The Spanish national team is perhaps at an all time high and the current crop of players certainly justifies their stronghold on world football. Even the teams apart from the big guns (Real Madrid and FC Barcelona) have it in them to go and play scintillating football in the process of giving their opposition a lesson in football. The recently concluded continental championships had five teams out of eight in the two semi-finals and despite Real and Barca getting knocked out, two Spanish sides went on to play the Europa League final, which was eventually won by Atletico Madrid.
The plethora of talent in Spain in undeniable and teams which operate on tight budgets usually depend on the young turks and of late they haven’t disappointed. TheHardTackle looks at five prodigious talents, who might just make it to the bigger teams in Europe a la Juan Mata, David Silva, et al.
Inigo Martinez (Centre back, Real Sociedad)
Having attracted interest from the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea, Martinez is perhaps the future of the Spanish national team. Despite being just 21, Martinez’s versatility and ability to move up on the pitch has garnered a lot of attention. He can also play on the left side of defense. Having come up the ranks of the Spanish youth system, Martinez is technically very strong but he’s physically stronger – perhaps the reason he has made a mark so soon.
Despite not being as pacy as the other defenders in the Spanish U23 squad, Martinez is fast enough and makes up for his lack of pace with his strong and gritty tackle. The Real Sociedad defender is not the tallest to ply the trade but has a good command over aerial balls. His offensive traits include his penchant for playing the daring long ball and dribbling. However, his propensity to go for the rough tackle can often result in a caution or a free-kick from a potentially threatening area. Nonetheless, Martinez perhaps needs a couple of more years in Sociedad to mature as an individual and once he achieves that, he will be a player of immense potential.
Javi Martinez (Defensive midfielder / Centre back, Athletic Bilbao)
Defensive midfielders don’t always get the credit that they deserve for the tremendous amount of work that they put in. The efforts often go unnoticed. However, that is fortunately not the case with the second Martinez in the list. The Bilbao star has gathered a lot of attention and quite rightly so. Nowadays being Spanish more or less automatically guarantees that you are as good as they come when technicality is in question, however, for Martinez, his unyielding attitude and ability to take the fight to the opposition adds to his sheen. As quite aptly put by IBWM – Think Patrick Vieira with more pace, skill and a lot more swagger. Indeed, Javi Martinez loves the rough and tumble as much as he loves having the ball at his feet.
The tall defensive player had garnered a lot of interest from a host of big clubs in Europe – the most significant being from FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich. However, Athletic had been as obdurate about the exorbitant price tag as Martinez is on the pitch – which eventually inundated the liaisons. Martinez had been a vital cog in 2011-12 for Bilbao and in the wake of bigger threats from Barca and Real, the Bilbao talisman will be expected to stand up to the challenge in the coming months.
Isco (Attacking midfielder, Malaga)
If the current crop of the Spanish international footballers is blessed, then the upcoming turks are not far behind. Valencia isn’t often credited with the nurturing of young talents, but Isco is evidence of the wonderful work that the Los Che do. Versatility is perhaps the Spaniard’s biggest boon (of course apart from his silken skills on the ball) and he’s comfortable anywhere in the final third. At a young age of 20 he’s often likened to Andres Iniesta – which is indeed commendable.
Isco’s ability to control the tempo of the game with his control over the ball is exemplary and beyond his age. Given the kind of potential this kid has, it’s extremely heart-warming for the Spanish national team to even think of the kind of devastating partnership he will be having with the likes of Muniain, Martinez, Thiago, Tello, et al. Isco however, needs to develop and mature a lot and the likes of Pellegrini (or maybe even Arsene Wenger) is perfect to bring out the best from the youngster. Smart and skilled. A star in the making.
Iker Muniain (Winger / Forward, Athletic Bilbao)
Spain’s answer to Argentina’s Leo Messi. Well, almost! Nonetheless, Muniain is a player par excellence. The left winger rose through the ranks of Athletic Bilbao and has become one of their crucial members. Muniain has blistering pace, something which David de Gea can vouch for – his goal against Manchester United last year had his compatriots in gasps. His speeds on the ball and off it are comparable, which bears a striking resemblance to a certain Argentine plying his trade in FC Barcelona (where he wears the jersey number 10, if you thought otherwise, that is).
Muniain has improved on his physique – an attribute which has helped him immensely in his endeavor to hold onto the ball. Nevertheless, Muniain is still not a finished product and his tendency to lose it in front of the goal has cost him and his team quite a few goal-scoring opportunities. Finishing is certainly not his forte and once that is rectified, we perhaps have one of the strongest contenders of FIFA Ballon d’Or for the future. With the kind of quality at his disposal and a level-headedness, Muniain is certainly touted to be Spain’s next superstar – one that can help forge their supremacy over the rest in years to come. And yeah, perhaps, Spain’s Lionel Messi.
Antoine Griezmann (Winger, Real Sociedad)
The lone Frenchman is an idiosyncrasy yet another example of the abundance of young and talented players that ply their trade in Spain – perhaps one of the very few from his country in his age group to do so (and yes, we are aware of a certain Raphaël Varane). Primarily a winger, Griezmann can also operate as a striker. His skill, acceleration and dribbling ability aren’t anything short of thrilling.
Griezmann’s story has a quaint resemblance to that of Leo Messi’s. After not having made the cut for Montpellier, due to his short stature, Griezmann’s talent was spotted by Sociedad and ever since the winger hasn’t looked behind. The Frenchman’s positioning sense has improved with every passing game and Sociedad quite rightly has put a release clause of €30 million on their Talented Mr. Ripley. Not many 21-year old can boast of toying with the Real Madrid defense (Sergio Ramos nods, humbly) and scoring against FC Barcelona to earn a point. Griezmann, at 21, has done both. Enough said!
Note: This list particularly doesn’t include youngsters from Real Madrid and FC Barcelona – a conscious attempt to showcase the array of talent that the rest possess.
Update : Javi Martinez has completed a move to Bayern Munich.