FIFA World Cup

Russia 2018: Pre-tournament favourites, can Spain avoid unravelling after Lopetegui sacking?

Spain face European champions Portugal in Sochi on Friday in a clash that caught the eye even before a series of astonishing events unfolded.

The brutal sacking of Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the World Cup leaves Fernando Hierro scrambling to keep Spain on track after a disorienting 24 hours for one of the pre-tournament favourites.

Spain face European champions Portugal in Sochi on Friday in a clash that caught the eye even before a series of astonishing events unfolded.

Lopetegui was surprisingly named Real Madrid manager on Tuesday and was meant to take charge at the Santiago Bernabeu after the tournament. But less than a day later he finds himself turfed out of the Spain camp.

The firing of the former Madrid and Barcelona goalkeeper is just the latest reminder of the fine balance any manager of La Roja must strike in the omnipresent rivalry between the country’s two biggest clubs.

For the first time in a major tournament since 2006, Real’s six-strong contingent outnumber Barca players in the Spain squad with only Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets selected, along with Andres Iniesta, who only last month brought his glorious 16-year career at the Camp Nou to an end.

With at least six of the expected starting XI for the Portugal game to come from Madrid and Barca, Hierro, himself a former Real captain, must ensure club loyalties do not further undermine Spain’s chances, with divisions already appearing between the players and the federation.

According to Spanish press reports, the players’ wish for Lopetegui to stay, including from Pique and Busquets, could not change federation chief Luis Rubiales’ mind, so furious was he that Lopetegui had not informed his employers of negotiations with Madrid until minutes before the appointment was made public.

- Experienced figures missed -

Lopetegui did not lose a single game in 20 matches as Spain boss but even in a flawless qualifying campaign on the field, the Madrid-Barca rivalry and Spain’s turbulent political situation overshadowed their performances.

Pique, who will retire from international football after the World Cup, has been jeered routinely by Spain fans for the past two years for his jibes at Real and for defending Catalonia’s right to have a referendum on independence from Spain.

The rivalry was often cited as a reason for Spain’s tag as perennial underachievers at major tournaments until a golden run of three consecutive victories between 2008 and 2012.

Former Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas and Barca captains Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernandez played a big part in binding those squads together and their leadership in the national team has been missed.

Despite his paucity of managerial experience, having spent just one season in charge of second division Oviedo, Hierro could help unify a distressed camp.

He was popular among the players as the federation’s sporting director between 2007 and 2011, and returned to that role in November last year.

Games against Iran and Morocco to come in Group B should also give Spain time to recover, even if Portugal do inflict a bad start. Spain bounced back to win the World Cup in 2010 after losing their opening game to Switzerland.

Hierro will also be able to call on one of the most talented squads on show in Russia, with a healthy mix of experience and youth.

Captain Sergio Ramos, Pique, Iniesta and Busquets all have experience of winning major tournaments, while the likes of Koke, Isco and Marco Asensio brought more energy as Lopetegui added fresh blood to Spain in the qualifiers.

He will not be able to complete what he started in Russia but his good work may not go to waste if Hierro can get Spain quickly back on track.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.