Could ever beautiful football be this grim? What was no doubt another masterclass in the Spanish art of tiki-taka, is for many an ominous sign of the future; the senior European champions are now U21 European champions too.
Undaunted by the terrific exploits of their elder counterparts, the Spanish U21s were up for the challenge of taking Europe’s most prestigious youth title right from the get go, when they were unlucky not to beat a woeful England side. That match gave us just a little sample of what was to come, more of that brilliant Spanish possession football, more of that dire England long ball play.
It seemed that for every star in the senior Spanish squad, there was a counterpart in the U21s, Adrian for Villa, Mata for Iniesta, Martinez for Xavi… the list goes on. Those familiar with the Spanish youth game will tell you that at all levels, Spanish teams try to replicate the Barcelona style, playing elegant possession football, as wearing on the opponent as it is delightful on the eye.
Too many victorious U21 sides have gone on to flop on the true international platform, but the similarities between this team and the current World champions indicates that for the side’s best performers, moving into the senior team will be a seamless transition. Already, players like Mata and Martinez have World Cup winners medals, and others like Herrera seem destined to play a part in successful Spanish national sides of the future. Up front, top scorer Adrian looks capable of filling in for the unconvincing Fernando Torres, while in goal David De Gea has a bright future too.
Spain will doubtless enter Euro 2012 with much of their current senior squad still intact, so we may have to wait for World Cup 2014, before we see some of the class of 2011 make their mark on a major international competition. As I mentioned before, players like Javi Martinez could end up filling in for the aging Xavi, while others like Thiago and Jeffren will likely have gained first team football by 2014, a platform that would set them up nicely for a place in the squad.
If more evidence was needed that Spain’s future could very well be silver lined, then it was provided by the performance of other traditional power house nations. Big players like Germany, Holland, Italy and France all failed to make it to the finals, while the only other major participant, England, flopped terribly. The English could learn quite a lot about how to structure a footballing system by observing the Spanish, from the basics of tiki-taka, to the more ingrained qualities of Spain’s footballing structure. The English long ball approach is an embodiment of what is wrong with development of players in that country, there is no plan, no preferred style of play, and no coaches able or willing to develop young talent to the level that it is done in Spain. Hit and hope, that is all football in England is, hit and hope.
There is no question that the people of Spain are enjoying a golden era of football, it is unlikely that a team with the cohesiveness of Spain 2010 will grace the World stage again in our lifetimes. However, coming up are a new class of youngsters, and only time will tell whether they can prove the above premonition to be horribly wrong.