Spain’s early exit at Brazil 2014 made the former champions reflect and worry about the future sooner than expected.
Players who were vital in Spain’s best run of all time suddenly became excess in the nation’s efforts to forget what was a horrid display in Brazil.
After driving Spain to triumphs in 2010 and 2012 Euro, manager Vincent Del Bosque had the difficult decision in Brazil. Should he field the greats who had been key throughout the past conquests or bench them in order to reward newcomers who had shone in the last season.
El Marqués (as he is known since being bestowed the title of Marquis in 2011) chose the first option.
Throughout Spain’s six triumphant and record setting years, heart often overcame logic and there was no reason to believe this time would be any different.
Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Gerrard Pique, Xabi Alonso, David Villa, all key components allowed the team to gel together in the past and overcome obstacles even when play was never up to par with the sensational Euro 2008 run.
For former international Kiko Narvaez, Del Bosque still has much credibility left despite the stunning flop in the summer.
“After the first match in Brazil, the hope was that the coach would take emergency measures to ensure the world saw a dignified Spain,” Narvaez told Al Jazeera.
“It’s possible he didn’t have enough time to detect the root of the problem. Now, however, he has another two years to do so and the Spanish public should trust the man who brought us more glory than we’ve ever known.”
Meanwhile, Xavi, the most memorable player from the recent golden era, who turned 34 earlier this year, bade farewell to the national squad.
For many, the Barcelona midfielder is the best player to have ever played for ‘La Roja’, or at least the key to success for football’s most pass-reliant team in history.
“It is the end of a cycle,” Xavi had told the press conference. “It has been extraordinary and I am happy and proud. But from now on I am just another fan.”
And just like that, the architect of the perfectly executed assists in the Euro finals of 2008 (to Fernando Torres) and 2012 (Jordi Alba) will never wear a Spain shirt again.
For Alfredo Relano, editor-in-chief at AS, one can only be glad to have enjoyed watching the Catalan midfielder represent Spain for 133 games.
“Xavi made all of this possible, he has a combination of qualities never seen before, and that we aren’t likely to see again,” Relano said. “Xaiv is sportsmanship in person, and with Barcelona-Madrid tensions escalating, especially during the Mourinho era, he was the glue that kept the national team together.”
Xavi made all of this possible, he has a combination of qualities never seen before, and that we aren’t likely to see again
Xavi had contemplated retiring from international football after Spain's 2012 record-setting triumph. Back then, he was 32 and felt like his international career could not end on a better note. His gut feeling would prove to have been right in hindsight, but it was Del Bosque who urged him to stick along for another two years.
In that fateful match against the Netherlands, Xavi was a mere ghost of his usual self. His performance was poor that forced him to be benched for the next match. This was a sign that things would turn even more sour.
With Villa having retired from international duty after the World Cup, Xavi’s decision is probably not the last in the squad: the public expects Alonso and Casillas to follow suit.
Hope for the future
Meanwhile, in the manager's mind, young Koke (Atletico Madrid) and Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich) are set to fill Xavi’s shoes. In March, Xavi himself hailed the Atletico midfielder as “the conductor of Spain's orchestra for the next ten years”.
Relano is also optimistic about what the successors can bring to the pitch:
“It was no secret that Thiago’s absence in Brazil due to injury was an important blow. And Koke should have enjoyed more minutes. He is a magnificent player yet to reach his potential.”
Spain also has young promising players on other areas of the pitch: David De Gea (Manchester United), Alberto Moreno (Sevilla), Alvaro Morata (Juventus) and Gerard Delofeu (Barcelona) are some examples.
The U21 side's triumphs at the 2011 and 2013 Euros are a sign that the former world champions still have at least one more golden generation in the works.
And with Del Bosque's commitment to remain at the helm till 2016, it is clear that Spain will keep betting on the philosophy that gave it its most glorious run.
Meanwhile, Spaniards are hoping that the abrupt halt suffered in Brazil was merely a wake-up call for the planners and not a cry for revolution.