Vicente del Bosque has decided to stand behind his core players, the same considered to be one of the greatest generations in international football. A country has not repeated as World Cup champions in 52 years, and a European side has never won in the Americas.
Twelve members of the squad from the UEFA Euro 2008 championship appear on the 30-man World Cup provisional roster. It would have been 13 if Victor Valdes did not suffer a season ending knee injury in March.
The differences within this squad are not the faces, but rather the places where the players ply their trade. No longer is the team stocked with Barcelona and Real Madrid talent with players from Valencia, Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid and the EPL sprinkled in. The roster is more eclectic as some of those familiar faces have spread east, with young talent following Pep Guardiola to Bayern Munich (Thiago Alcântara and Javi Martínez) and more veteran members playing in Serie A.
This is not an indication the team will abandon tiki-taka. The style is ingrained in the youth system and is producing successful result. Members from the back-to-back Euro u21 championship appear on the 30-man roster: César Azpilicueta, Daniel Carvajal, David de Gea, Koke, Javi Martínez, Juan Mata, and Thiago.
So what does this 30-man roster tell us:
Regular appearances for Real Madrid or Barcelona do not guarantee you a spot.
The surprise omissions from the team were Isco and Álvaro Arbeloa, both of Real Madrid. Isco, 22, is praised as the next great attacking midfielder for Spain. He appeared 51 times for Real, but received limited work in the bigger matches. Can you imagine another national team not calling up a healthy twenty-something with 50 caps for Real? It was likely between him or Mata, the veteran got the call.
Arbeloa, 32, is a member of the golden generation and a starter in the Euro 2012 team, however, he only made 29 total appearances for Real this season. In addition, he was completely demolished at the hands of Neymar in the Confederations Cup. That poor performance lead to a halftime substitution. Arbeloa’s international career is likely over.
For Barca, neither Marc Bartra, 23, nor Cristian Tello, 22, made it despite both having 30 appearances this season. They will likely be in the mix for Euro 2016.
Valencia’s debt issues are an underrated risk to Spanish football.
Valencia has been a club for players not yet talented enough for Barca or Real to get their reps. Valencia did not always produce these players through their youth system, but they have a good eye for young talent. Jordi Alba, Isco, Mata, David Silva, Roberto Soldado and David Villa all played at Valencia before transferring to a bigger club. If Valencia is limited in their capacity to sign players from smaller clubs and work them into their system that might remove a source for mid-tier players to develop. This financial issue extends to other La Liga clubs including Europa League Champion Sevilla and Málaga, but no other club has Valencia’s recent track record of players.
No players in the 30-man roster currently plays for Valencia.
Vicente del Bosque likely doesn’t give a shit which players Jose Mourinho rates.
Mourinho kept San Iker on the bench after returning from injury during the 2012-2013 season. This led to the beginning of a generational divide in the national team locker room during the Confederations Cup. The 32 year-old captain of the Spanish team has only one appearance in La Liga matches, but was the weekday keeper playing the majority of the club’s Champions League and Copa del Rey matches. Casillas will be the keeper for Spain, however it is unclear if Manchester United’s first choice and two-time u21 champion David De Gea or the Napoli keeper on loan from Liverpool Pepe Reina will be next to step up.
In England, ripping Fernando Torres is an acceptable practice in polite company. Mourinho says he has plans for Torres in Chelsea’s future, but he bought Samuel Eto’o this season and will go after Diego Costa this summer. After the first leg loss to PSG in the CL, Mourinho insinuated that the club did not have a “real striker.” This comment comes after Torres, who scored in three straight CL matches, came on as a sub in that PSG match. Despite Torres’ difficulties in England, del Bosque reportedly has a good relationship with him. The Guardians’ Sid Lowe in last Thursday’s Football Weekly podcast said del Bosque will look for a reason to include Torres on the 23-man roster even at the expense of another high-profile EPL forward, Álvaro Negredo.
Of course the most recent victim of the chosen one’s mad scientist approach to personnel management was Juan Mata. A member of the 2012-2013 PFA Team of the Year, ‘11-12 and ‘12-13 Chelsea player of the year, and third in voting for the ’12-13 FWA Footballer of the Year, Mata did not play the way Mourinho wanted. Mata was criticized, benched, and sold by Chelsea. It is not clear if del Bosque will select Mata for the 23-man roster as Pedro has now become a national team regular, Navas is the only true winger on the roster, Silva has been spectacular for club, and Cesc Fàbregas been groomed since his teenage years to be the next great midfielder.
The rise of Atletico may allow for a new wrinkle.
Del Bosque accepted the Barca tiki-taka style the late Luis Aragonés installed at the national team level. Del Bosque is a pragmatist and looks to have harmony in the locker room. That alone signals an unlikely shift in strategies, but the embarrassment in the Confederations Cup Final may force Spain to install a Plan B. A total of 10 members of the roster play in a counterattacking system including both Madrid clubs. It is a stretch, but consider Sergio Ramos and whoever is playing rightback (Juanfran, Azpilicueta or Carvajal); Xabi Alonso and Koko; and strikers Villa, Torres and Costa each play in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 countering system. It would be difficult to see how Xavi at 34 and Iniesta at 30 can play tiki-taka each game for 90 minutes in the Brazilian heat. I know, it’s ridiculous to think this of Spain, but it makes sense at least when defending a lead late.
Injuries might cut list down before the 23-man roster deadline.
Thiago Alcântara was ruled out less than a week after the roster announcement. Piqué recovered from his hip injury and played in the final game of the season, however long-term there may be questions. Costa has been battling small injuries all season and picked up another one early against Barca in the last round of La Liga campaign. Of those three, Piqué’s absence would be the more impactful.
Handicapping the final world cup roster:
|Midfielders:||Santi Cazorla/ Juan Mata|
|Forwards:||Fernando Torres/ Álvaro Negredo|