way they did. Hopefully, having seen that it did not work for Germany or for the Netherlands, teams will look for other ways to play us in the future.
I don't want to join the criticism of how physical the Dutch were and how Howard Webb decided to referee the game. I think he was simply doing his best to keep it 11 against 11, although in the end that proved impossible.
I said at the start that Spain does not have a Leo Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo, but that we do have a great team. Even so, I hope that Xavi wins every individual prize on offer this season. He led the way two years ago when Spain won the European Championship and he has done the same this time in South Africa.
The art of "Tiki-Taka"
This phrase "tiki-taka" has become part of the essential vocabulary of South Africa 2010 – as indispensable as "vuvuzela" or "Jabulani", only it's generally used in a much, much more positive context. It was popularised at the 2006 World Cup by the late Spanish broadcaster Andres Montes and describes Spain's strategy of keeping possession of the ball and moving it with short, quick passes to each other in either diamond or triangle formations. The term can be roughly translated as "touch-touch" or "tippy-tappy". The concept was originally used by Barcelona when the club hired Johan Cruyff as manager, who won them four successive league titles from 1991-94.
Nick FrostReuse content