Luis Milla’s misery

Typing the words ‘Spain’ and ‘failure’ on Spanish Google, the search engine immediately provided the results: ‘Olympic’ and the name ‘Luis Milla’. Rarely has a footballing nation done such justice to the term ‘the beautiful game’ but as the senior and junior teams lifted their trophies this summer that included yet another European Championship victory, one would never imagine the word ‘failure’ to ever be associated to Spanish football.

However, against Honduras, Spain’s footballing success finally came to a halt. Squandering their 10th clear chance at goal, it seemed inevitable that Milla’s men would be sent packing despite boasting more talent than most, if not all, the other teams participating. Lethargic, over-confident and at times desperate, it seemed neither the players nor the Coach had a way to resolve their defensive woes and their attacking impotence.

“I am very disappointed because I think we deserved more. The person responsible is myself,” said the inconsolable Coach after Spain’s second consecutive defeat. The Press seemed to agree. AS likened the defence to a ‘horror show’ whilst Mundo Deportivo accused Milla and his men of relegating Spain’s fashionable football, their style of play and their successful model to the floor.

There is a fine line between success and failure. Had Spain been given the penalty many felt they deserved against Honduras or played with 11 men for the entirety of the match against Japan then perhaps we would be praising Milla’s coaching style. However, since Spain persistently hit the woodwork and suffered with certain refereeing decisions, the tactician’s every decision was scrutinised and subsequently criticised. 

Perhaps the greatest problem with the Spanish Olympic side was the lack of creativity within the team. With all the players choosing to go through the middle, the team offered no wide threat whilst the midfield missed Thiago Alcantara’s ingenuity – the player whose imagination and ability tore defences apart to guide his side to the European Under-21 title last year in Denmark. Without him, Juan Mata was burdened with providing the creativity and without like-minded players alongside him, he failed to make the necessary difference.

Many blamed Milla for opting to play a double pivot in midfield especially since the team never faced sides that looked to compete for possession. Meanwhile, the likes of Ander Herrera, who always made an impression when he was brought on, started on the bench. Disjointed and broken, Spain looked like a set of individual players looking for the ball as opposed to a compact team with a clear strategy. Poor defending, lack of cohesion and the players’ emotional collapse after conceding goals contributed to their eventual downfall.

Failure to find a solution to their problems led many to speculate that the team were simply too confident and complacent against what they perceived to be inferior opposition. Journalists pointed to the fact Spanish players were present in the Opening Ceremony enjoying themselves at a time when they ought to have been preparing for their upcoming game. Such a lackadaisical approach to their matches led to desperate performances in the second half of their games and with two of their opponents snatching early goals, Spain found it difficult to identify ways in which they could pierce solid and organised defences desperate to cling on to their narrow leads.

Players such as Martin Montoya were quick to point out that their failure was not down to the Coach but the players. There was little Milla could do about Alcantara’s absence or even Herrera’s injury that the Coach explained was the reason why he was reluctant to play him for a full 90 minutes. Indeed, losses can never be attributed to one person but as many critics pointed out, the tactician still has to explain why such little time was devoted to preparing the team for the tournament, both mentally and physically. Only Mata seemed to possess the never say die attitude in a squad brimming with experience.

Undefeated in the qualifiers for the 2013 European Under-21 Championship and winners of last’s year tournament, the Spanish FA decided not to renew the Coach’s contract as it appears they, alongside agree, it was Spain’s greatest failure.