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Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.

Spain U23 Postmortem

August 2nd, 2012

Luis Milla’s side did not start the tournament as favorites; that heady honor was bestowed upon Brazil’s wonderkids. However, Spain was almost certainly a medal favorite going into the tournament in London and they had a fair shot at a footballing Triple Crown after winning the European Championship at the senior and U19 levels. But that is why the games are played; Spain did not manage a goal in the tournament and were unceremoniously dumped out of the group stages thanks to losses to Japan, Honduras and a goalless draw with Morocco. It seemed at times that Spain underestimated their opponents or overestimated their ability; a mentality that has to be lost at all levels of Spanish football if they want their dominance to continue.

What went wrong? This is not meant to give excuses for La Rojita, there are no excuses for a squad this talented to perform like they did. This is just a football supporter trying to rationalize this shocking turn of events for himself and others. The following three points should take nothing away from Japan and Honduras. The two teams to qualify out of Group D thoroughly deserved it.

1. Luis Milla
Spain’s manager took the blame for the exit, and he had some reason to. Some of his squad selections were questionable and it seemed as though the team started the tournament flat, speaking to a lack of preparation. He told the Spanish Football Federation website:

“I am very disappointed because I think we deserved more. The person responsible is myself.”

“We need to sit down and analyse everything that happened. Perhaps we lacked something in our preparation, but last year we did the same before the U-21 European Championship and ended up winning the title.”

“The fans will think the coach has been a disaster, which this has been a total failure, and I understand that. But we need to be calm now and analyse what went wrong.”

This is all true, but it is disconcerting that Milla felt that his side deserved more. His side did not manage a goal in three games, a statistic that speaks volumes about the team’s performances. After Spain’s final Olympic match against Morocco, Luis Milla said, “If we’d qualified for next round, we’d have won a medal.” This sense of entitlement and over-confidence is uncharacteristic of Spanish football in recent years and is a dangerous mindset. The fact of the matter is, that had Spain managed to make it through the group stage, they would be playing Brazil next, a mouth-watering match but one that Spain was never going to win on current form.

2. Thiago Alcantara
“Perhaps we lacked something in our preparation, but last year we did the same before the U-21 European Championship and ended up winning the title.” – Luis Milla

The main difference between this Olympic squad and the Spanish side that won the U21 European Championships last summer is the absence of Thiago Alcantara. FC Barcelona’s youngster missed the tournament because he is still recovering from a tibia injury. Thiago was the heartbeat of last summer’s squad and his movement and vision in the midfield is something that Spain sorely missed. Koke and Javi Martinez did their best, but neither player could have the effect that the Barcelona playmaker has on games. It was the chemistry of Javi Martinez, Juan Mata and Thiago Alcantara that impressed me so much in Denmark last summer, with the Brazilian-born youngster providing the link between the two. That link was obvious in its absence in London.

3. Fatigue
Before the tournament, I was excited to watch Spain’s attack. The dynamic creativity provided by Juan Mata, Isco Alarcon and Iker Muniain playing behind prolific scorers like Adrian Lopez and Rodrigo Moreno had football fans eager with anticipation. These players all finished the tournament scoreless. The typical Spanish movement off the ball was lacking in the attacking third. I think this is partly due to the aforementioned overconfidence but fatigue has to have played a factor. Athletic Bilbao’s Ander Herrera and Iker Muniain were obviously not match fit for the tournament, with the former coming off the bench in all three games.

Javi Martinez, Jordi Alba and Juan Mata each had shortened summers, with just over three weeks off in between the European Championships and the Olympics in London. This meant that they did not have much time to prepare with their teammates and were still fatigued after a marathon season, with all three going deep into European competitions with their respective club teams. Javi Martinez had started sixty-one games this season prior to the Olympics in addition to Mata’s fifty-six starts (sixty-eight appearances) and Jordi Alba’s fifty-six starts between Valencia and Spain. These three were hailed by many, myself included, as the players to push Spain over the edge in this competition, when in reality they were dead on their feet.

Players like Ander Herrera, Iker Muniain and Adrian had all started in more than fifty matches this season as well. Twenty more matches than the youngsters had ever played in any of their previous seasons. These realities make it much more clear as to why Spain stumbled in London although it will not help it sting any less.

