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How can Spain become great again?

Wednesday 4th July 2018

Agony, anxiousness and disgust trailed Spain’s ignominious World Cup exit. La Furia Roja has been on a steady decline for some time, yet such fatal capitulation was unexpected. Royal Spanish Football Federation must look to the future. Marca summarised the ordeal in one plain sentence.

Walking home -- A Spain without pace, without depth, without soul or joy, with sterile domination, fall on penalties against a basic Russia. 

Indeed Spain lacked everything in Russia. Bite. Hunger. Cohesion. More glaringly, though, they were bereft of any tactical finesse from the dugout. Julen Lopetegui’s absence exposed the team’s hidden can of worms. The painful evidence of Florentino Perez’s craftiness finished off by Luis Rubiales.

“We lost our leader when Lopetegui went,” was all Koke muttered after the defeat to Russia. With Lopetegui, the 2010 champions showed ruthless form; unbeaten throughout the qualifiers. And even though there weren’t assurances heading into the tournament, at least the players were confident at the sight of the man on the bench. 

Popular, well-liked, Fernando Hierro was a logical enough choice, given an illogical situation. He knew the team. Perhaps too much of it. And tried too much. He altered his line-up four times, exterminating balance in many ways. Although La Roja started well against Portugal, they grappled when they faced Iran and Morocco. 

However, the Russian debacle wasn't just a one-off. Nor is Hierro the sole culprit. La Roja’s decay has long been in the coffin. It was bound to happen someday. Sadly it came sooner rather than later. Lopetegui’s damage control measures busted in Hierro’s hand. 

Time for radical change 

A lot has changed; La Roja isn’t the frightful cohesive unit they were a decade ago. Pep Guardiola is no longer in town to render those special Tiki-taka tutorials. His firm disciples aren’t available, either. Andres Iniesta's retirement rubber stamp the passing of the golden age.

Spain was lost somewhere thumping fury and possession pre-2008. Without penetration, La Roja had no identity. They became unplayable when they could. Their FIFA World Cup triumph came between successive European Championships. 

La Fury's successes were largely due to the pool of players available then. As the years passed, a new crop emerged. There needed to be a transition. It never happened. Six stars from that conquering South African squad still survived to Russia. Whoever takes from Hierro must begin without any ties to the past.

With Iniesta and Gerard Pique out, the path will become even smoother. Six others are above 30 including Sergio Ramos, Pepe Reina and David Silva. The likes of Diego Costa, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Thiago Alcantara will be in their mid-30's during the next World Cup. Koke, Dani Carvajal and Isco may not make it beyond that edition. Hence, a massive overhaul is imminent. 

The Spanish talent pool has never gone dry – integration has been futile. La Rojita was runner-up at last year’s Euro U21 Championship. Dani Ceballos and Saul Niguez finished as tournament’s best player and top scorer respectively. Yet, just Saul and Marco Asensio found their way into Lopetegui’s squad. 

Desperate times call for corresponding measures. To become great again, Spain must begin afresh without the old guards. It won’t be an easy task, however, in the long run, could prove vital.

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Toby Prince

If the sport has 11-men on each side, a ball and lasts for 90 minutes then I'll write about it. Simply put, I'm an unrepentant soccer freak that other freaks will, however, call a geek. I do find time for music when not watching the beautiful game, though and have been known to produce the odd track. 

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