JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Sergio Ramos, the rampaging defender who wanted to be a bullfighter but his mother wouldn’t let him, might not appear at first glance to be the Spanish soccer team’s most articulate spokesman.
Far more athlete than ambassador and unashamedly haughty about his looks, his physical attributes and his famously long, pony-tailed locks, the Real Madrid player nonetheless persuasively described the social responsibility which is felt among the Spanish team as World Cup finalists.
“We have a playing style which we actively want to represent and embody our country,” he told GlobalPost. “Personally, I want to be a flag bearer for the ordinary man back in Spain who is honest, hard working and gets his job done with extra fire and passion on the day of a Spain game, so that he can get home to the sofa in his living room or join his community in the bar and watch us win."
Ramos said the team wants the Spanish people “to be proud of us. When we felt the enormous pride and unity and joy which we caused by winning the European Championships two years ago it was enormously special.”
Spain's appreciation for its national soccer team has soared in recent years — certainly since the population was able to savor themselves as "champions" of Europe.
This generation of talented players sees no cultural or linguistic barriers dividing them despite their various Basque, Catalan, Andalucian and Castillian backgrounds. The unity shown by the Spanish squad is a motor for change for the entire country.
The national unity forged by the team can be appreciated in the catchy pop song celebrating the World Cup team.
It is clear that your average Spanish working Joe, or Josefina, is grateful for a new image of Spanish national unity and the promise of better economic times.
Spain's economic growth has slowed significantly, the construction industry has vastly over-reached itself and the debt position — third worst in the euro-zone — has seen Standard and Poor downgrade Spain twice since January. Spain is now ranked with Slovenia as the effects of Greece's ‘super-crisis’ spread amongst the financially feeble of Europe.
So it was with great feeling that Spain coach Del Bosque emphasised on Wednesday evening, after his side toyed with Germany then put them to the sword, that “good things also happen in Spain."
“Many changes have happened in Spain over the last 30 years, mostly for the good," said Del Bosque. “We are now involved in Europe, involved in the world and the country has produced a generation of great sportsmen of whom we can be massively proud”
And apparently that pride can be financially, or economically tangible.
Miguel Sebastian, minister for tourism and commerce, admitted that “if Spain wins the World Cup we will have to reassess the predictions for economic growth.”
His belief was endorsed by Javier Gomez Navarro, president of Spain’s Chamber of Commerce, who predicted that a win on Sunday would “significantly change the psychology of Spain’s consumers.”
Perhaps more scientifically, there is evidence from a study by ABN Amro Bank that Germany’s performance in their own World Cup four years ago increased economic growth by 0.7 percent — and Jurgen Klinsman’s side only finished third.
It might be too much to place the burden of a full economic recovery on the shoulders of eleven men who, by the way, will be dressed in blue, rather than red, on Sunday night as Spain is Team B. Holland will play in their usual vibrant orange.
The football played by the ‘Furia Roja,' or Red Fury, two years ago was seductive and surprising yet it did nothing to prevent the effects of the global financial depression hammering Spain.
A victory though would greatly shore up the credibility of Spanish domestic football which has seen its two great brand name clubs, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, rack up a joint global debt which is circling $700 million. The two main television companies have recently emerged from a vicious court battle which has left one, Mediapro, mortally wounded and threatens the payment of T.V. earnings to clubs which could struggle to pay wages.
The Spanish team impresses as a group of extraordinary and yet ordinary young men. Extraordinary in that a handful of them are genuinely great at their profession and one, Xavi, who is en route to becoming recognized as the best soccer player his country has ever produced.
Ordinary in that when times have been tough in this tournament, just like the working men and women back home, they rolled up their sleeves and tackled adversity with sweat and hard work.
Just as the Spanish team have set aside their own ethnic differences, they have embraced black South Africans. Fernando Torres has spent time researching South Africa's historic struggle against apartheid and noted daily racism in the country. Ramos talked about wanting to give South Africa a joyful and inspirational tournament.
When it is all over, win or lose, the Spanish team will have travelled far. What has been most remarkable is how many people, of different languages, races, creeds and colors, they have brought with them on the journey.