Sport

REVIEW: Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble by Graham Hunter

This is the story of the greatest achievement in the history of international football. After decades of failure, Spain won the European Championship in 2008 and then the World Cup in 2010. At Euro 2012 they became the first team to win three consecutive tournament titles. Graham Hunter was inside the dressing room as the players celebrated after the finals of the World Cup and Euro 2012. His access-all-areas pass at all three tournaments has resulted in remarkable eyewitness accounts and new interviews with star players and the men behind the scenes.

I loved this book. I’ve talked before about how I support the Spanish National Team and how the 2008-2012 era is just my favourite thing and it was a pure delight to watch Spain’s success happening in real time, so reading Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble was just as delightful.

It doesn’t just follow the events of the three tournaments and give a play by play of each of Spain’s matches. The tournaments are a major part of it, but it also looks at the history of the Spanish National Team, the legacy of the coaches that led the National Team to victory, and how the players in this historic era got to where they are. The youth system is a major factor and it was interesting to learn about how the Royal Spanish Football Federation, the governing body for football in Spain, builds up and invests in players when they are so young. It’s not just teaching these young players the skills they need, but teaching them a good work ethic and attitude, and how to work as a team. This book makes clear how so many of the golden generation had grown up playing with each other, either for their club or their country, and how club rivalries mean nothing when they have a Spain shirt on – no matter how hard José Mourinho may have tried.

There are interviews with players, organisers, pundits, and coaching staff in Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble. The coaches and their staff are given their due and it’s clear that the players have respect for them. It’s interesting and impressive to hear how some of the more experienced players, like captain Iker Casillas, Carlos Puyol and Xavi (who acted as a second captain to the national side really), were involved in some big decision making and all players were allowed to share their thoughts. Luis Aragonés who coached the national side to victory in 2008, instilled a sense of pride and confidence in the players and wasn’t afraid to make big changes to the team, and then Vicente del Bosque who took over and coached Spain from 2008 – 2016, ran with the foundations that Aragonés had set.

Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble is definitely a book for fans of the Spanish National Team, but I think any football fan would gain something from this book. To see how it takes decades to produce players and a team of this calibre is important. Spain’s success didn’t happen overnight, and they had a lot of doubters, but the way this group of players, so many of whom were involved in at least two of the major tournaments, achieved something so extraordinary is to be admired. The players in this era were friends first rather than teammates and how they learnt to read each other so well, offer advice and support in important moments (it’s thanks to Pepe Reina’s advice and experience that Casillas saved Paraguayan José Cardozo’s penalty at the World Cup) and just work together so seamlessly is just wonderful.

You might think Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble would be a dry read but it’s actually really entertaining and often funny. There’s a lot of witty anecdotes from players and staff and Hunter does a great job at explaining events and finding humour in tense situations.

I had a huge grin on my face pretty much the whole time I was reading Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble. It was so much fun reliving Spain’s golden years, there were some things I knew or remembered but so many others were new to me and it was wonderful to learn more about these players and these teams that were such a solid unit. I just love these Spanish players and their friendships and this book really captures how the Spanish National Team really had captured lightning in a bottle and managed to hold on to it for six years. 5/5.

REVIEW: Don’t Take Me Home (2017)

Documentary about the Welsh international football team’s rise through the FIFA World Rankings, and their first international tournament for 58 years when they got to the Euro’s in France in 2016.

I’m half English, half Welsh, with my dad being Welsh. I was staying with him in Spain during a lot of the 2016 Euros, and have fond memories watching Wales’ matches (and also Iceland’s) because they were the underdogs and it was the first time Wales had been in a major international tournament for decades. Perhaps it’s because of those memories, and thoughts of my dad who died three months ago, that made me decide to watch Don’t Take Me Home, but I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

Rather than being a comprehensive history of Welsh international football, Don’t Take Me Home focusses on how coach Chris Coleman took these players who were grieving for their former coach and were 117th in the rankings, to the Euros and making a far bigger impact than just about anyone could imagine.

