World Cup

Spain: Taking Football to the Next Level

 Spain celebrating their U21 triumphThey play like their senior counterparts, holding onto the ball and out playing their opponents and come out winners. However, a closer look at the team shows that there is no Xavi, Iniesta or Gerard Pique to mention but a few and the faces are clearly those of youngsters.

Welcome to the world of the Spanish U21 team, which is has dazzled at the European U21 Championships, which ended Tuesday in Israel.

Like their senior counterparts they dominated possession in all the games they played en route retaining their trophy with a 4-2 victory over Italy on Tuesday.

But what captivated me was not only the fact that they (Spain) play eye-catching football, but perhaps more importantly how the nation has been able to seamlessly progress their players up the various rungs of age-grade football without losing the core value of how Spain plays its football.

Let me use just one player as an example. Goalkeeper David de Gea, now 22, has been part of the Spanish set up since making the U15 national squad nine years ago.

At the last U21 Championships in Denmark two years ago, the Manchester United shot stopper played a big part in helping Spain to the title to add to the European U17 crown he had won earlier. He has also played a major role in Spain’s march to the latest triumph pulling off a string of top notch saves.

By the way, it was at the same Denmark tournament that a certain Juan Marta was named MVP. The diminutive midfielder as we all know is now a regular star for the reigning Europa champions, Chelsea.

So while many of the current Spanish U21 side are unlikely to displace Iniesta or Xavi by Brazil 2014, at least it is clear that “La Roja” have a large pool of stars ready to take over from them by the time of the next World Cup in Russia 2018.

If only our football authorities would take a cue from this and ensure that players whose ages are genuinely within the age groups are able to progress from the Golden Eaglets into the Flying Eagles and then into the Olympic team before progressing into the Super Eagles.

Of course not every good star goes through such a progression, but having a well thought-out plan will ensure that the nation should have a large pool of potential future Super Eagles stars to call on for national assignments.

As things stand because we attached so much to winning, coaches and even the system turns a blind eye to age-cheating, which costs Nigeria dearly.

Its quite unbelievable that only six years after being crowned FIFA U17 champions, members of the victorious Golden Eaglets are virtually “missing in action” from the current scheme of things.

If they had actually been U17 at Korea’07, then many of them should have been in Brazil as 23-year-old football stars leading Eagles’ Confederation Cup quest!

One can only hope and pray that one day we will get it right.

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