a look at la liga
I very much doubt that the Spain coach ever heard the famous “you won’t win anything with kids” analysis, but Julen Lopetegui, nonetheless, adheres to it.
Look very closely at the squads of Spain and England this week and you will discover the distinct differences in policy. Not one player in the Spain squad was aged below twenty-four. The country has some outstanding young talent but they are expected to serve the under 21s if required.
The likes of Saúl (Atlético), Asensio (Real), Denis Suárez (Barça), Iñaki Williams (Athletic), Santi Mina and José Luis Gayà (both Valencia) would all be seriously considered for senior recognition given their form and progression with their clubs sides, but Lopetegui has a clear plan.
You may get a taste of full international recognition but until you have served your full usefulness to the under 21s, that is your priority.
Imagine that happening with England. Once a player gets a full cap that seems to be it – no going back. Given the ‘Law of Lopetegui’, John Stones (22), Raheem Sterling (21), Jesse Lingard (23), Marcus Rashford (19) and Eric Dier (22) would not even have got the call up. Stones in particular has come in for cruel scrutiny back home. If he was Spanish he would be protected from this until he’d made his mistakes among his peers.
The youngsters in the Spain squad are players who have taken their time to develop and only now are they fully established in their respective clubs. Thiago and Sergi Roberto are still to fully establish themselves at Bayern and Barça respectively, Koke is fully firing again after a dip in progression last season, and the Real Madrid pair of Isco and Álvaro Morata are more certain of a Spain shirt than a club shirt.
The other plus side of keeping the kids away is giving a variety of players a look in when otherwise they may not have got a chance. Aritz Aduriz is the perfect example. The 35-year-old won a call for his goalscoring exploits and this week it was the turn of Iago Aspas. The Liverpool reject returned to England to emerge as a game changer and the scorer of a stunning goal.
Slowly, Lopetegui is making his mark. The likes of Aduriz and Aspas are welcomed into the fold as Cesc Fàbregas and Iker Casillas appear to be history.
Meanwhile the next generation are being allowed to make their mistakes with the development side. They only drew 1-1 in Austria and then 0-0 back in Albacete, but these performances went largely under the radar.
Come the summer of 2018 and World Cup, the likes of Gayà, Asensio, Saúl, Denis Suárez, Santi Mina and Iñaki Williams will all be older, wiser and primed for senior action. Meanwhile, back in England the likes of Sterling, Stones, Dier and Alli will all have been put through two years of scrutiny.
Spain may not win things with kids in 2018 but the heroes of two years’ time are youngsters right now.