The golden age of Spanish international football coincided with what could be described as one of the greatest club sides of all time: Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. Therefore, it was natural that Spain Coach Vicente del Bosque should utilise the players and the system that worked so well at club level for the Catalans and transfer it to the world stage with La Roja.
This resulted in unprecedented success, as Spain added to their Euro 2008 victory under Luis Aragones with the World Cup in 2010 and another European Championships title in 2012.
In the World Cup final victory over the Netherlands, seven of the starting XI for Del Bosque’s side played for the Blaugrana, with another coming off the bench in Cesc Fabregas. Then, in 2012, there were six starting Barca players- the influence of these players over the ‘tiki-taka’ football that we saw from Spain during this period is obvious, and was fully taken advantage of.
However, the waning impact of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta and the inevitable way in which teams eventually managed to frustrate and limit La Roja’s style meant that results have dipped, as in the disastrous 2014 World Cup showing in Brazil and the Round of 16 elimination at Euro 2016.
The recent international break could prove to be the moment in which we can pinpoint a change of style. It is not a complete abandonment of ‘tiki-taka’, as possession is still a very important concept for Julen Lopetegui and the pressing elements of that famous style were also still present in their 3-0 demolition of Italy on Saturday.
The likes of Gerard Pique, Iniesta, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets still retain very important roles, but Saturday showed that the future for Spain, in terms of match-winning quality and talent, rests in the hands of Isco and Marco Asensio, and probably Alvaro Morata too.
This links back to the previous point regarding Barca’s achievements having such an impact over La Roja’s success: now, it looks like it is Real Madrid, who have just become the first team to win back-to-back Champions Leagues, who are going to play the bigger part in any success that Spain have in the coming years.
There are still hallmarks of the Barca style in Spain’s play, with the false nine being used to great effect again in the Italy game, but the style has become faster and more direct in an attempt to make Spain the greatest team in the world once more.
Whether it is a direct result of La Masia’s talent supply running dry or Florentino Perez’s stockpiling of the best young, Spanish talent, it is clear that Madrid’s recent success has resulted in La Roja looking a bit more like them, just like it did with Barcelona under Del Bosque. If Lopetegui can achieve half of what his predecessor achieved with his new-look Spain, he will have been successful.