Let’s celebrate a great era instead of mourning its inevitable demise

Epochs won’t be epochs if they don’t end. And quite often, it is in their demise that their shimmering quality stands out like an exploding supernova.

Marcel Proust was right, after all. The true paradises are the paradises that we have lost. And the world of sport has lost nothing quite like the tiki-taka nirvana — an athletic idyll that granted us such sublime watching experience — in recent memory.

It is precisely because of this that the number of people mourning the shocking early exit of the defending champion from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil far outnumbers the ones holding Spanish passports.

For the better part of a decade, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and Co. played a brand of football that seemed celestially touched to those of us who did not have the misfortune of having to counter it on the field.

Turning it into a canvas

In winning three major events — the 2008 and 2012 European Cups and the 2010 World Cup — the men from the land of Picasso and Goya turned the football field into a canvas to express themselves with such awesome intensity and genius that everything they touched seemed at once lofty and soul-lifting.

Time and time again they conquered our hearts with nimble feet that seemed to tiptoe through the tulips as they showcased a brand of football that was mesmerising to watch.

Through the three big championships they won, the Spanish wizards conceded just six goals — one less than they have shipped in their first two games in Brazil!

“This group of players didn’t deserve to end like this,” Spain’s captain and goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, told The Guardian’s Sid Lowe.

Unfortunately, life and sport seldom care about what people deserve, however lofty their customary pedestal, however rich their talents, however rare their gifts, however mighty their status, however impressive their pedigree.

“We have been at the highest point. Now we are at the lowest,” said Andres Iniesta, the man who scored close to the end of extra time to help his country beat Holland in the final in South Africa four years ago.

But then, as T.S. Eliot wrote in The Hollow Men, “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.’’

If the ending is hardly worthy of everything that preceded it, then so be it. For this should not take away from what this great team has accomplished, and more importantly, how it achieved that.

Technically, tactically and aesthetically, this was a team that would lose little in comparison with the very best that have paraded their wares on the world stage.

The Magical Magyars of Hungary featuring Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hidegkuti, Ziltan Czibor, Jozef Bozsik and Gyula Gosics, and Holland’s Total Football giants under coach Rinus Michels starring Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens and Rob Rensenbrink quickly come to mind.

Of course, neither team — Hungary in 1954 and Holland in 1974 — won the World Cup but both played a brand of football that was as irresistible as Spain’s flowing, quick-passing game.

Perhaps the only team that surpassed this Spanish side in terms of skills was Carlos Alberto’s 1970 World Cup winning side — and this, only because it had in its ranks the greatest player of all time, Pele.

“The only team I’ve seen that did things differently was Holland at the 1974. Since then everything looks more or less the same to me…. Their ‘carousel’ style of play was amazing to watch and marvellous for the game,’’ said Carlos Alberto, long before the Spanish giants won our hearts with tiki-taka.

As for the Spanish team, experts might point to at least half a dozen factors in trying to explain the way it imploded in Brazil.

Same style of play

For one thing, their style of play has been pretty much the same for a long time and their opponents have slowly found a way to deal with their tactics. For another, their key personnel are over 30 and the tropical heat too would have taken a toll on tired, ageing legs.

Yet, what was absolutely unexpected was the scale of the disaster. It is the sort of failure that would leave an average star too shattered and too ashamed to kick a ball ever again in competition. But Xavi and Iniesta are about as average as footballers as Marlon Brando was as an actor and Bob Dylan was as a singer-songwriter.

And therein lies the rub. For most of us in life, failure is more common than success. And this is true of sport too. Most sportspersons learn to deal with failure as a matter of course.

That is, if you counted out ones such as Roger Federer, Sachin Tendulkar, Tiger Woods and a team as great as this Spanish football side.

But then, if sport has taught us anything at all, it is this: even demi-gods fail.

“For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground,

And tell sad stories of the death of kings:

How some have been depos'd, some slain in war…”

                                          — Shakespeare, Richard 11

Ah, well, forget death. Let’s just remember the glorious life. We may not see the likes of it for a long, long time. Adios, Espana.