MADRID, SPAIN – Friday should prove to be a very important day in the build-up to Euro 2012 . Vicente del Bosque, coach of defending champions Spain, named his squad for Wednesday's friendly against Venezuela . As this is their last game before the final 23 for the tournament is decided, the squad provided pointers as to how Spain plan to become the first ever side to win three consecutive major tournaments.
The announcement was picked up by most, if not all, English language media - both print and web - and there was a clear consensus on its most newsworthy aspect. Some variation of Fernando Torres dropped could be seen from England to the United States to (even) Malta, most subheads alluding to the Chelsea man's now well-chronicled goal-scoring problems. Struggling, goal-shy, poor form. There were numerous ways Torres' struggles were described. Most treated Spain's announcement as headline news. (Editor's note: FOXSoccer.com ran the Associated Press' report with the headline "Torres, Pedro dropped from Spain squad".)
TORRES: BY THE NUMBERS Torres' struggles pre-date his January 2011 acquisition by Chelsea, with the former Liverpool star scoring only nine goals in 26 all-competition matches before being purchased by the Blues.
Season Club Apps Goals 2007-08 Liverpool 46 33 2008-09 Liverpool 38 17 2009-10 Liverpool 32 22 2010-11 Liverpool 26 9 2010-11 Chelsea 18 1 2011-12 Chelsea 30 4 Numbers are all-competition totals.
There is one, major problem with this treatment: Torres being left out was widely expected. Spain boss Vicente del Bosque had signaled in advance that his patience with the off-form forward was running out, a sentiment that could be seen in how the striker has been used.
Torres has not been a regular first-team pick for some time. Since scoring the winner in the Euro 2008 final, Torres has been slowly sliding out of the Spanish picture, scoring only twice in Euro 2012 qualifying (both against Liechtenstein). The striker, formerly lauded as el niño , was a peripheral figure at the last World Cup and appeared in just three of Spain's eight Euro 2012 qualifiers.
If you read to the end of some of the Torres stories, you could find the real news: Valencia's Roberto Soldado has been called up to replace the Chelsea man. Fernando Llorente and Álvaro Negredo (the other center forwards in the squad) were widely ignored. Meanwhile, many reports completely missed del Bosque's most interesting choice - the exclusion of Barcelona attacker Pedro Rodríguez.
While Torres has been stumbling through recent seasons, Pedro has been a key member of a Barcelona team which has won 13 of 16 possible trophies. He has scored meaningful goals in huge games, including last year's Champions League final. He was more important than Torres to Spain's 2010 World Cup, starting both the semifinal and final. Just 24 years old, the winger should now be coming into his prime, but injuries and a drop in form mean he has been cut.
The decision to replace Pedro with Athletic Bilbao's Iker Muniain adds another notable twist. Muniain is only 19 but has been flying recently in an exciting Bilbao side. His selection also ties neatly into this season's emergence of an outstanding generation of footballers at Athletic under the guidance of eccentric Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa, a development pointedly referred to by del Bosque in Friday's press conference. (Pedro's omission also ties into the big debate being held in Spain - whether three years of constant club and international success has finally caught up with Barcelona's players.)
In fairness, some papers did take an insightful approach, but it was more common to see leads reference Chelsea's "flop" or "misfit" than talk about Soldado or note Pedro's absence. While it's difficult to read the minds of writers and editors, Torres' omission happens to fit an existing template we've seen too often used since el niño grew out of his moniker.
Through his dog days at Liverpool, and especially since Chelsea spent £50 million to sign him in January 2011, this storyline has been running pretty much non-stop: Torres used to be good, but now he is bad, and his signing was a disastrous waste of money by Roman Abramovich, and Everton and US goalkeeper Tim Howard has more league goals in 2012, and...boom. Story.
And unfortunately, such coverage of soccer is rampant, particularly in Britain. Most events are not reported on their own merits but written about to fit previously established narratives. Occurrences which do not easily fit are made to fit or (more likely) just ignored. Recent examples of these soap opera storylines: Andre Villas-Boas is too young to control the Chelsea dressing room; Steven Gerrard's inspirational leadership makes him the outstanding candidate for England captain; England failed at World Cup 2010 because Fabio Capello is a bad manager. Other long-running sagas: Arsene Wenger is an out-of-touch professor; Alex Ferguson is a master of mind-games; Rafael Benítez is addicted to zonal marking.
There are presumably good commercial reasons for pushing familiar and easy-to-follow storylines. A big Torres splash likely attracts more attention from a casual reader than a headline of 'Muniain in for Pedro'. A preference for emphasizing the 'local' aspect of any international story is to be expected. But a tendency among British football writers to avoid actually analyzing games or tactics also plays a part. It's more difficult to look deeply at a squad or player and pick out strengths and weaknesses than to quickly dash off a story about whichever big English club is currently 'in crisis'. Chelsea are in the spotlight at the moment, so even the announcement of a Spanish national squad is just another act in the drama at Stamford Bridge.
This approach provides a certain superficial entertainment but often hides important developments which actually take place. Fans are denied a balanced or in-depth look at the real stories of the day. Also (and without overstating the influence of soccer journalists), a preference for discussing the personal foibles of a few big name players rather than picking apart their tactical or technical deficiencies is arguably why England's 'golden generation' always 'underperform' at international tournaments.
Writers should be able to explain decisions made by managers. They should have a go at predicting what outcomes these decisions might have. You would think a story about the Spanish squad being announced would help readers learn how del Bosque's side has evolved since the last World Cup. It could provide an opportunity to write about new players to look out for this summer.
Last week's reporting just told us that Fernando Torres was no longer as good as he used to be. That's not really news.