Culture's consequences: Part 7
Mike Holden looks at femininity and explains what makes the all-conquering Spain team of the past four years such a rarity...
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Individualism
Part 3: Collectivism
Part 4: High power distance
Part 5: Low power distance
Part 6: Masculinity
Part 7: Femininity
Part 8: High uncertainty avoidance
Part 9: Low uncertainty avoidance
Femininity: why do special teams like Spain never come around too often?
Throughout the course of this series, I've made conscious attempts to rationalise the information I've put forward, offering supporting stats for each of my theories.
But some things go against normality and aren't supposed to be rationalised so easily, some occurences are so rare and wonderful that they have to be explained differently. This is where logic transcends into something more abstract and it's best to take a philosophical approach.
Great teams always exist, but marvellous teams - the sort of teams we drool over, as they sweep all before them - don't come around too often. When they do, they're nearly always feminine.
Beautiful football doesn't happen by accident. As outlined in my previous article on masculinity, feminine teams are process-orientated (as opposed to end-goal-orientated) and that's the long way around on the path to material success. A lot of time and effort must go into the process for a state of outright superiority to be achieved over more direct masculine principles.
The universal football cycle is like a constant game of cat and mouse. The masculine teams will win by default until such time that a feminine team conjures up a new style of play so confusing and so mesmerising that the best pragmatists cannot find answers.
However, in order to achieve the same ends that masculinity takes for granted in periods of normality, a team built on feminine principles must hit much higher standards with preparation. Many try, but few succeed.
Nonetheless, when the stars align and everything falls into place, the results can be magical. Step forward Spain, exponents of tiki-taka and arguably the greatest team in the history of international football. La Furia Roja, as they like to be known, have created a unique national team identity on the back of the success generated by Barcelona's youth academy at La Masia.
This is Total Football revisited, the era when Holland put themselves on the map following three years of unparalleled success for Ajax in the early 1970s. Except in Holland's case, good enough wasn't good enough. Their fixation with the process proved to be their undoing in the 1974 World Cup final.
Leading 1-0 with a penalty inside two minutes, victory over host nation West Germany should have been a formality but their attempts to humiliate a neighbouring country by toying with them proved costly. Any team built on a masculine ideology would have killed the game off long before the fun could begin.
However, when femininity does rule on the international stage, it makes sense that the underlying principles behind the process have already been formulated at one particular club and practised by key performers on a regular basis for years. If femininity must work harder for longer to meet the same ends as masculinity, then this is the most likely way it will gain the required edge. For France and their triumphs in 1998 and 2000, consider the head start they had with Clairefontaine.
The problem for Spain, or any other feminine team that strikes gold, is time. Like a solar eclipse or any other extraordinary astrological event, success with pure process cannot go on forever. Time never stands still, the clock is always ticking against you.
Conventional football wisdom says the game turns in cycles of around three to four years. It's a theory that the oldest, wisest and most successful coaches swear by, so I see no reason why we should dispute it.
Now consider the following quote from Sir Alex Ferguson last May in the aftermath of Manchester United's Champions League final defeat to Barcelona: "They're the best team we've ever played, the're at the peak in this cycle… Great teams go in cycles and the cycle they're in at the moment is the best in Europe, there's no question of that. How long it lasts, whether they can replace that team is another matter. Can you find players like Xavi, Iniesta and Messi all the time? Probably not."
Twelve months on, Barcelona's star appears to be fading with Real Madrid reclaiming the Spanish league title, Chelsea thwarting them in the Champions League and fatigue leading to the departure of Pep Guardiola. Now the big question is: when will Spain's cycle of superiority end? Has it already ended? Can it possibly stretch far enough to encapsulate one more major tournament?
Nobody is doubting the validity of tiki-taka and the success it has brought to a much-loved footballing nation but there's been a development whereby too much focus is being placed on the process rather than the parts. Some had even hastily asserted that Spain will dominate the international football horizon for many years to come.
However, the magic formula behind Spain's triumphs in 2008 and 2010 seems to be diluting, and it's dangerous to make assumptions that bygone form can be rediscovered or that gifted players can be replaced by other gifted players with the same results.
Many causes are often cited for the end of any cycle of feminine superiority: key relationships break down, hunger diminishes, fatigue sets in, masculinity catches up. In truth, the inquest is pretty irrelevant.
Usually, it's just time.
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