World Cup 2018

End of an Era: Spain’s Rebuild Will be Painful, but it is Necessary

Ever since Euro 2008, Spain have been among the favourites heading into every major international tournament, and for a four year period between 2008 and 2012, they were the darlings of international football. During that time, Spain won two European Championships and one World Cup as the golden generation of Spanish players performed heroics in three consecutive tournaments. Heading into this year’s World Cup many pundits were tipping them to repeat their heroics once again.

A deserved early exit

Cut to 2018 and Spain couldn’t reproduce those heroics from South Africa in 2010 and are now out of the World Cup after losing on penalties to host nation Russia. Really it’s nothing more than Spain deserve. Except for their first match against Portugal in which they played like the Spain of old, they looked like a team completely out of ideas and running on empty. So what now for the Spanish national side as they look to the future, well let’s take a look.

The biggest controversy in the days leading up to the beginning of the World Cup wasn’t to do with any ethical issues regarding Russia’s choice as host. Instead, Vladimir Putin must have been thanking his lucky red stars when the Spanish FA announced a day before the tournament began that manager Julen Lopetegui had been sacked. While we could argue all day if Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales was right in going against the will of the players, the fact is that Fernando Hierro was appointed manager two days before Spain’s first game.

This is in no way a criticism of Hierro, who was left in a position few before him have been in. And while the ex-Real Madrid man led his nation with dignity after the arrogance that was shown by Rubiales in sacking Lopetegui, he is not the man to lead Spain in the future. Hierro doesn’t have the sufficient experience to manage at such a high level and will most likely return to his role as sporting director within the Spanish FA once a new manager is appointed.

Is Martinez the answer?

But who could be the man to re-energise this Spanish side. Among the candidates to take over for the next qualifying campaign is Roberto Martinez, who has impressed many at international level with the style of his Belgium team and his possession based football would suit the Spanish style of play, also the lure of returning to his homeland may be too good for Martinez to turn down.

While Martinez may be seen as a left field appointment, Luis Rubiales has not been afraid of making the big decisions early into his time as Spanish FA president. A more conservative and likely choice could see Albert Celades make the jump from the under-21 side to the senior team and begin a complete overhaul of the national side.

A brave new world awaits

Whoever is appointed as the new Spanish manager they will likely have to plan without Andres Iniesta who has announced his retirement from international football. It is also being widely reported that both Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos will retire from international football in the coming weeks, meaning that only Sergio Busquets remains from the starting eleven who won the World Cup in 2010.

This is the end for Spain’s golden generation and whoever is put in charge next will have to rely on players who have failed to live up to the lofty heights that the golden generation set over the last decade. In saying that Spain still have some quality players to pick from, while the likes of Isco and Thiago can be frustrating to watch at times, they may very well improve with the added responsibility that will come after the retirement of the golden generation.

Of course they can’t do it alone and they will need a helping hand from the new generation of Spanish players who have been impressing in underage tournaments over the last few years. While the likes of Alvaro Morata can expect a recall from whoever the new manager will be, it will be with this new group of under-21 players that Spain will be pinning their hopes on that they can return to glories once again. If the Spanish FA decides to go with the conservative choice and appoint Albert Celades, they will be appointing a man who knows the Spanish way of playing inside out, but is that necessarily a good thing?

Spain have been left behind

Spain’s style of play has been found out during this World Cup. With Russia reducing Spain to constantly passing the ball across the middle of the field and making them look like a demoralised Arsenal team, as we all watched on knowing that they were never going to score and that penalties were inevitable.

Spain have found great success with their Tiki-taka style of play over the last decade, but football moves on, teams become more adapt at working out a way to counteract systems and ultimately Spain got found out. Now, not for one minute am I suggesting that Spain completely abandon their Tiki-taka style of playing, but perhaps they could also learn to switch it up and play a different style of football when they need to. If they can get that balance right, then Spain could be back as the big dogs of international football very soon.

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