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Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.

Vicente del Bosque’s Spain

July 2nd, 2013
An unfamiliar experience for the Spaniards.

An unfamiliar experience for the Spaniards.

Let me preface everything I’m about to say with the fact that Spain had another fantastic tournament. Losing in a final is tough but the fact that La Roja found themselves in another final is a feat that cannot be taken lightly. I am not one of those calling this the end of Tiki Taka and Spain’s dominance but I hope to lay out the issues as I see them as well as a few solutions to Spain’s, and Barcelona’s recent malaise.

There are those of you who are already raging at my last sentence but the fact is that Barcelona were utterly dominated by Bayern Munich in this year’s Champions League Semi-Final and Spain were similarly disposed of by Brazil yesterday. Those who thought that the Champions League was a fluke or just a blip in the success of Spanish football have to be wondering after the Confederation Cup Final where the experience and world class talent of the Spanish side was dominated by a young Brazilian side (albeit with an entire country behind them).

Xavi & Torres are both past their prime yet remain as undisputed starters.

Xavi & Torres are both past their prime yet remain as undisputed starters.

There are two major areas of concern and they are consistent across the national team and FC Barcelona. One is the efficacy of starting Xavi at the end of another marathon season and the other is the questions about Pique’s defensive abilities. No one respects and loves Xavi more than me but the fact is that he is 33 years old now and his body is not what it used to be. In the last three years since his thirtieth birthday, the midfield maestro has played 172 games, that is a game every six days on a body that is past its prime and he is expected to set the pace for Spain and Barcelona’s possession game and high pressure off the ball. Iniesta, his partner in crime, seems to be improving from year to year, leading La Liga in assists this campaign and being honored as the second best player in the Confederations Cup.

It is safe to say that Gerard Pique misses Carles Puyol. The charismatic cave-man leader has been out injured the majority of this season and his absence was felt keenly in both the Champions League Semi-Final and the Confederation Cup Final. Pique’s distribution and ability on the ball is as good as it’s ever been, but when Spain are not at their dynamic, possession-keeping best he and his teammates have been found wanting.

So what to do? My biggest criticism of Vicente del Bosque has been how predictable his squads have been over the last four plus years. His teams have rarely varied further than his group of fourteen favored players which include: Casillas, Arbeloa, Pique, Puyol, Ramos, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Alonso, Villa, Torres, Navas, and Fabregas. The likes of Silva, Cazorla, Mata and Javi Martinez have been fringe players for a while now. Brazil beat Spain on Sunday with a squad that did not include any of their senior players (Ronaldinho, Kaka, Robinho were not even in the squad).

The next generation of Spaniards are ready to contribute.

The next generation of Spaniards are ready to contribute.

Some new blood is needed in the national team, and luckily no country has more young talent then Spain. Two players that are ready to make the leap to the first team have tasted international success already this summer. Isco Alarcon and Thiago Alcantara led the Spanish U21 side to European Championship glory this summer and look ready to add a new dynamic to the national team. Thiago can provide the metronome passing that Spain have come to expect, taking some of the pressure off of Xavi and brings more flair and creativity to the table than the thirty-three year old. Having Isco and running at opposition defenses will give Iniesta a dynamic threat to work with and create more opportunities for La Roja.

There are more youngsters rocketing through the youth ranks, watch for Martin Montoya and Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal to challenge Alvaro Arbeloa for his spot, a spot which should have been contested long before now. Alvaro Morata and Jese Rodriguez maybe a few years away but both could provide a nice alternative to Spain’s striking conundrum at the moment. Inigo Martinez could slot in at centre back sooner or later as well, the youngster plays in a similar style to Carles Puyol. Regardless the future is bright for La Roja, hopefully Vicente del Bosque sees this too.

Asier Illarramendi

June 10th, 2013

Full Name: Asier Illarramendi Andonegi
Team: Real Sociedad
Position: Midfielder
Age: 23
Birth Date: March 8, 1990
Birth Place: Mutriku, Spain
Height: 5 feet 9 inches

The Basque youngster continues a rich tradition of great talent coming out of this particular region of Spain. Athletic Bilbao often get the plaudits for their development of players like Iker Muniain but this time it is their fierce rivals, Real Sociedad that are bringing youngsters up through their ranks. Illarramendi is another defensive midfielder that seems destined for the senior national side, a side that already boasts, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Javi Martinez as world class midfield anchors.

