A look back, and forward at the successful Spanish national football team and what can England learn from their footballing dynasty...
A victory for the game: Iker Casillas holds aloft the World Cup after Spain beat the Netherlands in the World Cup final
They have been virtually untouchable and unstoppable for the past three and a half years since winning Euro 2008, covering any challenger in a blanket of supremacy. Undisputed kings, rois incontestes, they are, no doubt, the greatest national football team of our modern footballing era. The Spanish team have conquered Europe and the World on their way to the top in a tremendous playing fashion. The way they play, with such terrific elegance, composure, patience and technical ability blows away almost every opponent they face. Their only bump since 2008 was when they were beaten by a highly spirited USA team in the 2009 Confederations' Cup, 2-0. With this defeat fell the world record for 15 consecutive wins as a national team and equalled the world record of the number of games unbeaten with Brazil, at 35. However, as a group, they have learned from defeat, bounced back, matured, become stronger and better to dominate football at a national level ever since.
The rise and, well, anticipated continual consistent winning form surrounding the Spanish team has been rather extraordinary at a time where, many a nations teams are in a downward spiral. In July 2008, after winning Euro 2008, Spain rose to the top of the FIFA World Rankings for the first time, whilst in the middle of their incredible undefeated streak. In qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, they didn't lose a game or drop a single point as they took 30 points from 10 qualifying matches, a form that took them into the competition as over-riding favourites, and rightly so.
So how did the Spanish team become so good?
The implementer: Aragones brought in the style made famous by Cruyff
It is mainly down to one man, and the continuation of his playing style and philosophy by another.
After the failure to reach the group stages at Euro 2004, Spain changed manager, with the man who ingrained the style of play we are familiar with today, Luis Aragones, being installed at the helm. The rise to greatness started slowly, with a disappointing crash in the 2006 World Cup, reaching only the last 16 inspired Aragones to change mentality, knowing that the team would not be able to physically, with strength, out wit their opponents, having more technically talented players like young and upcoming Cesc Fabregas, only 19 at the time, Sergio Ramos, 20 and Andres Iniesta, 22, he adapted the "tika-taka" approach, and made the team play to their strengths, with the ball and their feet, used by the Barcelona team at the time, having been implemented by Johann Cruyff when he was in control of FCB between 1988 and 1996. Cruyff was part of the 70's Ajax team that played 'total football', so maybe, thanks to him, we enjoy today's Spanish and Barcelona play. However, success was imminent under the watchful eye of le perfectionniste, Aragones, with the undefeated run spanning 35 matches beginning the year after, and the following year ensued with the team delivering the Euro 2008 trophy after a 1-0 win against Germany thanks to a Fernando Torres goal.
With the title of European Champions in the bag, Luis Aragones left the post of head coach on a high, with a 70.3% win rate, leaving to manage Turkish club, Fenerbache. His successor, quite literally, managed to go one better than the Euro, and conquer the world with his team of players', many of whom had experienced the fall at the hurdles regarding the failures' of Euro 2004 and the World Cup in 2006, and had overcome them to become the World Champions' for the first time in the country's history.
How British Football could learn from managing to leap the hurdles...
The disappointment is plain to see: England crash out of another tournament as Spain go on to win, familiar story
In Britain, particularly England, who seem to be ridiculed by failure in big competitions, we lack what the Spanish have. A homegrown coach, a solid philosophy, consistency at the highest level and most importantly, a selection of players' good enough to win international competitions playing at the highest level at club level in the same country. If we look at Spain's 2010 World Cup Final line-up, 10 of the 11 players were in the Real Madrid or Barcelona first team squads, with the other, Joan Capdevilla, playing for Villareal, who finished seventh that season.
Many clubs in the top flight in England, more so, also seem to lack confidence in their ability to bring through players and seem to buy instead. This is shown with Manchester City, bag loads of money, and very little players coming through the youth academy, although I am led to believe they do have an excellent set up, players will find it difficult when they throw around stupid money in the transfer windows. In Scotland, many young players' are taken through, but unfortunately, nowhere near the quality of the Spaniards.
Probably another idea that could be implemented in Britain to try and stop the disappointments and high expectations of both the first team, (England disappointed in the 2010 World Cup), and U21 teams, (England's U21 team were tipped to go to the final, but crashed out in the group stages) in Britain could be to replicate what the top teams like in Spain like Barcelona (whose B team is Barcelona B) and Real Madrid (whose is Real Madrid Castilla) do, to create a 'B' team that plays in the divisions' below the Premier League such as the Championship. Using some experienced players on the fringe of the first team squad and a majority of youngsters, this would help the progression of youths and make them better players. In Britain we have a habit of loaning out players' to clubs where they are not guaranteed to get a game, and may lose morale, as they may see being farmed out on loan as a temporary way of the club getting rid of them. With a B team, the youths will get experience of playing against older players' and how it will be if, or when they take a big step up to the first team. As well as this, the squad will be together throughout this time, instead of playing at other ends of the country and being forced to gel together quickly after loans.
