Luis Enrique doesn't seek popularity. / REUTERS

A work in progress

It's quite bizarre that Luis Enrique still divides opinion among Spanish football fans. He's guided Spain to the final stages of major competitions

ROB PALMER

It's quite bizarre that Luis Enrique still divides opinion amongst Spanish football fans.

As the likes of Italy and Portugal must sweat it out in the play-offs for the 2022 World Cup, he's guided Spain to the finals – despite missing half of his team and enjoying only half of the country's support.

He doesn't seek popularity and his style is unique. In the successful times the Spain national team consisted, almost exclusively, of players from Barcelona and Real Madrid. This coach didn't call a single Real player between June and November. When he did include a Real player, it was just Dani Carvajal for the game against Greece.

In the capital, there are claims of Barça bias. However, he doesn't favour any players from the club he managed with great success for three seasons. In fact, he doesn't seem to favour any players in particular!

A commentators' trick is to write out the previous team selected and use it as a skeleton for the next game. This doesn't work for Spain. He made five changes from the Nations League Final for the Greece game and then a further six alterations for the vital final qualifying match with Sweden. It's impossible to second-guess Luis Enrique. The only players who seem certain of selection are goalkeeper Unai Simon and centre back Aymeric Laporte. The rest fit into the tried-and-tested system.

Whereas some coaches try to find a structure to suit the players, Luis Enrique insists the players fit into his non-negotiable 4-3-3 formation.

He claims he has a pool of 60 players to choose from and he throws in a wildcard for every squad, normally for the awkward striker's position. This time Raúl de Tomás of Espanyol was the lottery winner and he started both November games.

The key to Spain's success could be the wave of youngsters emerging at the same time. Barcelona's trio of Gavi, Pedri and Ansu Fati are aged seventeen, eighteen and nineteen respectively.

Just a few years older than the teenage trio are the Olympic silver medallists, Mikel Oyarzabal, who skippers La Liga leaders Real Sociedad, and teammate Mikel Merino. Pau Torres and Eric García contest a centre-back spot. Carlos Soler and Dani Olmo also feature for the senior side. Marco Asensio is an Olympian who should get a call if he can find his form at Real Madrid. Yet another teenager Yeremi Pino may feature when he's fit.

There is an either/or in every position. The main issue is finding a goal scorer. Ferran Torres could be the answer when he's fully fit and will continue to mature at Manchester City. Álvaro Morata alternates between national hero and national enigma. This week, he was a hero again after his goal confirmed the qualification.

Some scoff that Spanish football is struggling. But bear in mind that the national teams have reached the finals of the Nations League and Olympics plus the semis of the European Championships.

It is still a work in progress. The finished article could be world-conquering.