Illarramendi is a small town lad, who still lives in his hometown of Mutriku, a coastal town in the Basque Country in Northern Spain. Despite the fact that his performances for La Real this season will have drawn the gaze of clubs from all over Europe, he maintains that he is happy in Spain.

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“I go to train every day with Real Sociedad and then come home,” he told UEFA.com. “I’ve got everything I need there – family, friends, my girlfriend. I’m happier there than anywhere else.”

Despite this, he looks to be a key cog in Julen Lopetegui’s side in Isreal for the U21 European Championship and for the senior side moving forward.

The twenty-three year old is a one club man so far in his career, having been brought up through La Real’s cantera and then spending three seasons with the B side, learning his trade and helping them gain promotion back to the Segunda Division B. There are few players who can dictate the tempo of a game in such a way that it looks effortless and Illarramendi is one of those. Everything starts with him when he is on the pitch, whether for club or country, he begins attacks playing on his more creative teammates with clever passes. Defensively his positioning is sound, allowing for those same creative players to commit forward, knowing that Asier is behind them ready to win the ball back and start the cycle all over again.

Illarramendi anchored Real Sociedad to an impressive campaign which saw the club finish fourth in La Liga, lining them up for a UEFA Champions League qualification spot over the summer. His summer with the U21 Spanish side could be a great finish to a stellar season for a youngster who we have not finished hearing about.

Thiago Alcantara

June 9th, 2013

Full Name: Thiago Alcantara
Team: FC Barcelona
Position: Center Midfielder
Age: 22
Birth Date: April 11, 1991
Birth Place: San Pietro Vernotico, Italy
Height: 5 ft 7 in

The Italian, born to a Brazilian father (Brazilian 1994 World Cup winner Mazinho), that chose to play for Spain, is a genius in the making. He started playing at the age of five in the youth system of Flamengo in Brazil before moving to Spain to continue his footballing education. At the age of ten he returned to the Brazilian club where he stayed for four years before signing for FC Barcelona.

His patience at FC Barcelona, having worked all the way through the youth ranks at La Masia has begun to pay off as he has combined his innate Brazilian flair for the audacious with a Spanish appreciation for the simple play. This unique combination has created a dynamic player who can play in a deep lying playmaker position, or right behind the center forward. He is a playmaker first, but is not afraid to shoot from distance, his vision for through balls is exquisite and his work rate off of the ball is something that he has learned over the years from his colleagues.

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The twenty-two year old has earned comparisons to Xavi with his accuracy and eye for the killer pass. But in truth, his play is one part Xavi’s reliability and another part Iniesta’s creativity and dribbling, a truly exciting prospect for fans of La Roja and FC Barcelona. He is a U17 and U21 European Champion and is the captain of the current U21 side. Thiago has already been capped for the senior national side and will likely be the next midfield general for Vicente del Bosque’s side when Xavi chooses to retire from international play. With FC Barcelona he has two UEFA Champions League titles and four La Liga titles, a trophy cabinet that will only get bigger as this young star continues to develop as a player.

It is curious to note that Thiago’s cousin, Rodrigo, played with Real Madrid’s youth system and now is a prolific scorer for La Rojita and with Portuguese club Benfica, his brother, Rafinha is currently a member of FC Barcelona B and will likely be with the first team starting in the 2013/14 season.

Results – Fútbol Draft 2013

May 22nd, 2013

The 8th edition of the prestigious Futbol Draft award was decided on Tuesday, with the top 33 young talents in Spain being honoured by an independent panel of experts from the RFEF, LFP, AFE and more. Players born after 1992 were voted into three teams, Gold, Silver and Bronze, based on who the panel think are the most promising at this moment in time.

In recent years the likes of Thiago, De Gea, Fabregas, Pique, Mata, Javi Martinez and Busquets have all been honoured with places in the Gold XI, but who are the next generation of stars that could be unconvered by Futbol Draft? We take a look at the three teams.

Gold

ORO

In goal is for me the obvious choice, Athletic Bilbao ‘keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga having had a great year in particular with Spain’s U19 side, where he kept goal for their European triumph and earned a promotion to the U21’s.

In defence, Bayer Leverkusen’s Dani Carvajal has taken the regular Bundesliga action with ease and is wanted back at Real Madrid, with Sevilla’s breakthrough star Alberto Moreno on the other flank. Catalan pairing Jordi Amat and Sergi Gómez make up the central pairing, the latter enjoying another solid campaign for Barca B, and Espanyol’s Amat having reminded us again of his quality on loan at Rayo.

