Exactly four years ago, this space gave me the unexpected chance to start a writing career. At some point in the early noughties, I had developed the questionable habit – for a Spaniard, at least – of reading a foreigner’s opinion about Spanish football. During a two-year spell living in London, I started to devour Phil Ball's captivating articles every Monday morning, which made me a regular visitor of ESPNsoccernet.com. I quickly discovered other great writers to kill some (actually, quite a bit of) time between meetings at the office, just like many of you are doing at this exact moment.
A few weeks before Euro 08, while I was looking for some stuff to read about the tournament, I saw the banner that has already become a classic, ('Soccernet needs you!') and decided to give it a go. A couple of days later I sent my 250 words about Spain with a tiny glimmer of hope. Could I really be ESPNsoccernet's correspondent for my own team during the tournament? Sounded fantastic, but quite far-fetched indeed.
I've re-read those 250 words a number of times since 2008, and I still can't understand why some charitable editor in Hammersmith picked me. My choice of topic was boring (the Spanish FA's poor job in a number of dimensions, hardly entertaining), my writing sat somewhere between the baroque and the flamboyant, and in fact I emailed 300 words instead of the requested 250, anticipating my ever-present struggle to be concise.
In any case, it all worked out just fine. I got the nod and somehow managed to capitalise on my main advantage over any other correspondent: I was physically in Austria and Switzerland, invited by an extremely close childhood friend who works for one of the main sponsors of the Spanish national team, and therefore watching every single training session and match live, travelling with the bunch of journos whom I had always heard / read since I was a kid and in general having an incredible time.
My lucky streak didn’t end up there. After 44 years behaving like the 1588’s Armada, Spain finally clicked in a top-level tournament and won the whole thing, which meant that, rather than posting for three matches and go home, I kept writing for a solid month. One thing led to another, and even though I had to go back to reality when Euro 08 finished, a few months later Phil decided to take a sabbatical and Soccernet asked me to cover for him. The rest is history.
In any case, I do have to say that even though I enjoy writing traditional weekly columns, a bizarre mixture of informality and superstition makes me relish that time in the summer when a big tournament comes up and I get Soccernet's invitation to write Spain’s blog. The format allows me to behave a tad bit more irreverent than usual, and the fact that Spain have won the two tournaments in which I blogged (Euro08 and WC10) and miserably botched the one in which I wrote proper columns (Confed Cup 09) feels as though the formula to guarantee my country’s success is in my own hands.
It won’t be an easy tournament. Not only other teams seem to be peaking at the right time, but also Spain will have to deliver without David Villa, the goal scorer who took us to the semi-finals of both Euro08 and WC10, and Carles Puyol, our beloved skipper and, more importantly, the link between Madridistas and Barcelonistas in the national team. Now we Spaniards have to throw in the hesitant legs of the Player Formerly Known as Fernando Torres if we want to expect something big come July, which could be compared to marrying your high school sweetheart… only you dated her 25 years ago, had several other much better-looking girlfriends in between, and now her 50-pound overweight version is your only option to avoid bachelorhood for life. Not exactly exciting.
Before the beginning of the tournament for Spain, an extremely dangerous debut match against Italy on the 10th of June, we shall have plenty of time to discuss Spain’s squad, Del Bosque’s tactical options, the Spanish national anthem and the remaining array of usual topics that obsess me during football tournaments. Very glad to be back to my writing roots. Stay tuned.