Since 2008, Spain, first under Luis Aragonés and then Vicente Del Bosque, have thrilled the world with their wonderfully aesthetic ‘Tiki Taka’ style of football. Reaping the benefits of a remarkably gifted generation, the likes of Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Iker Casillas, Carles Puyol and David Villa have driven La Furia Roja to both the European and World titles.
However, with the current group likely to at least partially disband after Euro 2012, the Spanish are busy cultivating a new crop of players as the country’s youth production line continues to generate top-level talent at an alarmingly fast rate. Here are a few players who we could be seeing representing their country on a regular basis in the years ahead:
With Iker Casillas still only 29, it’s unlikely that Spain will be looking for a new number one any time soon. Should the Real Madrid custodian decide to hang up his gloves, however, Atletico Madrid’s David de Gea is the ready-made long term replacement. Just 20 years old and blessed with lightning reactions and a commanding presence, the Atleti ‘keeper has already drawn praise from some of Europe’s top coaches and looks set to enjoy a long career at the top level.
While Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos are still in their early twenties, Carles Puyol and Joan Capdevila (both 32) will likely need replacing in the starting XI sooner rather than later.
With four caps to his name already, Osasuna’s 24 year-old left back Nacho Monreal looks a good bet to replace Capdevila in the short-term. That said, his time as a first-choice international full back may be limited, as Sporting Gijón’s José Ángel (just 21) continues to show signs of developing into a truly world-class defender. Whatever happens, Spain are unlikely to find themselves short of quality at full-back any time soon.
There is an equally gifted pool of talent to choose from at centre-back, Barcelona’s 21 year-old Andreu Fontàs having looked more than comfortable on the handful of occasions that he has been drafted into the Blaugrana first team. Indeed, with Puyol’s career reaching its conclusion, it looks as though Pep Guardiola sees the young Catalan as the natural heir to the club captain in the heart of the Camp Nou defence.
Athletic Bilbao’s Mikel San José has also impressed this season, establishing himself as a key feature of the Basque club’s back line as well as proving himself to be an adept penalty taker. San José is a player who is improving all the time, and, along with Piqué and Fontàs, he represents the future of Spanish national team at centre-half.
Midfield is the area in which the Spanish have excelled of late, and their mastery of possession football is unlikely to cease, such is the ability of the young players that are being produced in those positions.
Barcelona’s Thiago Alcântara and Athletic Bilbao’s Javi Martínez look to be excellent central midfield prospects, not to mention the already well established Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas, but the greatest amount of excitement has surrounded Real Madrid’s Sergio Canales.
Signed from Racing Santander last season, José Mourinho has already stated his admiration for the 19 year-old playmaker, his creative abilities being frighteningly impressive for a player so young. When Canales does eventually break into the senior national side (and it is a case of “when”, not “if”), he will likely perform a role somewhere between that of Xavi and Iniesta, for he is a player blessed with great vision as well as a turn of speed and the ability to score goals. The young prodigy is likely to be the player around whom future Spanish teams are built.
Del Bosque has blooded several young attacking players during his time as national team boss, with Pedro and Juan Mata already established in the senior side. Of course, centre forwards Fernando Llorente and Fernando Torres are still only 25 and 26 respectively, but there are still plenty of youngsters vying for first team places as and when they become available over the next few years.
Iker Muniain, Bilbao’s hugely impressive 17 year-old winger, looks to be one of the most exciting players of this new generation, a skilful attacking midfielder/forward very much in the mould of Lionel Messi. Similar attributes can also be seen in Barcelona’s Bojan Krkic (20) and Jeffrén Suárez (22), players who very much fit with the current style of the Spanish team. The future is very bright indeed.
A Vision of the Future…
I realise that engaging in far-sighted speculation is a largely pointless exercise, but in this instance I just couldn’t resist. Here’s a possible Spain line-up (and what the players’ ages will be at the time) for the 2014 World Cup:
De Gea (24); Ramos (28), Piqué (27), Fontàs (25), Ángel (25); Busquets (25), Fabregas (27); Pedro (27), Canales (23), Muniain (21); Llorente (29).
The potential is frightening.