Coach Vicente del Bosque was philosophical. “Six years say more than two bad games,” mused the 63-year-old, who will stay on to lead his nation’s continental defence at Euro 2016 without feeling the need for a “drastic revolution”.
In contrast, Spain’s top sides have been lavishly investing for the future like well-advised lottery winners. European champions Real Madrid have acquired Germany star Toni Kroos from Bayern Munich and Monaco’s exciting Golden Boot prodigy James Rodriguez.
Barcelona have also spent big on the bite-banned Luis Suarez. And champs Atletico have brought in promising ‘keeper Jan Oblak to replace returning Chelsea loanee Thibault Courtois.
The national team might have endured a blip in global terms, but the nation’s clubs aim to ensure they don’t in domestic and European ones.
On the flip side, Italian champions Juventus are experiencing the domino effect after the shock resignation of Antonio Conte. The inspirational, shouty and obsessive coach won three straight Serie A titles in as many seasons with the Turin giants, but quit when the players returned for pre-season training.
Talk of losing his brightest and best could have prompted Conte to walk – while his own departure may be the final nudge for Chile playmaker Arturo Vidal to join Louis van Gaal’s own revolution at Manchester United. Similarly, Golden Boy Paul Pogba could be Manchester – or Paris – bound, as the dominoes keep falling.
Patrice Evra though will now play under Juve’s new boss – and Milan’s old one – Massimiliano Allegri. After being axed by the Rossoneri in January for rank mediocrity, Allegri’s appointment is thus cheap – though he has some big, expensive and very shiny shoes to fill.
Yet the Old Lady’s loss may be Italy’s gain. Pragmatic coach Cesare Prandelli quit after the Azzurri’s group-stage exit in Brazil and the post remains vacant. Forty-four-year-old Conte, ridiculed for his hair transplant and blasted for allegedly ignoring match-fixing, may be taking his passion, flair, 68% win record and 3-5-2 formation into the top job. Forza Italia? Not half.
So all that raises this question: will the next couple of seasons see a football nation enjoy simultaneous domestic and international success?
Spain have relinquished their grip on the World Cup but Real, including Welsh and Portuguese mega-buys Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, are champions of Europe – pipping holders Bayern Munich, though a Bayern-dominated Germany are now the World Cup holders.
Italy last produced a European champion with Inter Milan in 2010, four years after lifting their last World Cup. France ruled the world in ‘98, but their last Euro star was Marseille in ‘93.
While the Premier League boasts recent Europe-best clubs Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool – but the last time England won anything significant was in the pre-decimal days of black-and-white TV. Yet Jose Mourinho’s new Spanish additions Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa do have (and must take) the chance to prove themselves domestically as well as internationally.
This season might not then just be one of rebuilding; it might also be one of getting the “club versus country” balance right. Banner signings may make the headlines and thrill the fans, but perhaps the home-grown players and coaches who succeed at every level are the ones to keep watching.
For Spain, the future is a little rosy. Their Under-21s have won the last two European championships, and produced a crop of talent such as David de Gea, Asier Illaramendi, Koke, Isco, Jese – and Bayern’s diminutive but gifted playmaker Thiago Alcantara, whom it is hoped will overcome injury and fill Kroos’ absent boots.
If del Bosque combines the skill of tiki-taka with the pace of youth, then La Roja might put the “fury” back in their nickname and be champions once again.
Do you agree with Gareth Bale in believing that La Liga is the best league in the world? Will Real Madrid’s new signings prove the difference between themselves, Atletico and Barcelona this season?
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