Spain’s problems on the international stage continued last night with a 1-0 defeat in France. Loic Remy came off the bench to strike what proved to be the crucial blow, as the Spanish once again looked just a shadow of their former selves.
The tika-taka style has clearly passed its sell-by date now and while Spain enjoyed nice phases of possession, unlike before, there was no end-product to be seen.
Vicente Del Bosque is being left with lots of unanswered questions regarding where the team go from here. He handed out four debuts last night to players who looked quite comfortable in all fairness, but it is just the start of a major revamp that is required to turn the team around.
The retirements of Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso have paved the way for a new generation, and a host of the treble-winning team seem to have run their course too.
Players like David Silva is nowhere near as effective as he once was, but I can still see potential in Cesc Fabregas.
But for me, the answer to the problems could lie with Basque Country giants Athletic Bilbao.
First and foremost, their Cantera policy strictly limits the club to bringing players of Basque origin through the youth ranks and into the first team – similar in a way to what the German national team does – or signing the best Basque players in the business.
They currently have just one non-Spanish player in their first-team squad and that is Frenchman Aymeric Laporte, yet he still came through the youth ranks of Bilbao.
And what they are doing is clearly working as they finished fourth in La Liga last season and will play in the UEFA Champions League this.
With most of the squad aged in their early to mid 20s, playing together in one of the best leagues in the world as well as Europe’s premier competition is only going to benefit them.
The likes of Benat Etxebarria and Markel Susaeta have already played for the national team in recent years, and Mikel San Jose was given his debut against France last night while Ander Iturraspe featured from the bench.
Youngsters Ibai Gomez and Iker Muniain are players who certainly have a big future if they can full their potentials, along with the likes of Jon Aurtenetxe and Erik Moran.
If Del Bosque can gradually start bringing them through into the Spanish first team, then their experience will serve them well on the international stage.
Recalling the already-capped mid-20s Bilbao players to the squad will help the younger ones to settle easier when they get called up. And constantly playing together at the highest standards out there each week will only develop their understanding of each other even further.
All this considered, Athletic Bilbao could well be the answer to what is needed to really kick-start the Spanish national team and get them firing on all cylinders once again.
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