Does anyone remember the Spain side from 2010 that felt interchangeable with Barcelona’s team? If I’m not mistaken, it was La Masia graduate Andrés Iniesta who did the business to seal Spain’s World Cup title.
From 2007 to 2012, La Roja were constructed of a dynamic core of players from the Catalonian giants. Coincidentally, those years also happened to coincide with the pinnacle of Barcelona’s success, with players like Iniesta, Carlos Puyol, Xavi Hernández, Gerard Pique, and Sergio Busquets constituting the spine of the Spanish national squad.
This golden age for the Blaugrana overlapped with their efforts to target and retain local, Spanish talent. Spain were such a dominant side, that they squeezed in a World Cup title between back-to-back Euro victories in 2008 and 2012. Although traces of this team are still playing and in some cases starting for Spain, there has been a clear changing of the guard.
An ageing Iniesta and 29-year-old Busquets will soon lose their starting positions to budding superstar Francisco Alarcón, a.k.a. “Isco”, and soon-to-be Madrid regular Marco Asensio. Busquets didn’t see much playing time in this round of World Cup qualifiers anyway, and yet Spain are sitting atop group G with 22 points.
The new age of La Roja and their Real Madrid spine are indicative of a shift in style away from the Galacticos. Rather than relying on purchasing the greatest talents from around the world, Real Madrid have adjusted their strategy to scouting and identifying the best local talent from La Fabrica and around Spain.
In the modern state of European football, where graduating from the youth system to the first team is becoming increasingly difficult, Real Madrid are inverting that theory as their healthy stream of talent is powering them to success in both club and country. Isco, Marco Asensio, Nacho Fernandez, Dani Carvajal, Lucas Vazquez, and recent Chelsea acquisition Alvaro Morata are all in the current Spanish squad.
The only two Barcelona youth system graduates in Spain’s future plans are Gerard Deulofeu, who has returned to the club this season, and Thiago Alcantara, who now plays for Bayern. Thiago will probably occupy one of the midfield positions, but Deulofeu is unlikely to start. Barcelona’s grip on top Spanish talent, and therefore the national team, has all but subsided to the Los Blancos.
Regardless of Madrid’s faltering start to the current domestic campaign, their form in European competitions over the last four seasons is irrefutable. Traditional “galacticos” like Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos still occupy the core of the starting XI and their contribution to Madrid’s overall quality cannot be understated. However, their days are numbered and products of La Fabrica will fill the void that their departure will create.
Although the centerpiece of Real Madrid’s future – Isco and Asensio – are not academy products, they are proof of Los Blancos’ skill in capturing the top talent being developed in Spain. Besides stockpiling the best young players from around the country, Madrid are creating and developing their own world-class talent. Lucas Vázquez, recent departure Morata, Dani Carvajal, Nacho, Marcos Llorente, and Borja Mayoral are all players from Valdebebas that have broken into the first team.
Real Madrid are well positioned to take over the reigns of La Roja from Barcelona. As the aging core of La Masia graduates are set to take less significant roles for the national side, they are not being replaced by other promising young Barca talent. Florentino Perez has worked with “cantera” head coach Santiago Solari and his team of scouts to bring the best young talent in Spain to Ciudad Real Madrid.
Perhaps Perez took note of his Spanish rivals’ sustained success in the heyday of Pep Guardiola’s reign and made the necessary long-term business decisions to ensure his side would follow suit. Or perhaps the stars aligned for the Galacticos, and they plucked the best Spaniards and paired them with homegrown talent, as Cristiano Ronaldo led the club to European dominance.
Either way, Real Madrid look ready to steer Spain and themselves to glory in the near future. After securing a record-setting three Champions Leagues in the last four seasons, Florentino Perez and company aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. In fact, the opposite looks like happening.
Featured photograph: Wikimedia Commons