U23 London Olympics: Spain vs Honduras

July 29th, 2012

Spain crashed out of the Olympic games this evening after a shock 1-0 defeat to Honduras, just three days after suffering the same fate in their opener against Japan. Jerry Bengtson’s seventh minute header was enough to take the points at St. James’ Park, in a game that Luis Milla’s side will feel strongly aggrieved that they couldn’t get a result from.

Big improvement was needed from Thursday’s game in Glasgow if Spain were going to win gold still, but in the first half especially, they just seemed to have picked up from where they left off. It didn’t take long for their defence to come undone for the first time either, and yet again their lax concentration was punished.

After failing to clear their lines following a spell of Honduran pressure down the left side, a cross was allowed to be drilled in to the box virtually unchallenged. Although too high for the diminutive Jordi Alba, it came at the perfect height for Bengtson to nod down and into he net, rooting De Gea to his spot.

Like against Japan, Milla’s team needed to fight back but just struggled to get out of first gear. Neither Javi Martinez or Koke provided any inspiration, and the attacking quartet ahead of them, featuring the fit-again Iker Muniain, struggled to create anything meaningful. Juan Mata saw a couple of shots drift just wide of the post, but that was the best it would get during the first half.

After the break, Spain finally woke up to the task at hand and began to find their rhythm, with Ander Herrera, an inexplicable omission from their line-ups thus far, brought into the fray. However, just two minutes into the half the Central Americans could have had a second when Espinoza’s header rebounded off the inside of the post, but the remainder of the game began to La Rojita, who went on to hit the woodwork three times themselves.

Despite having under performed, Adrian came to life as the game wore on and was involved in most of Spain’s chances. In fairness, he was guilty of spurning a number of them, but was very unfortunate to see a looping header find the crossbar and not the back of the net.

Muniain was also busy and one of the few players showing passion to turn the game around, even though it over boiled towards the end. He himself saw a right-footed effort cannon off the foot of the upright, and was also part of the move that saw substitute Rodrigo do the same with a header.

Adrian and Rodrigo were later on denied what looked to be pretty clear cut penalties, with the decision against the latter particularly causing outrage amongst the Spanish players. As the seconds ticked away, a number of players sadly lost their tempers with the referee and opposition players, but despite a much more impressive second half today, they can’t have too many complaints given their performances overall.

Honduras managed to hold on to a historic win and are in a good position to make the quarter finals, but Spain, joint favourites with Brazil before a ball was kicked, crash out of he Men’s football tournament less than 48 hours after the opening ceremony.

Players and staff both have to shoulder their part of the blame for this failure, as they did not even come close to living up to expectations. After returning to their respective clubs after Wednesday’s now meaningless game against Morocco, many of the squad will link up with Milla for Under-21 qualifiers in early Septemer. Can they bounce back and defend their European title next summer?

U23 London Olympics: Spain vs Japan

July 26th, 2012

Spain’s Olympic team were on the other end of a real upset earlier this afternoon, losing their opening match of the 2012 Olympic games to an impressive Japan side in Glasgow.

Yuki Otsu’s first half strike was enough to separate the two sides, but in truth it could’ve been a lot more as the ten men of La Rojita struggled to cope with the energy and exuberance of the Japanese side. Iker Muniain didn’t recover in time to take to the field, but manager Luis Milla still named a strong side, with the one surprise the selection of Koke ahead of Ander Herrera.

As expected, Spain took the reins early on in the game and looked to dominate possession, with Mata and Isco constantly dropping deep into midfield to try and provide service for Adrián and Rodrigo. It was the Benfica man who had the first shot of the match, flashing his long range shot wide of the target.

Much of the first half followed a similar pattern, but Milla’s team, despite their dominance, were struggling to create chances and put pressure on the Japanese backline. Mata came closest for them midway through the half with a powerful effort that stung the palms of Gonda, but their lack of cohesion and zip in attack was glaringly noticeable.
Eleven minutes before half-time, the game was given what perhaps it needed to bring it to life when Japan took the lead much against the run of play. A corner from the left was not dealt with by the Spanish defence, allowing Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Yuki Otsu to ghost in and stab the ball home.

Just three minutes later they could have doubled their lead, this time Kiyotake pouncing on a woeful backpass from Domínguez. Much to the defender’s relief though, he couldn’t find the angle to beat De Gea.

However, just when Spain thought that they would be able to go into the break and re-group, things went from bad to worse as Iñigo Martínez was sent off. The Real Sociedad youngster had been put into trouble by a poor ball from Montoya, and although the decision seemed harsh, his challenge was clumsy and by the letter of the law, worthy of a red as the forward was bearing down on goal.

