Vicente Del Bosque was preparing to kick off the defence of Spain’s European Championship title in early autumn 2010 with qualifying. The glow from the World Cup was still around. Before the team headed to Liechtenstein, he held a Press conference. Someone asked about the possibility of Atletico Madrid defender Alvaro Dominguez getting into the senior side.
Del Bosque said that it was a question of when and not if for the young defender who had just added a European Super Cup winners’ medal to his Europa League one that he had won in May of that year with Los Rojiblancos. Then someone asked about David de Gea’s chances. Del Bosque was less enthusiastic but two years later the Manchester United ‘keeper has more of a chance of being called up than Dominguez. In fact he has probably got more of a chance playing in central defence than Dominguez too.
Two years on and Spain face Belarus away and will do so with a patched central defence. Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol are both out injured. The inclusion of Raul Albiol in past Spanish squads has surprised many considering that for most of his time at Real Madrid he has been a bit part player but it was his versatility that appealed to Del Bosque. So it has come as a surprise to many then that the national side’s Coach has opted to play Sergio Busquets out of position and partner him alongside Sergio Ramos in the centre of defence. A survey by Marca claimed that 75 per cent of ‘fans’ wanted Albiol to play but that was a Marca survey and they are as useful as a raincoat during a Spanish summer.
Del Bosque, not for the first time, is playing players out of position rather than calling up a youth player or another player. One reason for his hesitation in calling up someone from the Under-21 side may be that he feels there are slim pickings. Dominguez was tipped to make waves on the international scene but since 2010 has had a rollercoaster career which eventually saw him move to Germany in search of first team football. While he might get more playing time, he may find trouble in that it is rumoured that Don Vicente tends to only focus his scouting on players in Spain and rarely sends anyone out to check on players based abroad. This is something in the past that Del Bosque has denied but in Spain the concept of scouting and keeping track of players is not one that everyone is clued up on.
Another one that was expected to step up was Dominguez’ partner in the Under-21 defence, Alberto Botia. The defender was highly rated when he signed with Sporting Gijon and Barca were said to be considering re-signing him. Atletico were also interested but his loss of form and Sporting’s relegation saw him lose some of his shine. He signed for Sevilla and while he is working hard to get his reputation back, it appears it still isn’t enough for Del Bosque, who previously called the young defender into two squads in 2011.
In the Under-21 squad there are two players that look like they may make a claim for inclusion in the future. For many Alvaro Arbeloa is the weak link in the Spanish defence and so Martin Montoya may be the man to take over, but it is still early days. Real Sociedad defender Inigo Martinez made the headlines for his goals from the half-way line last season but his defending often went ignored. Still young and a little raw, the defender still has potential and has caught the eye of a few clubs.
Away from youth level, there were chants, although in most places in a mocking tone, for the inclusion of Levante’s Sergio Ballesteros. The main reason was the fact that last season at 36 he outpaced Ronaldo for a ball, but this is an option that Del Bosque would never take, even if it were only short term.
Another who may find more playing time as Spain try and find a central defender will be former Athletic midfielder Javi Martinez. Now at Bayern Munich, he prefers to play in the midfield but played last season as a central defender. It was clear that this was not his natural position but he was praised for his adaptability and this is something Del Bosque will bear in mind.
For now it seems that the side are content to use players out of position and the main argument is, it worked in the Euros. True, but Del Bosque’s reluctance to give youth a chance at the back may not have any consequences on qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, but in a few years Spain may pay a heavy price to pay.