With three consecutive major trophies, a revolutionary style of play and enough central midfield talent to warrant leaving all their strikers on the bench, Spanish football has never looked stronger. A laborious route to victory in Poland and Ukraine had the critics analysing their pass and move mentality but after an impressive dismantling of the Italians, any concerns about Spain being boring were proven to be just a means to an end.
A side brimming with talent who can pick and choose whether they want to be slow and steady or ruthless and clinical have shown the World the way forward but as some of the current stars start to ebb into the twilight of their careers, how long can Spain continue to dominate International football?
A brief look over the history books shows eras of dominance for a number of nations as inevitably one side finds the perfect formula and utilises the style until their opponents either catch up or find a way to counter it. Whether it’s West Germany’s ruthless efficiency from the 70s, Holland’s total football of the 80s or France’s more recent golden generation, all have enjoyed periods of supremacy but the current Spain squad has surpassed all of their rivals’ notable achievements and already have their next crop of talent primed and ready. It’s an ominous sign for the rest of the globe considering the biggest concern when trying to extend the lifespan of team is how to transition the younger players into the side without it being weakened.
Of the XI who started Spain’s final match against Italy in Gdansk, just 3 were over 30 and yet Real Madrid duo Iker Casillas and Xabi Alonso are all still competing with ease at the highest level, as is Xavi Hernandez. In theory there is no need to replace any of the trio as they would all have a role to play in 2014 World Cup yet midfielders Sergio Busquets and Javi Martinez have already gained experience of a major tournament. What better way to prepare for the eventual retirement of older players than by ensuring their replacements are ready to seamlessly fill their boots?
It’s a skill that Sir Alex Ferguson has perfected at Manchester United and is something Arsene Wenger has failed to implement at Arsenal. When bringing through youth, the manager must pair the inexperienced players with their more senior counterparts, allowing for them to learn under the safety net of their superiors. United dominated through the Keane and Ince era but have continued that through to Scholes and Carrick whereas Arsenal have never allowed for an Alex Song to learn from a Patrick Vieira. England manager Roy Hodgson even missed a trick this summer by not giving his youngsters a chance to impress before the not so golden generation hang up their boots. It’s a system that has reaped rewards at domestic level as well as on the International scene and has been implemented throughout the Spanish side. Jordi Alba has already replaced Joan Capdevila, Carles Puyol has passed on his knowledge of the game to Gerard Pique while even more established talents such as Cesc Fabregas have had to bide their time and learn from the likes of Barcelona team mate Andres Iniesta.
With such an emphasis on youth in the modern game, it’s important to remember how vital experience can be. The argument that once a player passes 30 their game starts to decline may have some weight to it but it doesn’t account for the guidance they can offer to next crop of aspiring talent. Youthful exuberance can be a valuable trait in a player but it must be curbed by an understanding of the game that can only be achieved from years of experience.
In 2014 Spain’s Xavi will be 34 so the next World Cup is likely to be his last major tournament. Hopefully appearing at the same tournament will be England Captain Steven Gerrard who will also be 34 but the end of both players’ careers will highlight the lack of preparation inside the English camp. The Three Lions will have to put their faith in the inexperience of Jack Wilshere or Jordan Henderson while the Spanish will choose their replacement from medal winners such as Martinez and Busquets.
The foresight to include these players at an early age has provided Spain with a group of experienced and talented players who despite not yet being first choice, have still won International competitions and have the medals to prove it. It’s means that not only have they dominated the current generation but their superiority has every chance of lasting for the foreseeable future.
Do you think Spain will continue to rule the football world? Should other teams try to include their younger stars in the same way?
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