La Roja: From underachievers to champions

New Delhi: Spain`s emergence as a leading soccer force is the best news that the country has to offer amid its political and economic doldrums fuelled by the Euro crisis, says a new book that chronicles how one of Europe`s most impoverished nations became a creative melting pot of creative talent.

"La Roja: A Journey Through Spanish Football" by veteran journalist-writer Jimmy Burns covers a period of history during which the geographical epicentre of the game, with its early English influences, has moved over the last century from the Basque region, across the Atlantic to South America, and back again to Madrid and Catalonia where two clubs, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, not only share a majority of local fan clubs around Spain but command a mass global following live, on TV and on the net.

"From its early beginnings when the first football was played in the mining towns of southern Spain and near the shipyards of Bilbao by British engineers and sailors, through to the influx of South American stars and other Europeans, the engagement of foreigners with home-grown Spanish talent overcame political adversity and produced football of sublime skill, passion and huge entertainment value. But it proved a long road," the book, published by Simon & Schuster, says.

It takes us on a journey through some of the extraordinary characters, games, and moments that have defined Spanish football from the early days when a few enthusiasts developed their talent kicking a ball around on a piece of industrial waste-ground or beach, to the emergence of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid and a national team that, encompassing all that was most brilliant in the Spanish League, became the World Champions.

The book was written before Spain`s second Euro Cup win this year. Burns, who authored a best-selling biography of Diego Maradona and widely acclaimed books on FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, digs deep into the roots of the most popular sport, to look at how football played in Spain became the most admired in the world.

"The feel-good factor generated in most parts of the county by the 2010 World Cup win of La Roja translated into a more enduring popular support for the Spanish national team than at any time in history, not just because of its success but also because of the quality of it," Burns writes.

The book says that much of the history of Spanish football is inevitably driven by the rivalry of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, their politics, their players, their power, their stadiums and their huge fan base.

"Together in recent years they have been the beneficiaries of huge transfer investments, and the products of their youth academies (more so in the case of FC Barcelona) have evolved into a new generation of highly marketable stars. Looming large over the quality of La Roja is the brilliance of Spain`s two biggest clubs that in recent years have surged past the rest of La Liga - and perhaps the world.

"Such a duopoly - dominating as it does TV revenue, sponsorship and the transfer market, and with a debt burden softened by the deeply entrenched political, banking and business support each club can rely on - risks turning La Liga into a duel between globetrotters," the writer says.

So, how long can the success of Spanish football last? Burns says teams often tend to lose their hunger after too much success. But he begs to differ as far as Spain is concerned.

"I would like to believe that this journey through Spanish football is far from over, and that the dynasty of La Roja could last a decade or more," he claims.


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