Atlético Madrid duo Koke and Saúl Ñíguez are chosen in the heart of midfield. As an undisputed starter for the rojiblancos Koke picks himself and keeps his place from last year’s Gold XI, although 18 year-old Saúl is a little more surprising, but not undeserved nonetheless. Málaga’s Isco Alarcón is of course the playmaker, and is arguably the biggest talent in the team.

Despite an underwhelming campaign, Basque wonderkid Iker Muniain is included for a third successive year, with teenage star Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona) and Álvaro Morata (Real Madrid) unsurprisingly making up the attack.

Silver

PLATA

A regular for struggling Racing Santander, Dani Sotres is chosen as goalkeeper for the Silver team. The youngster is likely to keep goal in the U20 World Cup for Spain next month.

Two more of last year’s Under-19 heroes are in defence, tough centre-half Derik Osede of Real Madrid, and Celta Vigo’s 19 year-old utility man Joni Castro, who has enjoyed a solid first campaign in La Liga this year. They are joined by Pablo Iñiguez, another teenager who is now a regular in Segunda with Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao left-back Jon Aurtenetxe, who provides experience to the team.

The midfield is made up of three young talents who all debuted for Spain’s Under-21’s last February, Real Sociedad’s playmaking prodigy Rubén Pardo, tough tackling Pedro Obiang of Sampdoria, and the pearl of Atlético Madrid’s cantera, young Óliver Torres.

Ahead of them, another of this year’s La Liga breakthrough stars in Rubén García (Levante) makes the team, as does ex-Real Madrid wing wizard Pablo Sarabia. Now at Getafe, he is not their only representative in this team, with Paco Alcácer, the prolific centre-forward on loan from Valencia, the main striker.

Bronze

BRONCE

For the bronze team, stopper Rubén Blanco, another of the sublime generation coming up at Celta Vigo, is included and is the youngest representative of all three teams.

Atlético right-back Javi Manquillo makes the team, with two of his Spain U20 teammates alongside him in edefence. Sevilla’s Israel Puerto scored in the recent friendly win over Paraguay and partners Jonas Ramalho of Athletic in the centre, with another La Masia graduate in Marc Muniesa at left-back.

Two of Barcelona B and Real Madrid Castilla’s main midfielders are in this team, Álex Fernández and Sergi Roberto, who despite being rivals at club level have played many times for Spain’s youth sides and have had impressive seasons respectively in the Liga Adelante. Liverpool’s supremely talented playmaker Suso makes up the midfield in the #10 role.

Surprisingly, the star of Real Madrid’s La Fabrica academy and ‘pichichi’ of the Under-19 Euro’s, Jesé Rodríguez, only makes the bronze team as a left-forward, with clubmate Raúl de Tomas (18) the striker. Making up the line-up is Betis winger Álvaro Vadillo, another in the long line of talented widemen from the 1994 generation in Spain.

There were a few perhaps surprising omissions, for example Barcelona’s fabulous young left-back Alejandro Grimaldo didn’t make the cut, although he has suffered a lot from injuries lately. The same can apply to Sevilla’s José Campaña who had an excellent tournament in the U19 Euro’s last year, and to a lesser extent Manchester City youngster Denis Suárez, although other players from that team were overlooked on a different basis. For example, Juanmi (Racing, on loan from Málaga), who has sadly regressed a lot in the last 18 months, and the very impressive Juan Bernat of Valencia were also not included.

Of course though, with the huge amount of talent coming through in Spain right now, it is always going to be difficult to make decisions like this, and there will always be quality left out. Looking at the three teams though, you can be sure that the current generation have a line of successors that have the potential to match their success and knows, maybe even emulate it. Two of the Golden XI, Isco and Muniain, have already represented La Roja at the highest level, but you can be certain they will bet the first of many of the names you see on this page.

La Rojita quintuple bill heads up International break

March 19th, 2013

Can’t face the prospect of two weeks without seeing your club play during the International break? Fear not, as Spain’s supremely talented youth sides play a total of five matches in the next 10 days or so, with the Under 17, 19 and 21 outfits all in important action. With a summer full of tournaments for the lower levels of La Roja, all the best young talent from the world’s leading developer of footballers will all be on show, so expect plenty over the coming months.