Heading into the tournament, the Spanish had been chosen by many as the tournament favourites, but Japan had other ideas and were determined to cause an upset. They continued to create the better chances and were at times carving through La Rojita’s weakened backline at will.

Four minutes into the second half, De Gea had to make a fine save to deny Nagai, and he and Kiyotake both had further chances before the hour mark, dragging their respective efforts wide on both occasions.
Milla responded by finally sending on Ander Herrera for the ineffective Adrián, but little changed. The only real chance Spain conjured after his inclusion came from Mata again, but after combining with Jordi Alba, he was unable to beat Gonda at his near post.

Japan’s man advantage became clearer and clearer as the match drew to a close, and yet again they were guilty of missing chances to add to their lead. De Gea made another clever stop from Nagai, before Yamaguchi scuffed his injury time effort wide when the goal was practically gaping.

Honestly, 1-0 didn’t flatter them at all, and they really should have scored more. Spain now face an uphill struggle to qualify for the quarter finals, but will still be expected to overcome their other group rivals Morocco and Honduras.

The warning signs were there for Milla’s side when they lost 2-0 by Senegal in a friendly two weeks ago though, and he will go back to the drawing board if Spain are to have any chance of still taking Gold. On Sunday, they face Honduras at St. James’ Park, in what for them is a simply must win encounter.

Match report contributed by Billy Edwards. You can follow Billy on Twitter here and find some of his other writing over at Atletico Fans.

Rodrigo Moreno

July 25th, 2012

Full Name: Rodrigo Moreno Machado
Team: Benfica
Position: Forward
Age: 21
Birth Date: March 6, 1991
Birth Place: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Height: 5 feet 11 inches

As if Spain are not good enough already, they have to cap some of the brightest prospects from Brazil as well. Of course the Alcantara brothers, who just happen to be Rodrigo’s cousins, at FC Barcelona are the best example of this. Thiago chose to play for Spain and Rafina has decided on Brazil. Goal scoring ace, Rodrigo Moreno has crossed the ocean as well to play for Spain, having been born in Rio de Janeiro. He moved to Spain when he was young and considers himself a Spaniard, his adopted country is not complaining. His work ethic and technical ability allows him to be utilized on the wing or as a forward as is needed and he has scored at every level he has played.

His footballing education began in his native Brazil within Flamengo’s youth set-up but after only a year he went to Spain where he was a part of the highly-esteemed Celta Vigo cantera. Rodrigo spent four years with Celta until Real Madrid came knocking at his door. He barely spent a season with Real Madrid’s youth set-up, graduating from the club’s Juvenil A team to Real Madrid C, and then La Castilla came calling for the teenager. In eighteen appearances during his first season with Real Madrid B he scored five times.

Rodrigo’s impressive performances for Real Madrid B, in conjunction with the log-jam of young attacking talent within the club, meant that the forward was sold to Benfica. Rodrigo signed a five-year contract with the Portuguese club back in 2010 for €6 million with Real Madrid keeping the option to buy-back the player for €12 million, a clause that has since been eliminated as part of the Fábio Coentrão transfer deal. His first season under contract with Benfica Rodrigo spent on loan in the Premier League with Bolton Wanderers. He only received four starts in the English top flight, mostly featuring as a bench player, but Rodrigo did manage a goal and an assist in his first season of first team football and drew the gaze of many of the league’s top managers with his displays. Last season Rodrigo took off with Benfica, scoring nine times in nine starts in the League and adding another goal, his first in the UEFA Champions League. He also helped his side to a Taça da Liga title.

Where Rodrigo has really made waves in European football, is playing with Spain at various youth levels. In twenty-five appearances for his country, Rodrigo has scored sixteen times; including three at last summer’s U20 World Cup. For Spain U19 he was part of the squad that lost in the European Championship final to France, with Rodrigo scoring Spain’s only goal of the final match. He has maybe been the most impressive at the U21 level, scoring seven times in only six appearances and leading Spain undefeated through their group, qualifying for the 2013 UEFA European U21 Football Championship. For now his focus is on London and making a bigger name for himself on the world’s stage.

