After producing perhaps the greatest group of players to have represented their national team, Spain now finds themselves trying to re-establish themselves as top dogs on the international stage. With the likes of Iker Casillas, Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernández, Xabi Alonso and David Villa out of the picture, La Furia Roja has seen their best generation of players bring glory to their nation. Their capture of the Euro 2008 and 2012 titles along with the 2010 World Cup, marked the most dominant period in the history of the beautiful game. Seen by experts as the greatest Spanish team or group of players in the history of international football, Luis Aragonés and Vicente del Bosque’s Spain captivated the attention of the football world with their scintillating ‘Tiki-taka style.’
Despite being one of the favourites for the 2014 World Cup, the 2010 World Champions endured an embarrassing first round exit and has since struggled to recapture their sublime form. The Spanish team has said to have become predictable and needs to reinvent their style in the ever-evolving modern game. There is also the suggestion that their successful generation of players are past their best and the new generation is perhaps struggling to match the level that had been established. Andrés Iniesta, Francesc Fàbregas, David Silva and Sergio Ramos may have surpassed their best days however they still have a lot to do as they must allow the new generation to be eased onto the international scene.
With the 2018 World Cup in Russia their next target, new head coach Julen Lopetegui is tasked to secure qualifications, as well as discover the stars of the next generation. The former goalkeeper has a tough task compiling the best squad possible despite being spoiled for choices in all areas of the pitch. There are a number of senior players such as Sergio Busquets whose place in the team seems certain, however the need to introduce players of the next generation could prove a bit challenging. Despite all the young talent at the former Porto boss’ disposal, the likes of David de Gea, Alvaro Morata and Saúl Ñíguez seem destined for the very top.
David de Gea
In the modern game, the role of the goalkeeper is constantly evolving with many coaches expecting their stopper to be as good with their feet as much as their hands. The mental aspect of the game is even more important to retain concentration and choosing the right/best moment to leave the goal line to help the last line of defense. At the age of just 25 years, Manchester United’s David de Gea is regarded as one of the very best in the world. Over the past 2-3 seasons, the former Atlético Madrid man has taken his game to new heights and is now seen as the first choice for his national team. In the glorious history of goalkeepers at Old Trafford, the 6 feet 3 inches stopper has made history becoming the only player to have won the Player of the Year award for three consecutive seasons.
A European champion at the U-17 and U-21 level, the Madrid native has been described as a goalkeeper with great agility, confidence and speed by the legendary Red Devils boss, Sir Alex Ferguson. His shot-stopping ability was always of the highest order but his capabilities to command his area proved an obstacle for the 25-year-old in the early days at Old Trafford. With the backing of the coaching staff, De Gea worked hard and now seems complete. For a goalkeeper he’s still a rookie and is expected to become stronger mentally, as well as improve on his positioning as he gets older with more experience. He’s already on an excellent level with the ability to manipulate his attackers and cutting the angle while staying big enough to make the target small.
Germany’s Manuel Neuer may be the best at the moment but Lopetegui should be aware that his first choice is not far behind. For the next decade, United and Spain will hope that their stopper remains healthy and that he works hard because if he does the limit is endless for this wonderfully gifted Spaniard. As the future between the sticks for Spain, De Gea is one which the team can be built around. With Premier League, Europa League, UEFA Supercup and FA Cup glory under his belt along with the U-21 European success, the Madrid native may be setting his sights on the Champions League and World Cup, as well as Euro glory at the senior level.
One of the most gifted young midfielders in world football, Saúl Ñíguez or simply Saúl, seems to have the world at his feet. Linked to several big clubs in Europe, the 21-year-old was an unknown quality to most in world football but his ability didn’t go unnoticed by the Catalan giants Barcelona. Back in July 2013, the Blaugrana ensured they had first option to sign the Atlético star when they decided to sell David Villa to Los Rojiblancos. The Catalan secured a clause for the versatile midfielder to match or improve on any offer Atléti receive for the 5 feet 11 inches midfielder. Such was the promise of Saúl that the Tiki-taka masters assured themselves of having a strong possibility of securing the services on someone they saw as one for the future.
After making his La Liga debut in April 2013, Saúl spent the 2013/2014 season on loan at Rayo Vallecano and has since established himself as a regular for Diego Simeone’s team. An all-round midfielder, Saúl is very capable defensively as he reads the game well and his positioning for one so young is outstanding. He enjoys leaving his foot in a tackle, as well as tracking runners from midfield while he provides a shield for his defenders. On the ball, the 21-year-old is a joy to behold, much of what Bayern Munich can confirm after his fantastic solo effort in last season’s Champions League semifinal. With great balance, quick feet and exceptional technical qualities, he has the ability to get past his marker with very little effort. His technical skill-set allows him to retain possession, pick a pass and has proven that he has a cool head in front of goal.
At the start of Spain’s dominance, Luis Aragonés had one Marcos Senna anchoring his midfield and Saúl is very much in the same mould as the former Villarreal skipper. Strong in a tackle, very composed and assured on the ball with distribution of the highest order. The Atlético youngster could be the ideal partner for Busquets in the middle of the park for Lopetegui adding a bit of grit, as well as craft and mobility which is ideal in the modern game. There is still a lot to learn, however the 21-year-old ticks all the boxes and has the potential to become the very best in his position.
One of the most sought after strikers in the past transfer window, Alvaro Morata has returned to Real Madrid after a rather successful spell in Turin with Juventus. During his time with the Bianconeri, the 23-year-old played his part securing the Scudetto, Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana as well as a run to the Champions League final where he scored against Barcelona in a losing cause. Morata also tasted glory with the national team at the U-21 European Championship in 2013. His rise over the past two seasons has been quite dramatic that he was selected as Spain’s first choice striker at the recently concluded European Championship in France where he hit the back of the net three times. Filling the boots of David Villa is no easy task but the experience gained from the Euros could prove invaluable for this young star.
On the pitch, the Madrid Castilla graduate is known for his excellent movement off the ball and his technique. At 6 feet 2 inches, the former Juve striker is good in the air and excels at holding the ball up. Despite having a big stature, his mobility, agility and speed is quite frightening along with his quick feet. Like most Spanish internationals, he has great technical qualities and has a bit of pace to get pass his markers. A well-rounded striker, Morata enjoys running the channels and his positional sense is quite amazing at his age. He also enjoys the dirty aspect of the game as he works hard to win possession in the final third for his team. Due to his ability on the ball, the Madrid striker can be used as a wide player or just off the main striker. In an around the penalty area, he can be a poacher due to his natural instincts as a pure goal-scorer while being more than capable of the spectacular.
One of the best and most complete strikers of his generation, there is still a lot more to learn for the Castilla graduate and he could get a few tips in training from Cristiano Ronaldo. The future seems very bright for Morata with the qualities in his game but still he can definitely get a lot better. The legacy of David Villa still hangs over the Spanish national team. However, if Morata continues on the expected trajectory he could enlighten such obscurity. The next couple of seasons are very crucial for 23-year-old as he will be aiming to be La Furia Roja’s main man in Russia at the World Cup.