We’ll start age ascending, and Santi Denía’s Under-17′s will attempt to do this week what the team’s from 2011 and 2012 couldn’t – qualify for the European Championships. Having squeezed through the first phase of preliminary matches, they now play the all-or-nothing Elite Round, where only the top team from each group will make it to the finals in Slovakia. The squad are already in their base in Croatia, who, along with the formidable opposition of Belgium and France, stand in the way of a passage to the tournament.

sub17italia2

The main thing to note from this year’s side is it’s defence. Granted, they have rotated between goalkeepers a lot (neither of the two in the squad played the last round of qualifiers), but the back four is solid, keeping clean sheets nearly all of the games they have played together so far. Much of this is down to the Barcelona trio of Xavi Quintilla, Juanma García and Rodrigo Tarín, the team’s captain and leader, but towering Juventus centre-back Nico Cañizares, Almería’s Antonio Marín and Javi Jiménez of Villarreal are solid as well.

They will be hoping to improve their attacking output though, having struggled for goals despite a vast array of talent in the ranks. In midfield, Valencia’s Pedro ‘Chiri‘ Chirivella especially will be a star, as well as Fran Curro Sánchez, already playing in Segunda B for Sevilla’s reserves, and Real Madrid duo Aleix Febas and Cristian Artiles. Their task will provide the creativity to those in attack, who include Man City wonderkid José Pozo, La Masia’s wing phenom Adama Traore, and Roberto Núñez, Atlético’s latest ‘new Fernando Torres’. It’s an extremely promising squad, but they will need to click in the little time they have together. Fingers crossed they make it.

Moving up a level, the U19′s begin the defence of their title for the second year running on Wednesday, playing for the first time since the Euro Final last July with a friendly against Germany. As you would expect the squad is strong again this year, with a lot of last year’s stars still eligible under the age limit. However, they have had a fair few injury problems lately, with the likes of Grimaldo and Sandro Ramírez out long term, and striker Raúl de Tomas also having to pull out. Deulofeu has moved up to the U21′s too so will not be able to win the Euro’s for a third time in succession, but in Fede Vico, Álvaro Vadillo and Moi Gómez, there is plenty of talent on the wings still.

Jony and Javi Manquillo will continue in a defence that on paper looks more solid than the vulnerable one we saw last year, however, it is the midfield that is particularly strong. Óliver Torres, who dazzled last summer for the same team, will partner Atlético teammate and captain Saúl Ñíguez, with Real Madrid starlet José Rodríguez also likely to join them. Sergi Samper can’t even make the squad, which is saying something. We have our fingers crossed that there will be a way of watching them play as it should be a great game against a highly-rated Germany side, which should also let us see who the new manager of the team is; Julen Lopetegui having been promoted back in August. Ginés Melendez is the most likely option.

spain u21 team

Speaking of Lopetegui, his U21′s also continue their preparation for the Summer’s Euros, with friendlies against Norway and Russia planned for the 21st and 25th of March respectively. Both countried have also qualified for the tournament, with the latter Spain’s opponents in the first group game in Jerusalem. They will be without Isco and De Gea who are in Del Bosque’s first team squad, but do have the returning Thiago Alcantara (one of 7 Barcelona players), who hasn’t featured since 2011, and Sergio Canales, a welcome addition following the injury problems that have plagued his young career so far.

Having qualified with ease from their group, they are also looking to regain the title they won in 2011 and will be strong favourites to do so, even though many of their stars could go to the Confederations Cup and may not play in Israel. These friendlies will provide the opportunity for some of the fringe players to stake their claims though, as did last month’s match against Belgium, where a team made up of players born 1992 and after managing a 1-1 draw. Both games will definitely be available on Spanish TV and online, so make sure you see the dates below to clear your diaries.

Under-17′s

21/03 – Croatia vs. Spain (3pm)

23/03 – Spain vs. Belgium (3pm)

26/03 – France vs. Spain (3pm)

Squad

Goalkeepers: Carlos Morales (Albacete), Carlos Marin (Atlético Madrid)

Defenders: Rodrigo Tarin (Barcelona), Xavi Quintilla (Barcelona), Nico Cañizares (Juventus), Javi Jiménez (Villarreal), Juanma García (Barcelona), Antonio Marin (Almería)

Midfielders: Fran Sánchez (Sevilla), Aleix Febas (Real Madrid), Joaquín Fernández (Almería), Pedro Chirivella (Valencia), Cristian Artiles (Real Madrid), Javier Fernández (Deportivo)

