FIFA Fair Play Campaign Marred By World’s Best Team

by Sam Wheatley

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Spain, currently not the best team in the world according to the FIFA World Ranking but probably the best team according to anyone who has been watching world football for the past three years, were embroiled in a post-match bust-up with Chile after a friendly on Friday. Replays conclusively show that Spain’s winning penalty should not have been awarded, and the subsequent brawl the ensued came on the same day as the FIFA fair play campaign.

Sepp Blatter had said “together we have to take responsibility and play our part in showing fairness, impartiality and solidarity” as part of his organisation’s campaign. On the day designated to honesty and integrity, Alvaro Arbeloa dived – no sense in mincing words – to con a penalty out of referee Laperriere. Immediately, fairness was hoisted out of the window by a team that we all hold in the highest regard. It also brings back memories of some of the darker moments of the Spanish national team and of La Liga.

Spain almost deserved their World Cup win in 2010 because of some of the breath-taking football that they played to get there. Their technical brilliance has never been in question, but I say ‘almost’ due to some questionable behaviour during the tournament. Although Howard Webb failed to send the Netherlands’ Nigel de Jong off for a pretty horrendous Kung-fu kick in the final, Spain dived and whinged their way to victory. A clear foul on Eljero Elia led to Spain’s breakaway goal from Andres Iniesta, which was enough to win a game which would most likely have gone to penalties.

We should not be naïve enough to believe that other nations do not cheat in one form or another. We have seen players from all four corners of the globe take a tumble and earn their teams an unfair advantage. We have also seen players bicker their way into partiality from referees, but for the most part, these incidents are isolated whereas for Spain cheating in one form or another seems to be part of a footballing culture that we all seem to be senselessly gush over, forgetting the dives and Joan Capdevila getting Ricardo Carvalho sent off for nothing during the last World Cup which his country eventually won.

La Liga itself is not a competitive league – it consists of two exceptional teams and then a heap of utter rubbish below. Wondering who will win the league out of Real Madrid and Barcelona is as interesting as trying to decide whose kit you prefer. In both instances, it is usually blue and red anyway. But Barcelona themselves have been known to let themselves down on occasions through poor sportsmanship and balls-out cheating.

The fans cannot escape either. England fans should remember the friendly in 2004 where England’s black players were racially abused by Spain fans. Other incidents include the racist taunts aimed at Samuel Eto’o by Real Zaragoza fans in 2006 which forced him to walk off the pitch with the match ball, the banana that was thrown at Carlos Kameni and ‘those’ Luis Aragones comments about Thierry Henry at Euro 2004. What links the on and off-field behaviour is a lack of respect for the opposition, whoever they are.

There is an argument that if you can get away with diving, winding up the opposition and conning referees that it is a legitimate tactic. I would like to compare that, if I may, with the Stoke set-up, which as much as it upsets people is a genuine tactic. That is, it is a team built specifically for a multiple strategic purposes that it carries out efficiently. Stoke usually impose this stratagem within the laws of the game, however. It is genuine and acceptable (if ugly) because it is not a con. It is legitimately football, and at the end of day Stoke really aren’t cheating anyone out of anything. Spain’s on and off-field behaviour is designed to intimidate and con, as if their ability wasn’t intimidating enough already.

It is a level of honesty that, as spectators of the sport and essentially the people that pay to keep the game going come to expect from the professionals that are paid incredible sums of money to entertain us. It seems anachronistic and stereotypical to consider Spain a bunch of cheats, and more than it is to consider England a kick-and-rush side. It is not the old ‘Latin team’ argument – they have most recently upset another team that actually speak Spanish. Rather more, it is a growing sense of superiority that must never be questioned and must absolutely be upheld. With it, Spain’s respect for other teams disappears and as a team they become downright unlikeable.

That was no more obvious to see than when some Spain players pulled a Barcelona top on to Cesc Fabregas after the World Cup win, infuriating Arsenal supporters and forcing even those who love the way Spain play to question the attitude of the Spanish national team. The set-up is designed to irk and disrupt. They say you should never show your opponents too much respect, but you should at least show them a little.

Spain continue to impress and annoy. The two are, perhaps, mutually exclusive and this is the most upsetting aspect of this dichotomy of all. They clearly have the ability to not have to resort to dishonesty and cheating, yet they do. Short of making the old ‘honest England argument’, I am saying that no other nation has behaved as badly as Spain have over the years. No other nation has been so spiteful, so petty and outrageously disrespectful as the back-to-back European Championship and World Cup winners. A dive and a fight in a friendly on the day of the FIFA fair play campaign could not represent this current incarnation of Spain any better.

Follow me on Twitter @samuelefrumento

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  • leitrimgooner

    its gone beyond a joke spanish national teams or barcelona werent winning squat playing fair now this cheating diving and tactical fouling they win everything. a barca player dives then ten men gather around the ref and the opposition player start to push and shove and and the player is carded. the point im making is how good are these teams or players that have to resort to theese tactics its time for fifa to act only the captain alloud to talk to the ref and only when summoned by the ref every proffessional game reveiwed by a panel of former refeeres and lenghty bans and fines for both player and club/FA name and shame whats the point of zero tolerence of drugs in sport when other forms of cheating are rampant. there is no other sport this crap would go on in respect campaign load of cobblers

  • darren

    couldn’t agree more, it’s an utter joke. Spain hold both the World Cup and the Euro’s, what have the Dutch won? A few qualifying groups

  • dexy longshot


  • Peter Dreyer

    Purists will always claim that it doesn’t matter as long as you’re winning. Personally I think Alves, Pedro and Busquets are some of the most disgusting football players I’ve ever had the displeasure of having to watch. What makes it sad like you say is that arguably, they don’t even need to do it.

  • brian

    Jealousy is so ugly. Face it guys, the EPL is no longer THE league. Heck, the best players in the EPL are former Liga players and nearly every player on Spain’s bench would start for England. Spain and Barca are bad sports? They really seem like the best sportsmen I’ve seen especially compared with American athletes. No boasting, putting down the opponent, no cheap shots… FCB is the least penalized team in the champions league. I could go on and on guys. When you never see a dive in the EPL (I see one in every game), maybe you can complain about Spain. Get over your insecurities and enjoy some of the best football ever.

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