Martín Montoya

July 25th, 2012

Full Name: Martín Montoya Torralbo
Team: FC Barcelona
Position: Right back
Age: 21
Birth Date: April 14, 1991
Birth Place: Gavà, Spain
Height: 5 feet 9 inches

Spain’s U-23 side could have two FC Barcelona youngsters down the flanks in London later this month. On the left will be new signing and Euro 2012 surprise Jordi Alba, and at right back we could see Martín Montoya. The twenty-one year old was born in Gavà, a municipality of Barcelona. He started playing youth football for his local club CF Gavà, but like most young Catalonian’s who show promise at the youth level, he was signed by FC Barcelona, joining La Masia at the age of nine.

Over the next ten years he would continue to progress through the various youth ranks, impressing coaches and scouts along the way. In the 2009/10 season, Montoya became a regular member of Barca B, playing twenty-two matches under then manager Luis Enrique, helping the side back to the Segunda Liga after an eleven year absence. At the end of the 2011 season he received his debut for the first team, replacing Adriano in Barcelona’s three-nil away win against RCD Mallorca. He has since appeared nine times for the Barca first team, including a start against Real Sociedad in 2011, unfortunately in that game he suffered a broken clavicle, sidelining him for the remainder of the season and putting a temporary halt to his rapid development. His play has drawn admiration from many clubs around Europe with Valencia CF the closest to signing the youngster. Since then he has decided to commit his future to the club that raised him, signing a new contract keeping him with Barcelona until 2014 and including a €20million buy-out clause. Last season, Montoya again featured mainly for the B side but he did play in a few of FC Barcelona’s Copa del Rey matches, including the final when he deputized for an injured Dani Alves in the club’s three-nil win over Athletic Bilbao.

Martin Montoya is another humble canterano in the Barcelona organization who has not had an easy path to get to where he was. He lost his mother four years ago, a very difficult experience for a teenager, and he and his father live together and have a close relationship. He is a well-spoken young man and has an obvious love and respect for FC Barcelona, something that will endear him to cules around the world. As a proud Catalonian he has played for Catalonia as well as Spain in international football. His humble roots have made him into a hard working player with a seemingly unquenchable thirst to learn. He has been nicknamed the “Catalan Alves” because of his similar style to the Brazilian. His lung-bursting runs up and down his wing are similar to Alves, he still has to learn to be more efficient in that attacking third, and he has yet to score in senior football or for his country, but his hard work and footballing smarts make him a brilliant fullback.

With thirty-five caps for Spain at various youth levels starting at U17. He started every game under Luis Milla in the U21 European Championships last summer, winning the tournament in Denmark. He is on Vicente del Bosque’s radar, with the Spanish manager having called him to his team for friendlies against Chile and Liechtenstein. The Catalan is yet to make an appearance for the senior side but could be competing with Alvaro Arbeloa for a spot in the first team in the coming years.

Diego Mariño

July 24th, 2012

Full Name: Diego Mariño Villar
Team: Villarreal
Position: Goalkeeper
Age: 22
Birth Date: May 9, 1990
Birth Place: Vigo, Spain
Height: 6 feet 1 inches

Mariño has played with Villarreal CF since 2004 at fourteen years of age. Much of his youth development took place at smaller clubs including Santa Mariña, Rápido Bouzas, Sárdoma and Areosa but he spent his final four years of youth football with Villarreal. Diego Mariño has really put in the effort to develop, with over one hundred and twenty-one appearances over the last four years between Villarreal’s two reserve teams, both B and C.

In the 2010/11 season he started thirty-eight matches, helping the B side avoid relegation from the second division. Unfortunately the club were relegated this past season due to the first team suffering relegation in La Liga, pushing the reserve side down to the third level despite finishing twelfth. Mariño has already been promoted to the first team by manager Julio Velázquez who used to coach the young goalkeeper with the reserve team. With long-time first choice keeper Diego Lopez joining Sevilla, Mariño will be competing with forty-one year old Cesar for the starting position this season.

For Spain, Mariño has a handful of caps for his country. Last summer Luis Milla called up Villarreal’s young keeper to his squad to compete in the 2011 UEFA European Football Championship. Mariño backed-up Manchester United’s David de Gea as Spain won the tournament in Denmark. He is slated to play the support role again for de Gea in London this summer but look for the young goalkeeper to make a name for himself in the coming years.

David de Gea confirms that Spain are as hungry as ever

July 24th, 2012

Manchester United and Spain U23 goalkeeper David de Gea and his teammates are driven to win Olympic Gold in London this summer. With a European Championship and U19 European Championship won already this summer, Spain are looking for the triple crown and hoping to further emphasize their dominance over world football. The next generation of Spanish stars are joined by Juan Mata, Jordi Alba and Javi Martínez, three players who have already had a successful summer, yet their thirst for success and glory remains unquenched. What is the secret to this success? From the senior side all the way down through the various youth levels? De Gea says consistency and team spirit.