Forwards: José Pozo (Man City), Adama Traore (Barcelona), Roberto Núñez (Atlético Madrid), Mario González (Villarreal)

Under-19′s

20/03 – Germany vs. Spain (8pm)

Squad

Goalkeepers: Alfonso Herrero (Real Madrid), Rubén Blanco (Celta Vigo)

Defenders: Javier Manquillo (Atlético Madrid), Borja López (Sporting Gijón), Salva Ruiz (Valencia), Jony Castro (Celta Vigo), Francisco Varela (Real Betis), José Luis Gaya (Valencia)

Midfielders: Moisés Gómez (Villarreal), Óliver Torres (Atlético Madrid), José Rodríguez (Real Madrid), Álvaro Vadillo (Real Betis), Saúl Ñíguez (Atlético Madrid), Álvaro Medran (Real Madrid), Pablo Iñiguez (Villarreal)

Forwards: Iker Hernández (Real Sociedad), Santi Mina (Celta Vigo), Fede Vico (Córdoba)

Under-21′s

21/03 – Spain vs. Norway (8.30pm)

25/03 – Spain vs. Russia (8.30pm)

Squad

Goalkeepers: Joel Robles (Wigan Athletic), Diego Mariño (Villarreal)

Defenders: Martin Montoya (Barcelona), Marc Muniesa (Barcelona), Iñigo Martínez (Real Sociedad), Nacho (Real Madrid), Marc Bartra (Barcelona), Jordi Amat (Rayo Vallecano), Carles Planas (Barcelona)

Midfielders: Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao) Ignacio Camacho (Málaga), Koke (Atlético Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Barcelona), Asier Illarramendi (Real Sociedad), Pablo Sarabia (Getafe), Sergio Canales (Valencia), Cristian Tello (Barcelona)

Forwards: Rodrigo Moreno (Benfica), Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona), Álvaro Vázquez (Getafe)

La Rojita Round-up: Under-21′s experiment, triumph for Under-18′s

February 6th, 2013

It was an extremely interesting week for Spain’s lower International levels, with some of the most promising players from the younger generations especially getting chances to show their talent as this year’s Under 21, 20, 19, and 17 sides all take shape ahead of summer tournaments. Also, we have the first, and surely not last, piece of silverware of the year, as the Under-18′s unsurprisingly succeeded in the Copa Atlántico.

We’ll start from the top, as Julen Lopetegui’s U21 team were held to a 1-1 draw away against a talented Belgian side on Tuesday. However it wasn’t the team we were used to, as only players born in 1992 and later were included in the squad (in preparation for when the age limit drops from 1990 in August). This meant that 12 players got debuts at La Rojita‘s highest level, including many of the U19 squad that triumphed under the same manager last summer, and a few of our favourites here at Football Cantera.

Spain U21's starting XI in Belgium

Spain U21′s starting XI in Belgium

Liverpool’s Suso, who debuted as a late substitute against Italy a few months back, started as the #10 and shone, putting in a really impressive first half performance that included an assist for Gerard Deulofeu to finish in rampant style. Rookie Athletic Bilbao ‘keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was another of the debutantes, and despite being impressive overall, could do absolutely nothing about Belgium’s equalizer. Van der Bruggen almost broke the net with his stunning effort before half-time, volleying expertly into the top corner from long range.

Sergi Gómez, the excellent Rubén Pardo, Paco Alcácer and Pedro Obiang, a regular in Serie A for Sampdoria finally given a long overdue chance, were the other starters playing for the first time, but it wasn’t until the second half that we saw the bulk of the new boys. Barcelona’s 17 year-old phenom Alex Grimaldo came on at half-time along with Atlético midfielder Saúl Ñíguez, who was soon joined by club-mate Óliver Torres for the last half hour. All three showed just why they are so highly rated and didn’t look at all out of place having made the step up, the latter especially catching the eye with an array of impressive passes and touches.

Unfortunately there would be no breakthrough for Lopetegui’s side though, but as usual, they dominated the game and did have chances, Deulofeu hitting the crossbar after an Óliver knockdown and Saúl shaving the goal-frame with a header. There were plenty of positives to focus on, with Dani Sotres, Arsenal’s Ignasi Miquel, Luis Alberto and Juan Bernat winning their first caps before the match ended too. The full squad will return for the next round of games in March, but many of the younger squad will re-unite for the U20 World Cup in June, before forming the new Under-21 a few months later.

