The turning point was probably the dip in form of Fernando Torres and an injury to David Villa a couple of years ago. Up until that point, Spain were an infusion of fleet footed midfielders who combined with predatory forwards to become the best national team in the world.
Since that turning point, though, the infusion has weakened and Vicente del Bosque has been left top-heavy with midfielders – not that he’s complaining, they’re pretty good. But, there is one question continually affronting him around national team meet-ups - can you tell us about the No 9 role, Vicente?
On paper, the 62-year-old has a list of names that most countries would dribble over. From the aforementioned Torres and Villa through to Roberto Soldado and Alvaro Negredo, who Tottenham and Manchester City paid close to €60m for this summer.
Then there’s Fernando Llorente who swapped Athletic Bilbao for Italian champions Juventus this summer. Cesc Fabregas is a sixth option too, having been used as a false 9 during and since Euro 2012, and the past few weeks have seen candidates seven and eight emerge.
First up was the furore around Atletico Madrid hotshot, Brazilian wildcard and Pichichi leader Diego Costa. Having spent five years in Spain, he’s become eligible for Spanish citizenship and Del Bosque has expressed his desire to make him part of the set up ahead of next summer’s World Cup.
The administrative side of the change has not been facilitated yet though, and the RFEF have sent a second request to their Brazilian counterparts for clarification over the saga. Meanwhile, Dani Alves has encouraged Costa to think very carefully over his decision, while Brazil manager Luis Felipe Scolari is thought to be flying to Europe next week to try and convince Costa that his international future is with the Selecao.
And now there’s Swansea’s Michu too. Number eight. The former Real Oviedo forward was granted a long overdue La Roja call-up last weekend following Villa’s withdrawal through injury. Alongside Negredo, he’s the only forward – and even Michu was considered more of a midfielder in Spain - in Del Bosque’s squad for the upcoming qualifiers against Belarus and Georgia - Fabregas represents the third option too.
It’s not exactly World War Z stuff, having eight players of that calibre competing for, arguably, one spot in your side, but it would be handy if Del Bosque could resolve the issue before the Spain squad – presuming nothing peculiar happens over the next week – board the airplane for Brazil next summer. Another tournament of false 9 debates is not what anyone wants – not least the panels in English TV studios.
On form it’s not hard to see why Del Bosque is pressing so hard for Costa. Torres has not scored consistently since he left Liverpool, Soldado has found himself behind Jermain Defoe at Spurs recently, Llorente isn’t first choice at Juve and Michu, despite deservedly featuring in the current squad, will prove little more than a stop gap.
If all else fails, Fabregas as a false 9 is not the worst option, but it would be nice if Spain could leave the constant chatter around who their No 9 will be behind in 2013.