“We have played together for a long time, we know each other, how we play, how we work, and we get on well. We look forward to meeting up and playing together. We play like the senior side. The style is the same at all levels, which facilitates things: bring the ball out from the back, keep possession, work gaps to create chances. It’s like that from the Under-15s all the way through. That’s the Spanish way and it has triumphed.

“The senior side has set the bar so high and, whether we like it or not, that puts the pressure on us. It also motivates us, though. We want to try to emulate them. It won’t be easy but we know that we have a good team. People have asked me if I would like to be the man of the tournament. I’d much rather it was one of the attacking players.”

The young goalkeeper had a testing first season in England last year but ended very strongly, showing the leadership and cat-like ability that anyone who has seen him play for his country or Atletico Madrid knew he had. He is looking forward to playing in England during the Olympics, especially at Old Trafford.

“We’ll be playing at Old Trafford too, which will make it even more special for me and might mean that we have the fans on our side: I always feel like Spanish football is popular in England. And it’s right next to my home.”

Spain is one of the favorites to win gold, alongside South American competitors Brazil and Uruguay. With the likes of Isco, Muniain and Adrian up front, Spain has a lethal and creative attack as well as one of the top goalkeepers in the tournament. It is important to note that the defending European Champions will be without key midfield man Thiago Alcantara for the tournament, the FC Barcelona player was not able to recover from a tibia injury in time. This is a big loss for La Roja but it may be a testament to the country’s depth in all positions that more has not been made of the player’s absence.

Spain’s opening match takes place on July 26 against Japan to open Group D. Spain are joined by Japan, Honduras and Morocco and if they proceed to the second stage of the tournament they will meet one of Belarus, New Zealand, Egypt and Brazil. The final will take place on August 11 at Wembley where Spain might be crowned Olympic Gold Medalists. Stay tuned to this space and my Twitter for match reports and player analysis throughout the tournament.

Alberto Botía

July 23rd, 2012

Full Name: Alberto Tomás Botía Rabasco
Team: Sporting de Gijón
Position: Center back
Age: 23
Birth Date: January 27, 1989
Birth Place: Alquerias, Spain
Height: 6 feet 2 inches

For me, Alberto Botía is one of the best young defenders in the world at the moment. He joined CD Beniel at the age of eight where he remained for three seasons. He then moved to his local club, Segunda Division team Murcia FC, he stayed with the Murcia cantera for three years until La Masia came calling. He spent three years within the youth levels of Barcelona until being promoted to the B team at the age of seventeen. Alberto Botía played three seasons with the reserve side, earning fifty-nine appearances and scoring three goals during the time. He made his official debut with the senior side on May 30, 2009, coming on as a substitute for Gerard Pique in a one-one draw against Deportivo La Coruña.

The scouts and FC Barcelona recognized that Botía needed first team football in order to develop, and also that there was no room for him in a side that already boasted the likes of Puyol, Pique, and a host of other young center backs. With that in mind, in 2009 the club sent the youngster on a season-long loan to La Liga side Sporting de Gijón. Botía almost immediately claimed a starting role and prominent place in the squad. It was decided that he would stay on with the Asturias club, with Botía signing a four year deal and Barcelona keeping a buy-back clause for the first three. Those three years end at the close of this month, and in one of the strangest moves in recent years, FC Barcelona have not bought the youngster back, even with a need for players at that position. So, for now he stays with Sporting de Gijón.

For his country Alberto Botía is a bit of a late bloomer. His first call up came at the U20 level where he helped lead Spain to the prestigious Mediterranean Games title, scoring a goal during the tournament. Later that same year he was honored by being named in the respected Fútbol Draft Awards as the third best Spanish U-21 Central Defender. Last summer Botía was an undisputed starter for Luis Milla during the UEFA European U-21 Football Championship, a tournament that Spain won. His experience under U23 manager Luis Milla is likely to put him in a prime position to start in defense for La Rojita in London this summer. An impressive display could put him at the top of everybody’s shopping list in August.