An extremely busy man, Lopetegui will also be managing the Under-19′s this year, and he took charge of the U18 side in last week’s Copa Atlántico in Gran Canaria, where the younger players in contention competed in and won the four team tournament for a seventh successive year. Plenty of exciting names were on show, including a few who featured in our recent ‘Ones to Watch for 2013′ feature. You may not be surprised to find out that they didn’t disappoint either.

On the first match-day La Rojita took on Mexico, but didn’t get off to the best start with a late goal meaning they had to settle for a draw. Atlético forward Iván Calero opened the scoring with an excellent first half strike, and was the team’s best player on the night, but Pineda leveled things on 85 minutes. Just a day later they did get a win, a much changed team overcoming the local Canarias XI. A single Sandro Ramírez penalty decided the game, with the young Barcelona striker deciding not to celebrate against his regional compatriots.

This year's Copa Atlántico winners

This year’s Copa Atlántico winners

In the deciding game later that week, he was on target once again along with this year’s Juvenil DH sensation Santi Mina (who has scored for Celta Vigo’s first team in a friendly since then) in a 2-1 win over Portugal, enough to win the competition with 7 points from a possible 9, and seal the Golden Boot for Sandro. A Spaniard also took the accolade of Most Valuable Player, but surprisingly it wasn’t one of Lopetegui’s players, but Canaria’s Fran Núñez, who plays for Las Palmas. Although virtually unheard of, he could be one to watch out for given that recent MVP winners include Óliver Torres and Sergio Canales.

Finally, Spain’s U17 side have also been very busy as of late, already having met up three times since the turn of the year. In January they played for the first time since passing the first stage of European Championship qualifiers, beating a strong Italy side 1-0 courtesy of a powerful header from captain Rodrigo Tarin (Barcelona). This week they held a training camp in Las Rozas, with Santi Denía calling up a whole host of new players once again and using it as a chance to experiment. They haven’t fully convinced in recent years so will need all the preparation possible, with the Euro Elite Round kicking off in March before the final tournament in May, should Spain get there for the first time in three years.

Is Iker Muniain struggling with fatigue?

November 24th, 2012

The nineteen year old and his teammates were a sensation in Europe last season, making it to the final of the Europa League and the Copa del Rey, highlighting the season with impressive displays against FC Barcelona and Manchester United. Add that to his success with the national team, with Iker starting four matches for the U21 side on their way to a European Championship title in 2011.

The second half of 2012 has not been up to par for the one who is affectionately called the Basque Rooney. Muniain was part of the Spanish side that disappointed at the London Olympics this summer as La Rojita were unceremoniously dumped out of the group stage. Add that to the fact that Athletic Bilbao has been an unsettled club since the summer when manager Marcelo Bielsa and star striker Fernando Llorente had a falling out. The Argentine manager has shown his weakness as he has not been able to right the ship. Muniain has featured in all nineteen of the club’s matches this fall yet only has two goals and two assists to his name and hasn’t attracted the plaudits so far.

I would argue that the nineteen year old is suffering from fatigue. Muniain played fifty-four competitive matches last season, more than Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and David Silva. This was compounded by the style that Bielsa had Bilbao and Muniain playing, consisting of a fast paced and swashbuckling flair in which the young Spaniard was the heart. I think the David Silva comparison is an apt one, 2012 saw a deterioration of Silva’s form. He played over one-hundred matches over two seasons with a shortened summer in each thanks to international duty. This type of demand on a player can be draining and can be detrimental to a youngster’s development. Silva’s recent injury and forced break was the best thing that could happen to him. It was only a month, but after a poor start to the season, Silva returned from his injury this month better then he has been in recent memory with outstanding performances against Tottenham, Aston Villa and Real Madrid. I’m not saying that Muniain needs to get injured, but if that is what it takes to give him the time off to recharge his batteries then that is what will likely happen, Bielsa isn’t likely going to give his star time off anytime soon.

It is the sad reality of the demands of the modern game and I just hope it doesn’t do lasting damage to some of the exciting young stars whose bodies are still developing. Muniain is developing as a leader on and off the pitch and some of the experience he is gaining at Bilbao will only make him a better player moving forward.

Rodrigo and Isco Star for La Rojita (U-21)

October 13th, 2012

Muniain and his teammates impressed in a stunning 5-0 victory.

