Having been greeted with the watery warmth of the late spring sun (our Polish driver assures us that summer does not start here until 23 June) and the real 'calor’ of the local population, Spain go to work today.
Like you and I and the world's entire working population, football coaches have a plethora of attitudes to what constitutes 'good work' and how best to achieve maximum performance. Think about yourself and your community of friends or family. If someone is tired how many remedies are there – a power nap, couch potato status, going for a run or a swim to boost endorphins, a cup of coffee … romantic pursuits?
At this late stage of the European season there are endless fatigue issues to deal with. Some great players have not even made it here to Poland and Ukraine – Carles Puyol and David Villa being two examples – while others are in tournament mode but carrying either physical burdens or lacking the mental freshness which allows improvisation and impishness to flourish on matchday.
Some coaches will favour rest and recuperation for the players, minimal training. Others will lean heavily on tactical work and DVD briefings. There will be an assortment of team-building exercises, lectures, psychologists and masseurs.
Spain, however, go back to the very basics – get the ball out and play until darkness like you did when you were a kid. Today La Roja will hold their first training session on Polish soil, at the Gniewino Mistral sports ground, and by 19.00CET their second session will be beginning.
I have been covering Spain for their last four tournaments and the two victorious ones have their roots in the scintillating double sessions which Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque schedule.
Everything is focused on ball work (if you accept that a warm-up is a given) and above all their famous 'rondos'. It is a basic exercise to put seven or eight players in a circle and have one or two in the middle trying to chase and rob the ball. It is a passing exercise which contains the aims of promoting sharpness, mental agility, touch, vision, team work, pressing … and fun.
Never in my life, Brazil included, have I seen the ball zip between boot, thigh, head, chest (even knee) like it does when Spain are flying. When it is working well you can see the players surging in confidence, sharpness, hunger for the ball and you hear equally sharp banter and laughter.
These magic circles will not win the tournament on their own but they are, in a way, an antidote to the stresses and strains of the long season and a return to the basic thing which makes this squad special: their love of and facility with the ball. Double sessions – you would have difficulty getting these men in red OFF the training pitch. A trabajar! (To work!)
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