Between 2008 and 2014, the Spanish National Team went on one of the most dominant runs in International footballing history — sandwiching a World Cup victory with back-to-back European Championships with the eye test being nothing short of exceptional.
The backbone of that Spanish team was filled with La Liga talent. Real Madrid players Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, and Iker Casillas were the most notable Madridistas featured in the national team; but something wasn’t right.
Despite being represented in the country’s national team by two players, there was another club that overwhelmingly featured above all in the squad -- Barcelona. Players like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, David Villa, Pedro, and Cesc Fabregas all featured in prominent starting or bench roles for Spain.
The National team was also indicative of the landscape of La Liga, which similarly featured a dominant Barcelona side. The peak Barcelona years coincided with Spain’s “golden era”, and together the two dominated world football.
But all things come to an end. In 2014, after being thrashed by the Dutch in their opener and losing to Chile in the following match, Spain’s chance for a repeat in the World Cup was over after only two games. Spain looked lethargic, and behind the times. Spain’s style and personnel had stayed the same while the rest of the world learned to counter. It was time for them to revamp their roster, their tactics, and their identity.
Fast forward three years to 2017, and Spain has just come off an international break in which they thoroughly dominated both Italy and Liechtenstein by a combined score of 11-0. They are at the top of their World Cup qualifying group with a dominant 32 goals scored. They have conceded just three goals along the way.
They don’t appear as dominant as the team from the recent past, but something is different about this team. Look throughout the National team now and the only Barcelona players you’ll see are a 33-year-old Andres Iniesta, 30 year-old Gerard Pique, 29 year-old Sergio Busquets, and a 28 year-old Jordi Alba. The old core still lingers, but their ages indicate they won’t be for much longer.
Madrid, meanwhile, is beginning to assert itself on the national team. Both Madridistas and former Madridistas alike showed where the balance of power in the Spanish national team has shifted. Of the 11 goals Spain scored over International break, seven were scored by current or former Madrid players.
The star, the man pulling all the strings? Isco — a Real Madrid player. The man leading the front line? Alvaro Morata — one of Real Madrid’s recent departures. The starting Right-back? Dani Carvajal. The Captain? Sergio Ramos. The brightest young talent in Spain? Marco Asensio.
The future of Real Madrid. ⚪️— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) September 2, 2017
The future of Spain.
Isco and Marco Asensio are running the show at the Bernabéu. pic.twitter.com/MSQ00Tgiwk
It’s clear that Madrid is set to become the featured club of this national team for numerous reasons. The first and primary reason is due to their proficiencies in both scouting young players and through their own academy.
The recent emphasis on young talent by Real Madrid is well documented. Shrewd purchases for young Spanish players such as Isco, Theo Hernandez, Marco Asensio, Dani Ceballos, and Jesus Vallejo have all helped Madrid establish a baseline for the future. All five set are set to have a huge future with national team.
But Madrid aren’t just buying up all the young talent in Spain, they are creating it too. Dani Carvajal, Marcos Llorente, Lucas Vazquez, and Alvaro Morata are recent academy graduates that have broken into the team as well.
If one is to objectively look at all levels of the national team, it is quite possible Madrid could potentially have (or developed in Morata’s case) up to eight starters on the Spanish team in five years time. That is ridiculous, and speaks to the success Florentino Pérez has achieved over the past few seasons.
The second reason Madrid are set to take over the National Team’s personnel has nothing to do with themselves. No, it’s almost all due to Barcelona not buying young Spanish talent, and also not creating it either.
The Barcelona players that used to feature in the national side were almost all La Masia graduates, but with them gone, Barcelona’s influence has gone with it. The only La Masia grad of recent years to feature prominently for La Roja is Thiago Alcantara, a player that Barcelona let slip away to European rivals Bayern Munich.
Now the only new, young face Barcelona can look forward to seeing in the future of the national team is a player that likely will never even start -- Gerard Deulofeu.
As the Barcelona core of the team has aged, they are not being replaced by their own, but instead by their rivals. Real Madrid’s focus on youth and potential over the past few seasons has paid off on more than just the club level.
Real Madrid looks set to have the biggest influence on the Spanish National Team for years to come. If the last international break is anything to go off of, Madridistas will continue to be the centrepieces of Spain for many seasons to come. With talented players still waiting in the wings, Madrid’s influence on the national team will only continue to grow.