In 1982 Northern Ireland stepped out onto the pitch to face Spain, the host nation in that years world cup. On paper, today the outcome would be about as balanced as a straight sprint between Usain Bolt and Susan Boyle, however it was Gerry Armstrong for Northern Ireland whose only goal separated the teams, causing Spain to face a much harder run of games than anticipated which led to their surprise knockout.
Infact prior to Spains triumph at the 2010 World Cup their highest finish at the world cup had been fourth place in 1950 when the winner was decided through a group stage of the qualifiers of the previous stage, were Spain finished without a win. This seems somewhat surprising given Real Madrids run of 4 years consecutive wins of the European cup. Bar a win in the Olympics in 1992, Spains international history has been empty dubbed the “underachievers” by many prior to their rise to fame as the world champions they are today.
Political issues also affected the domestic league from becoming a top league in that Real Madrid dominated for a period after World War 2 until the resignation of Franco in 1973 as he hampered Barcelonas every attempt to become a top flight club, most noticeably in a 1966 match at the Bernabeu were after a half time visit to the referee, an extra 11 minutes of injury time were played until Real Madrid scored then the game ended. Convenient.
Yet today Spain sit perched at number 1 in the FIFA world rankings, having become the first team to win three FIFA successive tournaments and looking set to extend that success if they continue playing the way they do. So how can England bridge the gap between mediocre and world class? Firstly we need to go right back to the development stage to appreciate what the Spanish achieved in such a short period of time and that this sudden rise was no fluke.
After the disappointing result in the 1982 world cup the Spanish government poured money in to the sports sectors to launch redevelopments with hopes of future results. One of the many things implemented was that of “B teams” allowing clubs in the Liga BBVA to let their reserve team play in the Spanish equivalent of the championship (Liga Adelante) gaining vital experience at a top level. Barcelona particularly use this to help younger players gain vital experience, the likes of Lionel Messi, Pepe Reina, Xavi and Andres Iniesta all started in the “Barcelona B” side before working their way up to the first team. These reserve teams cannot be promoted to the first division and if the A team gets relegated to the second division it leads to instant relegation as seen with Villareal this season for Spain. Although this gives players vital experience the relegation and promotion rule can often make a season worthless furthermore often the youth squads attract crowds in the 100’s compared to the their A team which would reel in 60,000 weekly not really giving the young players an experience of playing in front of a crowd.