The focus is on Euros 2016 and follows the team through the Group Stages and beyond. It’s a talking heads type documentary with players and staff commenting on their thoughts and feelings before, during and after games. The footage of the games is interspersed with players commentary, and the matches are just as thrilling as when I watched them four years ago. Don’t Take Me Home also gives an insight into the players mentality and how they gel together, on and off the pitch. It really shows how this group of players are friends and that while naturally they trained hard and talked tactics during the tournament, they still could wind down and have fun.

One thing Don’t Take Me Home showed really well was the passion of the Welsh fans and how the teams’ success and drive made such an impact. Wales is a small country, one of the smallest in the tournament, and now it’s a country that other people have heard of. As I said, my dad was Welsh. He lived in Spain for eighteen years, and for so long the locals down the pub (my dad did learn Spanish) would presume he was English which naturally annoyed him a lot. It wasn’t until Gareth Bale started playing for Real Madrid that he had a point of reference for the Spanish (“Soy Galés como Gareth Bale”) and watching the matches down his local, with Wales doing better than Spain that year, made them take notice.

The footage showing the Welsh fans, both in France following the team around the country, and the ones back home in Wales in fan parks and down their local pubs, is just great. Their joy is infectious and Don’t Take Me Home is filled with a lot of feel good moments.

While Don’t Take Me Home will certainly strike a chord with Welsh fans, I think anyone who is a fan of football and underdogs will enjoy this insight into a team that achieved great things. 4/5.

Why I love… Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

I love Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. They are two of the greatest tennis players who have ever lived and they are my favourite players. I am one of those people who likes and supports both of them, no matter who they are playing. When they end up playing each other I’m often torn because I love them both and never really know who I want to win, but I do know their matches will be incredible.

Theirs has been a rivalry that’s been going for thirteen years now. They’ve played each other 37 times so far, with Nadal leading with 23 wins to Federer’s 14 wins. Probably their most famous match is the Wimbledon 2008 final. It was pure magic and one of the first tennis matches I remember being riveted by, it was an example of phenomenal tennis. They’ve made each other improve their game and have set so many records individually and together. They’ve each had their problems and injuries and for them to come back in 2017, with Federer 36 years old and Nadal 31, and win the four major Grand Slams between them is incredible. This year Federer won Wimbledon for a record eighth time, and met Nadal in the Australian Open where he won in five sets. While Nadal won the US Open and he won his tenth French Open title (another record) and firmly cemented himself as the King of Clay.

Last month was the inaugural Laver Cup, a tournament organised by Roger Federer in the style of golf’s Ryder Cup, with Team Europe playing against Team World. It was an event that had its critics before it started as it doesn’t affects any players standings and was seen as more of an exhibition tournament more than something players want to win. Doubters were proved wrong as everyone involved was desperate to play their best and to win.

One of the highlights of the tournament was that Federer and Nadal, both playing for Team Europe, played a doubles match on the same time – the first time they’ve ever played together like that. It was a thrilling match and their opponents from Team World, Sam Querrey and Jack Sock, put up a fight, especially in the second set but Nadal and Federer went on to win the match, even if there were some slight mishaps where they were unused to playing together. Team Europe went on to win the tournament after Roger Federer defeated Nick Kyrgios, when in his excitement Rafa went and jumped into Roger’s arms!

The Laver Cup really highlighted how these two sportsmen not only respect each other, but how well they get along off the court. They are some of the fiercest rivals in sport ever but they have also become almost friends. It was wonderful seeing them on the same side, supporting each other and the younger players on the team. To be honest I don’t think I’d ever seen Rafa smile and laugh as much as he did that weakened, especially whenever he was with Roger. It was such a great tournament – and being able to watch their doubles match live was the best £6.99 I’ve ever spent (I got a Sky Sports 24 Hours Pass on Now TV).

They are both getting older, and they will have to retire at some point, but until then I’ll enjoy watching them play – both against one another, and against anyone else. I could write even more about Rafa and Roger and why I like them so much, but really it can be narrowed down to two things that applies to them both. 1. They are very talented tennis players and 2. They seem like generally nice, charismatic people. I could say so much about them, using their own quotes to describe each other, but I don’t want this post to be even longer than it already is.

