Imagine. It’s the summer of 2008. You’re sitting in front of the television watching Spain take on Germany in the final of Euro 2008 in Vienna. A 33rd-minute goal from Fernando Torres was the difference between the two sides that night. Spain nicknamed ‘La Furia Roja’ were the first team since 1996 to have gone the whole competition unbeaten.
Fast forward 2 years and we’re in Johannesburg watching Spain v Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup Final. An eventful game but no goals were scored until 90 minutes, it took 116 minutes to determine a winner. Andres Iniesta’s half volley from the right side went past Maarten Stekelenburg in the back of the Dutch goal ending the game at 1-0 for Spain. 2 years later, we’re in Ukraine to witness the final of Euro 2012. Spain humiliated the Italians thrashing them 4-0 which earned them their 3rd European Championship
Winning three major tournaments consecutively put Spain’s name in the history books as they asserted their dominance over other international teams. Spain’s ‘Tiki-Taka’ style of play was instrumental in their success. But one factor that is common across all three tournament wins is the influence of Barcelona and Real Madrid on the national side. Barcelona and Real Madrid were previously European powerhouses but in the 2000s and later, both these clubs established themselves as the best in the world.
The Catalonian club established its academy ‘La Masia’ as one of the best in the world. It became the dream place for every young Spanish footballer with players such as Pep Guardiola rising through the ranks at the academy. The academy system focused on identifying young players with potential and developing them into first-class players. This approach helped Barcelona hone young Spanish talent within their club and not look to the transfer market to strengthen their squad. Real Madrid on the other hand strengthened their squad by signing young players to add to their experienced squad. This allowed younger players to play at the highest level while developing their skills. These methods adopted by the two Spanish clubs helped build a strong sporting ecosystem within Spain allowing the best talent to come forward and reach the first team.
The 2008 Euro final squad had players such as Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, and Carles Puyol who belonged to either of the 2 Spanish clubs. Out of the 11 playing the 2010 World Cup final, 6 players were from Barcelona and 3 from Real Madrid. Similarly, 9 out of the 11 playing the 2012 Euro final were from the two clubs.
Spain dominated world football with several Barcelona and Real Madrid players in the squad. Some notable players from both these sides are:
|Iker Casillas (GK)||Andres Iniesta (Midfielder)|
|Sergio Ramos (Defender)||Xavi (Midfielder)|
|Alvaro Arbeloa (Defender)||Gerard Pique (Defender)|
|Xabi Alonso (Midfielder)||Sergio Busquets (Midfielder)|
The Spanish side was looking strong after 2012. They were one of the contenders for the 2014 FIFA World Cup but they failed to make a mark. They were eliminated from the group stage after losing 2 games out of 3. This was a massive blow for the European giants. The 2016 Euro wasn’t any better. Although they qualified from an easy group at second place, they lost to Italy in the first round of knockouts. Spain topped their group in the 2018 FIFA World Cup but couldn’t get past hosts Russia as they lost again in the first knockout stage.
After years of dominance, Spain brutally failed to meet the high standards set by its predecessors. The reason behind this was the decline of quality Spanish players in the Barcelona and Real Madrid teams.
La Masia produced some of the best talents in the world such as Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Xavi Hernandez. But over the years, the quality of the academy was below par. Although the players coming through were extremely talented, they were not as good as the players previously produced by the academy with a majority of flop players such as Mauro Icardi and Hector Bellerin. Some of these players succeeded in their careers elsewhere but failed to reach the benchmark at La Masia. This made Barcelona invest in transfers. Many of these transfers were acquired from other European clubs and thus, most of the players were not Spanish. Barcelona spent £145 million on Brazilian Phillipe Coutinho and over £110 million on Frenchman Ousmane Dembele. Both these big-money signings failed to make a mark with injuries and loan spells coming in the way. Many other transfers that did not prove beneficial led to the downfall of Barcelona. Once a team feared by all and two-time treble winners Barca are not at the same level they previously were. Lack of quality La Masia graduates and an increase in the number of foreign players in the Barcelona squad directly affected the Spanish national team.
Real Madrid also fell prey to the transfer greed. With massive funding from President Florentino Perez, Real Madrid started spending big on players such as Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, and Eden Hazard. The arrival of these players proved beneficial for the club as they won multiple titles. But similar to Barcelona, an increase in transferred players resulted in a lack of development of Spanish nationals. They previously developed young Spanish players into world-class athletes such as Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos but failed to do so with promising talents such as Isco and Marco Asensio. Thus, they invested in young players from around the world such as Brazilians Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo.
Spanish team head coach Luis Enrique announced a 24-man squad for Euro 2020. None of the players on the shortlist were from Real Madrid. Barcelona only had 3 players in the squad who were Pedri, Jordi Alba, and Sergio Busquets. The influence of Barcelona and Real Madrid can be seen in the Spanish national side. Spain with their Tiki-Taka and dominant passing game is nowhere close to the legacy set in the 2008-2012 era. ‘LaFuriaRoja’ must look at alternate ways of producing world-class players. Their overdependence on clubs proved to be extremely terrible. The Spanish Football Association (FA) must develop its grassroots system and evolve the sporting ecosystem for them to become the European powerhouse they once were.