Spain Still Strong Despite Champions League Setbacks

Tim StannardContributor IMay 9, 2013

IN FLIGHT - JULY 02:  In this handout image supplied by the Royal Spanish Football Federation, Head Coach Vicente del Bosque of Spain poses with the trophy following his team's victory in the UEFA EURO 2012 final match against Italy onboard the Spain team's airplane during their flight back to Madrid on July 2, 2012 in flight.  (Photo by Carmelo Rubio Sanchez/RFEF via Getty Images)
Handout/Getty Images

Disaster! The end of days for Spanish football! Dark clouds are a-coming! Resistance is futile! The warp core has been breached! 

It’s the aftermath of the Champions League semifinals and both Spanish teams have been kicked out of a moving car, TJ Hooker-style, and dumped at a roadside gas station managed by salivating Deliverance types. Cletus is sharpening his meat cleaver. There is no hope whatsoever for Spain’s chances in the next shiny, big international tournament. 

Barcelona’s Plan A, Plan A.1 and Plan A.2 had come to nothing, to kick off a severe bout of navel-gazing about the inherent tactical weaknesses of the club. Real Madrid huffed, puffed and promised a great deal, but when it came down to the big moment, the side stuttered and the Germans progressed. Again. Spanish football’s decline had begun. 

That was 2012. La Liga’s glamor clubs had failed to progress to the Champions League final. The prospects for Spain’s European Championship chances looked bleak. The country’s pride and joy was tired and torn asunder by increasingly embittered Clasico rivalries. Everyone else in the world seemed to have worked out how to beat La Roja’s fancy-pants, tiki-taka stylings. 

Of course, all that turned out to be hysterical silliness. Although Spain limped its way through to the final in Kiev, before using every last ounce of juice to blast Italy away in a truly devastating performance, the relative failings of Barça and Real Madrid a few weeks before did not matter one jot.  

This year’s supposed troubles will bear no relation whatsoever to the destiny of the Spanish squad that will be in Brazil in 2014 to defend its World Cup crown. The first reason is the fact that ever since 2008, Spain’s first European Championship win in the current streak, the various high and low points of both clubs have had very little impact on the Spain squad, despite the fact that a dominant chunk of a first choice starting XI for the country are pruned from both teams. 

In many ways, playing for Spain can probably a blessed relief for some footballers who get to escape the stifling pressure and politics of their respective domestic clubs to spend a little time with Pepe Reina, which is always fun. Over the past five years, Vicente Del Bosque’s calming, avuncular manner has acted as a form of intense meditation for some footballers. 

The Spain squad of the next two to four years looks like being less focused on Real Madrid and Barcelona, anyway, helping to spread the risk around. There’s always a good chance that some players, somewhere will be having a great season.

Whilst Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Jordi Alba, Pedro, Thiago Alcantera, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets still have many years of national service left, other footballers such as David Villa, Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernandez, Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso, Raul Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa will begin to become more peripheral figures. 

Those footballers coming in to replace them, a process that has already begun in a typically steady manner from Del Bosque, are set to be spread far and wide around Europe’s big clubs. David de Gea, David Silva, Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla, Cesar Azpilicueta, Nacho Monreal and Javi Garcia are all based in the Premier League. Javi Martinez is over at Bayern Munich where other Spanish youngsters may be heading when Pep Guardiola takes over the club. 

Fernando Llorente is off to Serie A and Juventus. The financial problems of both Valencia, Malaga and Sevilla may well see the sales of Isco, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado to foreign climes too. The bonus here, is that moving abroad tends to improve a footballer’s development, thus offering additional skills, tactics and techniques to a team.

Euro 2008 was won when a not especially fantastic Real Madrid were league Champions and Barcelona finished in third with just 67 points. In the Champions League of 2007-08, Real Madrid were eliminated by Roma at the last 16 stages and Barcelona were beaten by Manchester United in the semifinals with the Catalan club failing to score a single goal. 

The depth of quality of Spanish footballer has improved tenfold from those times and there’s an awful lot of experience still left in the squad, so there’s no reason to think that the national side will not continue on its merry way, regardless of the fortunes of two of its contributing clubs.