Out of Spain's last 59 matches, there have only been three occasions when neither Xabi Alonso nor Sergio Busquets – Vicente del Bosque's favoured double pivot – have not been on the pitch. For Friday night's World Cup qualifier against Finland, neither will be present.
That's just the short-term problem for La Roja, though. Longer term it is true that by the time the World Cup comes around next summer Alonso will be 32 and Xavi Hernandez, who plays in front of the pivot, will be 34. There has been criticism from some quarters of the Catalan Press over Barcelona's inability to begin to prepare for the post-Xavi era, and now Spain find themselves in a similar position.
Del Bosque may be rumoured as leaving his post as national team manager after the tournament in Brazil next summer, but he still has a duty to his country, and his successor, to begin this process. Players like Mario Suarez and Javi Garcia have found themselves called up for the match in Finland, but they're unlikely to be the long-term options to keep Spain at the top of the world. However, emerging from a cloud of technical players, which includes Santi Cazorla, Juan Mata and David Silva, comes the more industrious Koke.
Madrid born, Atletico Madrid raised, Jorge Resurreccion Merodio, to give him is full name, is a genuine candidate to become the next big part of Spain's midfield. A member of the successful Under-21 side at this summer's European Championships, Koke was overshadowed by Thiago Alcantara, Isco and Asier Illarramendi – the truth is he was just as good though. He ended the tournament with a pass rate above 90 per cent and a full international call-up soon followed.
“Koke has been playing really well for his club,” said Del Bosque before handing him his first cap in a friendly against Ecuador in August. “He's a very complete midfielder and he does virtually everything in that role.”
Spain's boss is not lying. Koke has been a solider for Diego Simeone's Atleti, offering versatility and battling qualities across a range of midfield positions and still maintaining that technical ability we often take for granted in Spanish footballers – he created 80 chances in La Liga last season, leading to nine assists.
It's been four years since he took his Rojiblancos bow, he's only now 21 – that gives him four years and over 100 matches of first team experience. His stage is set, whilst the skill-set Koke has developed under El Cholo gives him the edge over an attack-heavy midfield that is coming through in Spain. He could, and should find himself a home in place of Alonso in the short term, but he is definitely blossoming into the Xavi contingency-plan in the long term.
Del Bosque is yet to reveal his hand for the Finland fixture. Fitness concerns over Alvaro Arbeloa have the media indicating that Koke could fill in at right-back – such is his versatility – but as Spain begin to ease in the next generation, the Atleti midfielder is sure to find a home in the middle of the pitch sooner than later.