The title-holders of football’s greatest prize are out of the World Cup. Spain’s fall from footballing grace has been swift and will leave many – both at home and abroad – scratching their heads for some time to come. But defeat in Brazil has bookended a week of huge change for Spain. As the former kings of world football prepare to pack their bags and take the lonely flight home, Madrid’s Royal Palace is welcoming a new incumbent.
King Felipe VI, who has been sworn in after the abdication of his father Juan Carlos I, has called for a new Spain to be built together in his first address to the nation. In their new head of state the Spanish public will find not just a king but a man of the people, who in his own words is, “ready to listen and understand, warn and advise as well as to defend the public interest at all times”.
Despite good – if perhaps rose-tinted – intentions, King Felipe VI will find the restoration of belief, trust and even interest in the monarchy difficult. Though he restored democracy in the 1970s after General Franco’s dictatorship, King Felipe VI’s father Juan Carlos came to represent many of the ills of the elite – appearing disconnected from the hardships of an economically savaged country. Gaffes such as a photo of Juan Carlos enjoying a big-game hunt in Africa during the financial crisis and tax-fraud allegations levelled at his daughter Cristina have not helped bring the royals closer to the man in the street – for whom sadly not even the football can provide a welcome distraction.
In the football stadiums of Brazil the “tiki-taka” style of Spanish play (inspired by the “total football” of the Netherlands’ Johan Cruyff) has been creative but now lacks bite and notably a lack of goals. Like King Juan Carlos I, Spain’s coach Vicente del Bosque must now leave the stage. His recent decisions have undermined the credit he once deserved.
It’s time to hand over the reins to a new leader who can, despite the mistakes of his predecessor, build a new Spain.
Aled John is a producer for Monocle 24.