photo source: Irish Independent
By David Toms
In Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film, The Prestige, we learn that each magic trick is made up of three parts. According to Michael Caine’s character, Cutter:
Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.”
This is probably as good a way as any available to describe what Spain do in a game of football and what they did last night. Magic, though is problematic. For one thing, as the quote above illustrates, magic isn’t real of course. But magic is a word that lends itself easily to all of us at a loss as to how to react to Spain. Having dealt with the ‘boring’ reaction, here are some thoughts on Spain and their ‘magic’.
It should be noted that magic doesn’t necessarily mean magic in the witchcraft kind of sense. It has a less literal meaning too, something magical. To describe Spain as magic, magical, spellbinding etc has its uses for the Spanish themselves. Andreas Iniesta has been quoted describing last night’s triumph as “magical”. After all, magic is secretive (except when revealed, and even then it is only done so grudgingly). And it suits Spain to treat their style of play as some secretive, illusory, prestige-lead trick. Who wants to replicate another magician’s trick? As in The Prestige, the whole point is to push a trick to its outer limits, to be bigger, better, bolder than anyone else at it. Spain seem to have done this.
There might be something in the feeling expressed by John Giles last night on RTE 2 that the use of a false 9 simply cannot catch on in every team, that the system Spain employ is player-driven. But it’s difficult not to feel that the unformed footballing brains of plenty of Spanish children are shaped to suit a game where a false 9 is a normal as 4-4-2. And it will suit them to put it down to some intangible, some class of Iberian ‘magic’ that marks them out as special and futile to imitate. Perhaps that’s their great trick, their true prestige – to show us a little of what is possible, and take it away, placing it in the realms of magic and out of the reach of an awe-struck audience.