Javi Martínez

July 21st, 2012

Full Name: Javier Martínez Aguinaga
Team: Athletic Bilbao
Position: Defensive Midfielder
Age: 23
Birth Date: September 2, 1988
Birth Place: Estella, Spain
Height: 6 feet 3 inches

The fact that Javi Martínez is only twenty-three astounds me. The versatile Spaniard already has a FIFA World Cup, European Championship, U21 European Championship and U19 European Championship to his name. The defensive midfielder is one of three Athletic Bilbao youngsters in Spain’s U23 Olympic squad and has been at the heart of the success that Marcelo Bielsa has had at the Basque club. At six feet, three inches tall, he provides a physical presence that Spain often lacks; couple that with his laser-vision, accurate passing and smart movement and you have got one of the most sought after players in Europe.

Born in Estella-Lizarra in Basque country, Javi started his career at the age of six with CD Berceo, a Tercera Division side based in the autonomous community of La Rioja. The years spanning 1995-2001 saw Javi Martínez jump to three other small teams including Logroñés, CD Arenas and Izarra, before he was signed by Osasuna as a thirteen year old. He continued to develop in the Osasuna cantera until 2005 when the club promoted him to their B side. He featured thirty-two times in his first season of senior football and scored three goals that season. This impressive display from a sixteen year old was enough to have Athletic Bilbao knocking at his door. The Basque club made the risky and brilliant move of signing Javi Martínez for €6million in the summer of 2006; a steep price to pay for a teenager who had never played a minute of first team football.

It did not take long to realize that Bilbao’s investment was a shrewd one as Javi Martínez became a starter in his debut season. The defensive midfielder impressed with displays such as his two-goal game against Deportivo de La Coruña on December 26, 2006. Despite being utilized as a defensive midfielder, Javi has always been able to find the net; in 2009 he scored nine goals in forty-six matches, leading his team to the brink of UEFA Europa League qualification.

Under the tutelage of Marcelo Bielsa, Javi Martínez has been tested. The youngster was used mainly as a central defender in the Argentine coach’s first season, a position which he has grown into and impressed in. He helped Bielsa’s side to the Europa League and Copa del Rey finals this past season, only to lose both competitions, but Javi is considered one of the leaders of an extremely young squad.

For his country, Javi Martínez is one of the bridges of two extremely talented generations of Spanish players. On one end, the current World and European champions need no further introduction, but they are being followed up by a pretty darn good second act with the likes of Thiago, Isco, Muniain and Adrian battering down the door to Vicente del Bosque’s first team. Martínez has won European Championships with the U19 and U21 Spanish sides while also featuring for the senior side during their last two major international titles. All of his teammates speak highly of the twenty-three year old, and the fact that he has been captain of the U21 and U23 sides tells you he brings lots of intangibles to the pitch as well.

Cesar Azpilicueta

July 20th, 2012

Full Name: Cesar Azpilicueta Tanco
Team: Chelsea FC
Position: Right Back
Age: 22
Birth Date: August 28, 1989
Birth Place: Pamplona, Spain
Height: 5 feet 10 inches

Born and bred in Pamplona, Spain, Azpilicueta is a product of his hometown club CA Osasuna. He started his career as a midfielder but his coaches soon put him in defense at right-back. He made his debut for Osasuna at the young age of eighteen in a two-nil defeat against Real Madrid. He became the first choice right back for the club during the 2007-08 season after a number of his teammates were injured. In the next three seasons he played all but a handful of matches, accumulating ninety-nine appearances.

Azpilicueta’s consistency and impressive displays drew the attention of many clubs in Europe. On June 21, 2010, Ligue 1 club Olympique de Marseille signed Azpilicueta to a four year contract for around €7million which could rise even higher with performance bonuses. He made his UEFA Champions League debut with the club against FC Spartak Moscow, a forgettable match in which the young Spaniard scored an own goal. He has had a good few seasons with the French club, winning two Coupe de la Lique titles, but in 2010, Azpilicueta ruptured the anterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee, keeping him out for six months.

For Spain, Azpilicueta has played for various youth levels from U16 to U23. He was a part of the Spain sides that won U-19 European Championship (2007) and U21 European Championship (2011). He is the only natural right-back named to Luis Milla’s Olympic squad and having featured for the manager at last summer’s U21 European Championship, he is likely to provide good internal competition for FC Barcelona’s Martin Montoya. A good tournament this summer could open further doors for the right back; Chelsea FC, Newcastle United and Real Madrid are rumored to be tracking his progress, with England a very likely eventual destination for the young defender.

Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.