With the World Cup group stages over and Spain’s squad already on their way home, many have heralded the end of a footballing era. While one of the most successful international teams of all time will not become the first side to defend their World Cup title, talks of a crumbling empire are premature. Spain have a host of young players coming into the fold, and they can be just as good as those bowing out.
Among those potentially making their final appearances for La Roja are Xabi Alonso, Iker Casillas and the legendary Xavi Hernandez, whose career could be set to wind down in the MLS or beyond. While it is true that Casillas was potentially one of the worst players of the tournament, there is a reason he is known as ‘Saint Iker’ in Madrid, and his will be big gloves to fill.
Napoli’s Jose Reina is a potential replacement in the short-term, but one of the few Manchester United players to come out of last season with his reputation intact was David De Gea, who is improving every season. Early on in his Old Trafford career, De Gea was slaughtered by the English media for some high-profile errors, but he has emerged as a man for a big occasion, especially in the Champions League. Tall, agile, and comfortable with the ball at his feet, he has all the attributes to fill the space between the Spanish posts for years to come.
In midfield, some have suggested that a complete overhaul will be necessary, but, even though this is unlikely to be true, Spain would probably not find it difficult to do so. For Iniesta, read Isco. For Xavi, look at United’s newest signing, Ander Herrera. The excellent Koke is still only 22. Mata, Silva, Fabregas and Cazorla still have plenty of time to show their undoubted quality, and in wingers such as Jesus Navas and Gerard Deulofeu, they can offer something other than tiki-taka, which it has been suggested is now old news.
In reality, it is the style more than the team which will need a more dramatic overhaul, as many of the players already mentioned have slowly been integrated into the squad anyway. Sides playing the Spain/Barcelona way have been found wanting in recent years – Barca’s Champions League troubles, Spain’s Confederations Cup (and now World Cup) collapse and to some extent, Arsenal’s end-of-season troubles in the Premier League. More robust, direct sides like Liverpool, Real Madrid and Chile have seen success, and Spain need to learn their lessons from this.
To some extent, it seemed as if Vicente Del Bosque had read the situation perfectly, bringing the then-Atletico Madrid forward Diego Costa into the squad, but the team did not play for him. Spain did not do enough to accommodate their new frontman into the team, and it was telling that Fernando Torres and David Villa were the men finding the net in the dead rubber against Australia. They are nowhere near the quality that Costa reached this season, but the style suited them; with no world-class strikers of their ilk forthcoming, Spain will have to adapt to allow players like Costa and Alvaro Negredo to flourish. The potential return to form of Roberto Soldado would be a welcome bonus.
In conclusion, dismissing Spain as have-beens would be a tempting fate, and certainly naive. They have the strength in depth to challenge for trophies for years to come, whatever new developments the world of football may bring. It will take a brave man to drop Xavi, Casillas and top scorer Villa for good, but change in football needs to be made for the sake of progress. At the end of the day, we should perhaps not revel in Spain’s dramatic failure so much as applaud them for what they have brought to the Beautiful Game.