Back to the Spaniards, how they dealt with life after Aragones, and what the future holds after the current crop hang up their boots...
Vincente Del Bosque, Aragones' successor, a former Real Madrid defensive midfielder became the first manager in history to win all of his first 10 games in charge, leading them to the World Cup through qualification with spectacular ease. With the world watching, Spain crumbled in their first game, losing to a resilient and defensively solid Switzerland. Many were shocked, but Spain bounced back, winning the rest of their group games to progress to the knock out stages. Through the 2010 World Cup, the team continued to break records. After winning the World Cup, they had become the first team to win after losing their opening game.
It shows how great a manager Del Bosque actually is, to come in after the departure of an incredibly well respected and successful manager in Aragones, it would have been easy to crumble, to buckle under the pressure, but he has done nothing like that. Perhaps it is also a testimony to the attitude of the Spanish squad, many brought through La Masia are taught how to deal with situations, how to control themselves in the public eye and how to respect others, a rarity in the world of arrogant footballers' nowadays.
Young leader: Busquets is already, at 23, a starter ahead of Fabregas in the Spanish team, is he a future captain?
Apart from being brilliantly attacking minded, the Spanish team have a solid defence too, probably thanks to Del Bosque's position in his playing days, as a defensive midfielder. In the current team, Sergio Busquets(above) and Xabi Alonso patrol the area between defence and midfield, allowing Xavi, Iniesta and Pedro amongst others, to roam free, using tika-taka to methodically and patiently weaken their opposition at the knees, before toiling with them and striking the final blow. With a great mix of experience and skill at the back with club team-mates Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique playing at Centre-back, it is difficult to see Spain lose many matches on the road to Euro 2012, and inevitably, to attempt to retain their crown in Brazil in 2014, though there may be some international retirements within the current squad by then. Carlos Puyol, at 33, will be 36 going on 37 at the next World Cup. Xavi Hernandez, one of the greatest midfielders in modern football, will be 34 then, will probably not retire, but may be replaced in the first team starting line up by somebody younger like Cesc Fabregas or David Silva and may be brought on later in the match. The good thing about this team is that, they are using a cycle of youth and experience in the first team. Sergio Busquets, who has only just turned 23 is a first team regular is a successor for Xabi Alonso, who is reaching 30, and by playing beside him in the national team, will be drilled in how to play to win. The same could be said for Pedro, another product of La Masia, who is only 23, could take over from national record goalscorer David Villa within 5 years.
The future of football greatness?: The Spanish U21 squad during the U21 Championships this year
As the team age, perhaps many think that it will be the end of an era. Well, think again, Spain's U21 team won the Euro U21 Championship this year in comfortable fashion. A fact that highlights how important such a championship is that 20 of the 23 in the squad that won the Euro 2008 for the first team had come through the youth ranks and played in competition like the U21 Championships. Many of these players, like Jefferen and Thiago have come through the 'La Masia' training facility at Barcelona, an 18th century farmhouse, renovated to house some of the best young footballing talents in the world. Players like Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Lionel Messi have graced the house.
It looks like Spain's reign at the top could carry on, however there is the small matter of the new crop of Samba stars, players like Silva Neymar, Douglas Costa, Coutinho, the Da Silva twins, Ganso, Pato and Airton all 21 or less and are a small spectrum of the huge specimen of talent emerging from Brazil currently, perhaps they can recover the wittling fortunes recently of the Brazilian team, who once dominated the national football scene. But I can see the young Spaniards dominating Europe, at least, in the future.
When pundits, ahoy Alan Shearer and Alan Hansen on Match of the day, claim that the Premier League is the best league in the World, it leaves me slightly bewildered. The best players in the world ply their trade in La Liga, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa to name a few. They also have more homegrown players, and, perhaps less for Real Madrid, but buy Spanish players if they do buy at all, an example is David Villa moving from Valencia to Barcelona. Spain also dominate the national team standings too, I would like to think that Pepe Reina, Victor Valdes, Cesc Fabregas and David Silva would easily get a game in the England, Scotland or Welsh team without even trying. They struggle to even get on the field with the Spanish squad such is the quality of the current squad.
Comments and ratings are welcome!
Sources consulted include bbc sport, itv, wikipedia and espn.