Spain: Spain’s new, stark reality
It is difficult to admit, but it appears as though Spain‘s glory years are now behind them.
An almost impeccable qualifying campaign seemed to hide the reality that was becoming evident during the League of Nations, which saw La Roja lose to the likes of England and Croatia, was brought back to the fore against Norway on Saturday night: Spain are no longer amongst the higher echelon of nations in Europe.
The reasons are diverse but obvious. There has clearly been an attempt to mix players from Spain‘s dominant period, such as Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, together with those who are beginning to emerge, however this has not been an easy transition.
Although some of the players coming through are very talented, thoughts still revert back to the days of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol and so on.
In order to try and fill that vacuum, Spain and Robert Moreno have opted to select some experienced players like Raul Albiol, Jesus Navas and Santi Cazorla, peculiarly those are offering the best performances, but it speaks to the current lack of resources at hand.
The Spain team that became champions in Europe and the world were formed by players, at least in the spine, of those who also dominated the world at club level.
Iker Casillas was the best in the world, or at least the most decisive; Sergio Ramos led Real Madrid‘s defence and Xabi Alonso handled the middle; Gerard Pique was Barcelona‘s rock at the back, with Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta dictating things slightly further ahead, and then there was David Villa, one of the best forwards in the world, in the front three.
Spain had footballers who, at the time, were amongst the best in the world in their position, while the quality in the rest of the group was also very high.
All of the components offered the perfect recipe for success, yet in the current Spain squad, no player is amongst the best three in the world in their position.
If anything, you could only make that argument about Jordi Alba and Dani Carvajal, so long as they are at the best, and Sergio Ramos.
It’s symptomatic that, in Norway, Spain played an XI that had players from 11 different clubs for the first time in their history. Is it a sign of variety or the lack of an already consolidated structure?
There is no clear centre-back to partner Sergio Ramos, nor a midfield to aid Busquets. There is also no forward that guarantees goals, which is a far cry from David Villa and Fernando Torres.
On top of all of this, we must remember the injured players that we not called up because Isco and Marco Asensio, for instance, are two of those who could have made the difference on Saturday night.
Alvaro Morata, Paco Alcacer and Diego Costa are all capable of fighting for the No.9 shirt, but they do not offer the leap in quality that the team needs in that position.
And so, position by position, we conclude that this Spain side, the one now led by Robert Moreno but started by Luis Enrique, has very good players but not the best in the world. Not at an individual level, not by name. Not like before.
This does not mean that Spain cannot challenge for the 2020 European Championship, but what it means is that the expectations have changed. There is a realisation that Spain, at this present moment, are a candidate to lift the trophy but are not the favourites.