When the European club competitions enter their decisive stage in May, Spain’s national coach Vicente Del Bosque will be watching closely. After all there are three Spanish clubs in the semi-finals of the Champions and Europa Leagues -- Bayern Munich’s opponents FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and FC Seville. But Del Bosque will be forced to have a close inspection in regard to the staffing situation at “La Roja”. For as dominating as the Spanish clubs are in Europe, the number of Spanish players in the teams is diminishing.
“It is sometimes difficult to find a player for the national team within the big clubs”, Del Bosque complained. “It’s a small problem we are having”. The man with the moustache is worried, while experts in the country of the 2008 and 2012 European champions maintain that his assertion trivialises the complicated outlook. Portuguese World Footballer of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, French goalscorer Karim Benzema and Welsh striker Gareth Bale form the attack at Real Madrid. Behind them German World Cup champion Toni Kroos, Croat Luka Modric and Colombia’s World Cup hero James Rodriguez hold the key positions in midfield. The situation is similar with Barca, where Argentine super star Lionel Messi, Uruguay’s top striker Luis Suarez and Brazil’s young star Neymar represent a five-star attack. And all that without any Spanish participation.
Consequently it is hardly astonishing that the former winning machine of Spain is spluttering. Since the disappointing World Cup finals in Brazil, knocked-out in the preliminary round, defeats have stacked up. In the European Championship qualification they suffered a bitter 2-1 defeat in Slovakia, while friendly matches against top competitors France (0-1), Germany (0-1) and Netherlands (0-2) were all lost. A major shock for a team that did not lose in 35 successive matches between 2006 and 2009. “We lost friendlies in the past too”, replied defender Gerard Pique. But not so often, and not so many consecutively.
The good times when Spain governed the football world, achieving the hat-trick at three major tournaments (2008 European, 2010 World Cup, 2012 European), are definitely over. Del Bosque has to accomplish a change. It is far more than just the facelift that Spain underwent last summer. Since, in particular, the two strategists Xavi (FC Barcelona) and Xabi Alonso (FC Bayern Munich) retired, the once so successful Tiki-Taka game of the Spaniards is missing a conductor. A difficult gap to fill. Bayern’s Thiago has suffered several long breaks due to injuries; Koke of Atletico Madrid is under strain; Cesc Fabregas of Chelsea FC has in the past rarely performed as well in the national team as he does at club level.
These are not the only problem areas for the Iberians. The position of centre forward also remains difficult. David Villa also retired after the World Cup, while nobody in the Iberian peninsula actually believes that Fernando Torres – the scorer of the winning goal in the 2008 European Championship final – can repeat old feats. He is not even a regular with Atletico Madrid. Diego Costa of Chelsea FC is earmarked for the position, but the powerful centre forward has his problems with the combination play of the Seleccion. That’s why many experts see Alvaro Morata, of Italian record-winning champions Juventus Turin, as the number one striker. During the 1-0 against Ukraine in the European qualification he scored the winner -- his first goal in a national shirt.
The goalkeeping problem is also unsolved. For years the undisputed Spanish number one was “San Iker” Casillas, the safe hands during all three title successes. But with every mistake by the five-time World Goalkeeper of the Year, discussion in Spain is freshly fuelled. Contrary to many other heroes of the past years Casillas is not considering retirement and receives backing from Del Bosque: “I don’t change just for the sake of change. That only results in chaos”. Consequently David De Gea of Manchester United must remain patient.
Other younger players have got their chance since the World Cup elimination, however; such as Bayern’s outside defender Juan Bernat and the former Leverkusen player Dani Carjaval (Real Madrid). Paco Alcacer (FC Valencia), Mikel San Jose (Athletic Bilbao), Raul Garcia (Atletico Madrid), the just 19-year-old promising Barca talent Munir El Haddadi, Vitolo (FC Seville) and Juanmi (Malaga) are names to represent the new Spain in the future. Remaining key players such as Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) and Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) should lead them.
Del Bosque is not worried about the future – despite the obvious problems. Spain has many good, young players and there are alternatives, says the coach, referring to the traditionally good youth development work. The remoulded team should prove itself at the 2016 European Championship finals in France. After that the 64-year-old successful coach will possibly end his career. After the World Cup the gentleman on the sideline rejected retirement. Such a farewell would not have been worthy of Del Bosque.