It is no secret that Graham Hunter, the Sky Sports and ESPN soccernet writer tasked with covering Spanish soccer, has a strong admiration for the footballing ways of the Spanish National team and FC Barcelona. Last year, Hunter published Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, a detailed look into Barcelona’s unprecedented title-accumulating run from 2009 through 2011.
Hunter’s latest book, Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble, comes out today and profiles Spain’s historic run, in which they captured three consecutive major tournament trophies – Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, and Euro 2012. ESPN and The Guardian each posted excerpts from the book to promote the story to a wider audience.
ESPN’s article focuses on Andres Iniesta and how he nearly missed the World Cup in 2010 due to an injury suffered late in the 2009-2010 season that weakened his thigh and nearly shattered his psyche. Vicente del Bosque, the Spanish manager, took a chance by including Iniesta on his squad but was handsomely rewarded as Iniesta earned all-tournament team honors and scored the World Cup-winning goal in the Final versus Netherlands.
This article spoke to me on a number of levels. Firstly, I’m an unabashed fan of Iniesta whom I believe is one of the five best players of the 21st century. Just for reference, he was named player of the tournament at Euro 2012, UEFA best player in Europe 2012, UEFA Champions League player of the year 2011-2012, finished in the top 4 of the Ballon d’Or voting 2009-2012, made four consecutive UEFA teams of the year, won Confederations Cup Silver Ball 2013, and was named to the Euro 2008 team of the tournament. In addition to winning three major trophies with Spain and numerous titles with Barcelona, Iniesta has always risen to the occasion on the grandest of stages.
Secondly, this article speaks to the importance of the mental component of sports and the fragility of an athlete’s psyche, two topics which I feel are underappreciated and misunderstood. In addition to physical damage, an injury inflicts mental trauma even to an athlete Iniesta’s caliber, whose achievements and ability are described above. Prior to World Cup 2010, Iniesta, already an accomplished superstar, found himself on the brink of breakdown with his confidence shaken. Ultimately, Iniesta found the self-belief to persevere and succeed at the World Cup and beyond, but many players (i.e. Torres) do not recover from such serious setbacks.
The Guardian’s article discusses the youth development infrastructure, philosophy, and methodologies that laid the groundwork for Spain’s three major international tournament victories (and potentially many more). Spain has established a systematic approach to finding and cultivating talent who fit their unique style of play. Spain’s Under-15 national team players are trained in exactly the same way as their professional counterparts. It is no surprise that the vast majority of Spain’s national team players spent significant time with their youth national teams, where the national team’s strategies and style of play were firmly ingrained in their minds.
Anyway, I really enjoyed Hunter’s Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World and am looking forward to reading his latest, which certainly looks worthy of reading based upon the excerpts and the writer’s sterling reputation.