The beauty of any great book is when the author allows the reader to feel as they are part of it. If it is a crime thriller, you turn each heart-thumping page hoping the heroic protagonist escapes the clutches of the evil killer. In Spain by Graham Hunter, it is easy to visualise yourself as the 24th man in the all-conquering Spanish squads that created history in winning three consecutive major international tournaments. You’re made to feel part of the dressing room, the journeys to and from the stadiums and training complexes, part of the jokes and the camaraderie that made the side so successful. This is done through excellent first hand accounts from the author, as well as direct quotes from the key actors involved, including management, players and support staff. Hunter was given access to the training facilities, players and even invited into the winning dressing rooms following the latter two triumphs.
Spanish football is now everywhere, fuelled by the success of Barcelona and Real Madrid, and Sky’s wall-to-wall coverage. Therefore the names within the pages of this book will be all too familiar to most readers. Hunter has been at the forefront of Spanish football coverage in the UK, living and working in Spain since 2002. His debut book, Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, was an excellent delve into the world of the Catalan giants. This book follows a similar format for the national side, examining the key figures and moments behind the astronomical success.
The story begins in 2006/07, with the clash of egos between Real Madrid legend Raul and then national team manager Luis Aragones dominating the early pages, setting the scene for the 2008 triumph. Hunter then goes on to analyse each tournament (the European Championships of 2008 and 2012; the World Cup of 2010) in great detail, offering unique and unusual insights. I found it fascinating that the players drank red wine with their afternoon and evening meals, and were allowed nights off during the tournament, even allowed to set their own curfews. Being anglo-centric, we associate this type of freedom with 6am benders, controversial photographs and police cells, but unlike their English counterparts these Spaniards didn’t take advantage. Amazing what trust, and an adult relationship between manager and players, can achieve.
Being extremely picky, the only parts of the book that didn’t personally appeal, were the match reports of what actually happened on the pitch. I much preferred what happened in between the matches, although I can see how it may appeal to others and will probably become more pertinent as time wears on and the memories of those nights fade.
This is a must read for football fans of any nationality and cannot be recommended highly enough, all the more given that Spain will look to defend their European Championships trophy this summer and prove that there is still life left in the old dog.
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