I love them both and I’ll finish this post with a video from the Laver Cup someone highlighting Federer and Nadal’s friendship. Though I also have to mention this video, where Roger and Rafa are supposed to be filming an advert for a charity match and they cannot stop laughing – if I’m ever feeling down I watch this video and it always makes me feel better.

S is for the Spanish National Team

I am British (half English and half Welsh if you want to really get into it) but I’ve been supporting Spain’s national football team since 2007. That was when England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 so as my dad lived in Spain, I decided I’d support them for the tournament. I didn’t know I’d fall in love with the players and their style of play and ten years on would still be a huge fan. Supporting a national football team, especially one that’s not your actual nationality, can be a bit tough and stressful but it’s still a lot of fun.

I suppose I was quite lucky really. I started following their games and learning more about the team as it was on the rise. Spain won Euro 2008 in a 1-0 final against Germany, Fernando Torres scored the winning goal. He and David Villa were amazing throughout the tournament and it was the start of my love for Villa, a man who’s gone on to be Spain’s top scorer, and Iker Casillas, Spain’s goalkeeper and Captain – some of his saves were magnificent.

Spain went onto win the 2010 World Cup. I watched the final in my dad’s local bar and it was a tense experience – especially with how dirty the match was – but the reaction when Iniesta scored in the final minutes of extra time was worth it.

There was a tonne of expectation placed onto Spain at the start of Euro 2012, if they went on to win it they’d make history by being the first team to win three tournaments back to back. And win it they did.

There’s so many great things about Spain’s team during their golden era. The midfield was made up of Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso and they had complete control of the field. The defence of Puyol, Pique and Sergio Ramos was brilliant, Puyol would keep them in check and if anything did get past them Iker Casillas was in goal. Their style of play with the tika taka, keeping the ball on the ground and lots of short, quick passes had a big effect on the game of football and how other teams played against them. Some think it’s a boring way to play but I enjoy it because it shows how well connected the team is.

Spain crashed and burned at the 2014 World Cup but they did better at the Euros last year. Players are retiring and new ones are joining the squad, there’s a new coach and a new captain, but I will always continue supporting Spain.

J is for Jesús Navas

This post is going to be a bit of a superficial one. Jesús Navas is one attractive man, he’s also a very talented footballer.

I support Spain’s National Team and that’s where I first saw him play. He’s a brilliant right winger and is really quick and can keep the ball. I don’t support any Premier League team but I know he plays for Manchester City and I do like seeing him and David Silva (my other favourite Spanish player and also the most underappreciated player in both the PL and Spain’s NT in my opinion) play together because they really gel.

Jesús Navas has super striking eyes and an attractive face. His eyes are a really pale blue, almost grey, and with his darker skin they really stand out. I once shared a gif of him on Twitter and it got way more traction than I thought it would and it was pretty much just because people found him hot! His charm comes across well in the video Q+A below, especially at about the 02:25 mark where he gets asked why his eyes are so pretty and he gives a really cute answer.

Reminiscing about World Cup 2010 & being excited for World Cup 2014

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Me at my Dad’s local after Spain won the World Cup

I really enjoy watching football but it seems that that part of me is a bit of an unintentional secret. I don’t support a team that’s in the English Premier League, or any UK team to be honest, so when it’s football season I’m one of those people who is amused by people freaking out on social media when a team wins or loses.

That being said I do support the Spanish National Team and have done since 2007 – long story short, England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 so since my dad lives in Spain I decided to support Spain instead and I never looked back. I know a lot about the Spanish NT and their players and often find myself following players rather than team e.g. I really like David Silva so always get strangely pleased when he scores for Manchester City.

So when it gets to summer and it’s the World Cup or the Euros I get rather excited. I try to watch all of Spain’s matches live (and get very invested and shout at the TV in a mixture of English and Spanish) and am generally quite invested in the stupid sport. In a World Cup I also cheer on Ghana since my mum grew up there – Swarez’s handball against Ghana in South Africa in 2010 caused me and mum to swear and shout quite loudly, the consequent penalty shoot-out was incredibly stressful.

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