They say that a lot can be learnt from your failures in life, but it seems that the previous Spain coach, Luis Enrique, did not want to learn anything. Recent Spanish failures on the international stage cost Enrique his job, and now Luis de la Fuente is the man who has been tasked with bringing back success. It is a new era, and in this article we shall look at how Spanish football is changing.
Enrique’s Spell in Charge
From the end of 2019 until the end of 2022, the Spanish team was under the control of Enrique. It was a squad that was lacking in superstars, but this was fine because the system in Spain was always the star. You will not find top players such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, or Erling Haaland in their squad, but they have quality across the park.
During his spell in charge, Spain won no silverware – they would dominate the ball, but their lack of firepower was always their ultimate downfall. They insisted on playing possession football, and when that backfired time and time again and they were eliminated from a tournament, they would try to claim moral superiority over playing the beautiful game the “right way”.
The defeat to Morocco in the 2023 World Cup was the epitome of Enrique’s time in charge of the Spanish national team. It was a tough loss for fans to swallow because they at least expected their team to go down with a fight. Instead, they just passed the ball sideways for two hours, putting everyone watching to sleep. Over the 120 minutes, they had 77% possession and somehow managed just the one shot on target. Anyone who bets on football probably expected at least a couple of goals from Spain in this match.
De la Fuente’s Evolution
De la Fuente has actually been part of Spanish football for close to a decade now. He knows exactly how his players want to play, but he also has close experience with their failures. He has already helped to develop a number of players that will hopefully make Spanish football great again, and he will have his own opinion as to what needs to be done in order to fix Spain. His aim is to evolve the team without completely doing away with their style, and the first squad that he chose for European qualifying matches against Norway and Scotland did indicate his intent to evolve their infertile possession-based football.
Enrique was stubborn – he would keep selecting Eric García in defence, even when he was not playing at club level. Everyone believed that García was not good enough to play international football, but Enrique, in his stubbornness, continued to pick him. It is a similar situation with Gareth Southgate and Harry Maguire for England.
De la Fuente’s squad highlights a change in how they will try to play. For instance, he picked David García, who made his debut for his country at the age of 29. He chose the central defender over the likes of Mario Hermoso and Pau Torres. When you look at his selected wing backs, it would seem that he is not going to prioritise build-up play as much as Enrique did.
De la Fuente’s style is more obsessed with using attacking full-backs as can be seen from the fact that he called up the likes of Pedro Porro and Alejandro Balde, both of whom can play on the wing or at full-back. It also tells you that de la Fuente loves versatility as Balde is equally adept at playing on the right or left.
The inclusion of Nacho also signifies a fresh approach. Club allegiance in Spanish football is extremely divisive and club allegiance often goes before the desire for national team success. Enrique did not seem too keen to try and bridge this divide, and many Real Madrid fans cared little for the national team. By including Nacho, he is clearly trying to mend some of that ill-feeling that Madrid fans have towards the national team.
He is also going for youth and energy in the middle of the park. His hand was forced somewhat due to the retirement of Sergio Busquets, but maybe he would not have made the squad anyway. Martin Zubimendi, who is seen by many as Busquets’ natural successor has taken his place, while Yeremi Pino (20), Gavi (18), and Pedri (20) will all be regulars for Spain under de la Fuente. There is obviously less experience in their midfield, but there is a lot more energy. This seems to indicate that de la Fuente wants to play at a faster pace and with a more physical and direct approach.
Finding Goals is Key
Spain really are spoiled for choice in the middle of the park, but the same cannot be said of their attack. Their lack of firepower was highlighted at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Enrique chose players to fit his system instead of choosing those that are on form, while de la Feunte is picking players that are high on confidence.
Iago Aspas, Joselu, and Borja Iglesias have scored a good number of goals in La Liga, with just Robert Lewandowski and Enes Unal having scored more. De la Fuente knows that Spain needs to score more if he is to have the success that he is after. The only thing that the aforementioned players have in common is that they are Spanish and play as strikers. This gives de la Fuente a choice of players that can solve a variety of issues.
The wingers under de la Fuente will keep wide and will send in more crosses than they did under Enrique. This is why he has chosen players such as Nico Williams and Bryan Gil, while Joselu is one of the best Spanish strikers in the air – he has won the most aerial duels in La Liga this year.
So, overall, in upcoming Spanish matches we can expect to see a deviation from possession-based football to a more fast and direct approach. We hope this is the case because it will make for some highly entertaining football.