Spain won, but whose¬†victory is it?

We’ve all heard the old saying that success has multiple fathers whereas failure is an orphan. In the immediate aftermath of Spain beating The Netherlands 1-0 to win World Cup 2010, an anonymous reader on a forum commented, “Barcelona won, with help from Iker Casillas”. Another reader said, “Barcelona, the first and last club to win the World Cup”.

These were a reference to the fact that more than half of the Spain team which won World Cup 2010 were Barcelona players – Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Pique, Busquets, Pedro, Villa (who has just joined Barcelona), and Fabregas (inevitably on his way to Barcelona). Plus Victor Valdes on the bench.

Not just that, the style of play so closely resembled Barcelona. Busquets anchoring midfield, Xavi and Iniesta bamboozling opponents with their passing, Pedro an impact substitute, and Puyol and Pique forming the central defensive partnership. The Catalan media is quick to call this a victory of Barcelona.

An extraordinary development at the end of yesterday’s final was that the Spanish flag was not the only flag displayed by the winning team. Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernandez took out the flag of Catalunya and celebrated with it. To the uninitiated, Catalunya or Catalonia is the autonomous region in the northeast of Spain which was an independent nation for most of its history until the Spanish state annexed it the 19th century. A sizeable proportion of the 7 million Catalans wish for an independent Catalan nation. Some Catalans don’t even approve of Catalan players representing Spain.

It was amidst this background that the two proud Catalan players unfurled the Catalunya flag. By seizing an unexpected time to trumpet their Catalan identity, they had not only risked angering mainstream Spain, but also brought credence to the theory that this was a Catalan victory as much as a Spanish one.

Xavi and Puyol celebrating with the Catalan flag after Spain's victory in World Cup 2010

So while Barcelona Football Club and the region of Catalunya can both claim the victory that should have been Spain’s, another entity can bizarrely claim credit: The Netherlands. Yes, you read that right.

The present-day Spain team has an indelible Dutch imprint in it. The Total Football philosophy of the game that Dutch masters like Rinus Michels (coach) and Johan Cruyff (star player) brought to the 1974 and 1978 World Cups influenced the style of Barcelona Football Club. Hardly a surprise considering that Johan Cruyff himself was manager of Barcelona in the 90s and reinvented the club in his mould. Among other things, he married a Catalan girl and named his son Jordi after the patron saint of Catalunya. Catalunya’s adoped son shaped Barcelona Football Club, and Barcelona Football Club would go on to shape the world-beating Spanish national team.

It’s an irony that the Dutch themselves deviated from their Total Football philosophy and concentrated more on preventing Spain from playing. As Johan Cruyff himself said recently, Spain have become the true practioners of the Dutch philosophy. It’s always a good thing when a positive, attacking and entertaining side win the World Cup, and Spain has shown that this philosophy always reaps dividends. 2008’s European Champions are now World Champions. Just as Barcelona’s current team is the best ever and has two recent Champions League triumphs to its name, the Spanish national team are easily the best in their history. Not just that, they are now easily the best team in the world.