Spain’s U-21 side are on the cusp of qualifying for next summer’s UEFA European Under-21 tournament in Isreal. Julen Lopetegui has followed up his success with the U-19s this past summer with a strong start with the U-21s. Their first play-off leg against Denmark went off without a hitch as La Rojita dominated the Danes five-nil thanks to a master class display from youngster Rodrigo.

The Benfica forward scored a staggering four goals on Wednesday which included a five minute hat-trick with his first three goals spanning from the sixteenth to the twenty-first minute. The product of Real Madrid’s La Fabrica has been in lethal form for the U-21 side in qualifying, scoring eleven times in nine appearances. He was maybe unfortunate not to score a fifth as he was substituted just over ten minutes before Isco scored a penalty to end the match. The in-form Malaga man adding another goal to his name (his sixth in eleven matches) having played provider for Spain’s second goal, playing a perfect pass to for an onrushing Rodrigo to put home.

Iker Muniain put a frustrating start to the season with his club behind him and played an integral part in two of Rodrigo’s goals while Tello provided another for the man from Rio de Janeiro. It is a result that renders the second leg insignificant but it will be a good opportunity for Julen Lopetgui to give the likes of Sergi Roberto, Deulofeu, and Sarabia starts.

Romeu On the Move?

September 15th, 2012

In a classic example of how not to treat or develop young players, Chelsea could be losing Spaniard Oriol Romeu to Valencia. The young defensive midfielder had earned the nickname The Bulldozer in Spain before moving to London last summer. Life in the Premier League started well for Romeu, seeing the youngster earn solid minutes under then Chelsea manager Andre Villas Boas. Unfortunately the Portuguese manager’s reign did not last long at all and with it seems to have died any bright future that Romeu might have had at the London club.

AVB’s assistant manager, Roberto Di Matteo took over as manager of the club on March 4, 2012 and since that time; Oriol Romeu has seen one start and a cumulative one hundred and fifty-five minutes of competitive Premier League play with Chelsea. The youngster is turning twenty-one years of age on the twenty-fourth of September and he needs to be playing first team football. With the excess of midfield talent at Stamford Bridge this season, in addition to Di Matteo’s inexplicable exclusion of the lad, it seems he is destined to move clubs.

Romeu brings a versatile playing style to any team. He is usually calm and assured with the ball at his feet. His positioning is sound, being able to play in front of the back-line or as a defender. He is not the quickest but his tenacity and work ethic mean that he runs all game long, tracking the ball and adding insurance to any defensive line. He is built for and enjoys the English game but it could be he finds himself back in Spain if rumors are to be believed.

He would not have to look far for clubs interested in his services. Valencia has reportedly been tracking Romeu for a number of weeks; the club have had scouts at Spain U21 matches and could make a €5m offer. Of course any deal now would involve a loan with the option to buy at the next transfer window but regardless of where he goes it seems clear that to continue his development Oriol Romeu has to play his football elsewhere.

Six Barcelona players called up to Spain U21

August 31st, 2012

Six FC Barcelona players Montoya, Bartra, Planas, Sergi Roberto, Tello, Deulofeu have been called up to the Spain U21 squad to face Switzerland (September 6) and Croatia (September 10) in the upcoming European U21 qualifiers. Barcelona B’s Gerard Deulofeu gets his maiden call-up to the U21 national team at just 18-years-old.

Full Spain U21 squad:

Goalkeepers: David De Gea (Manchester United), Diego Mariño (Villarreal).

Defenders: Nacho Fernandez (Real Madrid Castilla), Martin Montoya (FC Barcelona), Carles Planas (FC Barcelona), Marc Bartra (FC Barcelona), Jordi Amat (Rayo Vallecano), Iñigo Martínez (Real Sociedad).

Midfielders: Oriol Romeu (Chelsea), Jorge Resurrection ‘Koke’ (Atletico Madrid), Sergi Roberto (FC Barcelona), Cristian Tello (FC Barcelona), Asier Illarramendi (Real Sociedad), Pablo Sarabia (Getafe), Francisco Román Alarcón “Isco “(Málaga).

Forwards: Gerard Deulofeu Lázaro (FC Barcelona), Rodrigo Moreno (Benfica FC), Álvaro Vázquez (RCD Espanyol).

My starting XI: De Gea, Montoya, Bartra, Inigo Martinez, Planas, Romeu/Koke, Sergi Roberto, Isco, Tello, Rodrigo, Deulofeu.

Article written by @YoungCules.

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