Is it a sign of the times, or an injury crisis?
Spain National Team coach Robert Moreno announced his 24-man squad ahead of Euro 2020 qualifying matches against Norway and Sweden during this month’s international fixture dates, and it was notable more for what wasn’t there than what was.
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From the big three in Spain, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid, only four total players earned a call-up this month. Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal from Real Madrid, Sergio Busquets from Barcelona, and Saul from Atletico Madrid.
Meanwhile, Villarreal alone had four players called up to La Roja, including former Arsenal and Premier League star midfielder Santi Cazorla. The veteran midfielder is having another strong season so far despite being 34-years old. According to Moreno, the makeup of this squad is more of a sign of the times.
“It is a reflection of current football…historically the big teams have been backed by seven or eight players from a great team, such as Bayern or Ajax,” Moreno told reporters, via Spanish publication Sport. “But now there are not many national players in the teams. In this squad, Villarreal is the one who contributes the most, but it is the one that has more Spaniards apart from Athletic (Bilbao). As a coach I would love to have nine of the same team because I already know they would know, but it is not that moment now. Neither Barça nor Madrid have many Spaniards unless they are holders. That makes our work difficult.”
One thing is clear. There are some injuries, as well as technical decisions that have kept players from the Big Three out of this squad. From Real Madrid, there’s no Isco, Marco Asensio, or Nacho. For Atletico Madrid, Diego Costa, Koke, Alvaro Morata are all out, while for Barcelona, there’s no place this month for Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto.
However, we’re no doubt a long way from a decade ago, when Barcelona and Real Madrid made up the bulk of the starting lineup. The 2010 World Cup winning squad included 12 players from Real Madrid and Barcelona alone. Barcelona had the likes of Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, while Real Madrid had Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, and Xabi Alonso.
If you look at both clubs, with the exception of Pique and Ramos – who are both still there – each of these players has been replaced at their club by a foreign-born player. Both clubs’ desire to bring in the best, already developed talent, has taken their gaze abroad.
Real Madrid’s goalkeeper is a Belgian international while their holding midfielder is a Brazilian. For Barcelona, they had just three Spanish nationals in their lineup for the 2-1 win over Inter in the UEFA Champions League. Xavi and Inesta have been replaced by Artur (Brazil) and now Frankie de Jong (Netherlands), while all three forward positions are foreign-born.
Ultimately, until Real Madrid and Barcelona either provide young Spanish players more chances to play, or commit to buying the best young players in the league and developing them – like Real Madrid did for Sergio Ramos after buying him from Sevilla – this trend of Spanish National Team players playing for other clubs than the Big Three will continue.