Spain have gone with experience for the World Cup. When you’ve won everything in sight for the past six years that’s pretty understandable, really.
Five of the 23-man squad for the world champions have picked up over 100 caps, whilst two more players—Andres Iniesta and New York City FC’s one-man team David Villa—can bring up their centuries over in Brazil.
No other squad heading to South America has as many centurions on board—not even Italy—and it’ll be that experience that Vicente del Bosque will be relying upon as the Spanish go for a victory which would surely see them crowned as the greatest international side of all time.
For there to be the centurions though, there also need to be a few foot soldiers who fall by the wayside.
Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo were cut from Del Bosque’s final squad for the tournament, with the Manchester City pair—on 34 and 21 caps respectively—joining Juventus’ Fernando Llorente as the most experienced players to miss out.
It would have been a galling experience for both, particularly after they played their part in Spain’s previous successes.
Indeed, Navas was a crucial figure in the World Cup final four years ago, when the then-Sevilla man replaced Barcelona’s Pedro an hour into the match in Johannesburg, adding fresh legs when the Netherlands were just starting to tire of kicking the existing ones.
The winger was involved in the squad in Poland and the Ukraine two years later, when Negredo came in from the cold to start the Euro 2012 semi-final against Portugal. He didn’t score, but an international record of 10 goals in 21 appearances, including three in qualification for this World Cup, couldn’t have been easy to overlook.
The fact that it was surely boils down to two factors: Diego Costa’s desire to be viewed as a Spanish citizen, and Negredo’s curious end-of-season form which saw him contribute very little to City’s ultimately successful title charge.
Whilst plenty of his teammates were doing all they could to try and pip Liverpool and others to the post, Negredo went from scoring 19 goals in 20 games in all competitions between late October and late January, to failing to fire at all in his final 16 matches of the season.
There were mitigating circumstances to that, of course. Plenty of those appearances came as a late substitute and he was also suffering with a shoulder problem, but it is a startling statistic and one so remarkable given the Spaniard’s previous performances.
Whilst he was City’s main man for a while at least, Navas quite literally operated on the fringes of things in his first season in English football.
The winger was always able to offer a good outlet to his side, but there was frequently a frustration that he wasn’t really giving anything more than that.
When he was good he was very good—such as in the 6-0 destruction of Tottenham when he scored twice—but consistency was an issue, as of course were the injury problems. He came off the bench to net the clincher in the Capital One Cup final, but unless he wants to be restricted to the super-sub role again next season, he’ll need to up his game ahead of 2014/15.
From City’s point of view the absence of a month in Brazil will help that, and the Blues have every right to expect to see a fit, hungry and prepared Navas and Negredo when they reconvene for pre-season training. Points will want to be proved to followers of both club and country.
When on form, the former Sevilla pair can add so much to a City team which really only needs a few tweaks further back to be ready to challenge again next season and to try and prove that, like Spain, they have the ability to follow up one success with another.
Experience has proved vital to that side, and a refreshed, wiser Navas and Negredo can prove that it can do just the same in this one.