A road less travelled

Adama Traoré in action for Spain on Wednesday night.
Adama Traoré in action for Spain on Wednesday night. / EFE
  • A decade ago, the national team was made up almost exclusively of Barça and Real Madrid players; now Spain's top talent is scattered all over Europe

At one point when Spain ruled the world, one of the newspapers ran the headline 'Barça-dependiente'. There was a theory that there was far too much reliance on the players who had graduated from the famous FC Barcelona academy - La Masia.

When Spain won the World Cup in 2010, six of the starting eleven were on the books of Barça. Two years later when they added the European Championship to their list of titles, seven of the team had passed through La Masia.

Real Madrid were lagging but did practically make up the rest of the team. From the 2012 side, only David Silva never played for the big two; in 2010 it was just Joan Capdevila and David Villa. Despite global dominance, it was questioned whether this was a good thing as the other clubs were falling so far behind.

Spin forward to 2020 when I'm commentating on Spain's 0-0 draw with Portugal on Wednesday night, the first thing I notice is that the team is top-heavy with players who pick up a pay packet in England. Six of the starting eleven play in the Premier League; there were none from Real Madrid, and Barcelona contributed only two players.

Sergi Roberto and Sergio Busquets were the Catalan representatives, but neither are automatic choices in the current climate. It could be argued that the only player from the Clásico clubs who is guaranteed a slot is the captain Sergio Ramos, and he's in the autumn days of his career.

It's quite an incredible turn around in the make-up of the squad. The best eleven could be selected from players who are experiencing or have experienced English football. Both goalkeepers play in Britain. Defenders Sergio Reguilón and Diego Llorente have just moved over. Eric García went to Manchester City's finishing school and Jesús Navas spent his best years at the Etihad Stadium.

Rodri is Busquets' natural successor, Dani Ceballos is appreciated at Arsenal and even Mikel Merino spent time at Newcastle.

Rodrigo Moreno is now an honorary Yorkshireman and Ferrán Torres has been persuaded by Pep Guardiola to head to the UK - two more players who have turned their back on La Liga for the Premier League in the summer. Meanwhile, Adama Traoré finally decided to nail his colours to the Spanish flag rather than go for the country of his birth. (Can you imagine a player debating between Mali or Spain a decade ago?)

The best hope for Spain is the emerging talent like Traoré who have taken adventurous paths to reach international status. He couldn't break through at Barcelona so went via Aston Villa, Middlesborough and now Wolverhampton.

Dani Olmo's pathway is even more off-beat. He also strayed after leaving the Barça academy on a path never taken before. He headed to Zagreb to join Dinamo and developed his game in Croatia. Now he's in the Bundesliga, carrying his Red Bull Leipzig form into his international performances.

Spain's best young talent, however, is undoubtedly Ansu Fati, born in Guinea-Bissau. He could soon be Barcelona's only guaranteed representative in the Spain team.

Isn't it odd how trends change? Once upon a time the Spain national team coach just needed to alternate between weekends in Madrid and Barcelona to scout his players. Now Luis Enrique truly needs to head off internationally to keep an eye on his top talent.