By 90Min
July 10, 2018

Just because a task is obvious, that doesn't make it easy.

That is the truth facing Luis Enrique as the new Spain manager, who is presented with the clear but unenviable job of somehow replacing departing World Cup winners and legends, telling others 'thanks for everything, but it's time to go', all while finding the next generation to halt Spain from their alarming slide back into the international equivalent of mid-table mediocrity.

Spain circa 2008-12 might just be the best international side the world has ever known. They redefined the game of football itself and its discussion, in a way maybe only two or three international sides have done before, besting all before them in three consecutive tournaments.

Oli Scarff/GettyImages

However, since then La Roja - staffed largely by the same glorious talents who showed the world 'pass and move 2.0' - have won just two of seven World Cup games in 2014 and 2018, while their only knockout match ended in penalty defeat to Russia. Their latest Euros campaign in 2016 also terminated the moment they faced an opponent in a knockout environment.

Spain's overall World Cup record is not wildly dissimilar to England's. In fact, it's worse. 7 July 2010 was the first time Spain had even played in a World Cup semi-final (they finished fourth in the 13-team 1950 tournament when the final round was decided in a round robin group stage). Prior to South Africa, Spain had won just four times in knockout games at the World Cup (against Brazil in 1934, Denmark in 1986, Switzerland in 1994 and against Ireland in 2002).

Following two fairly abject World Cup showings, and one disappointing one at the Euros, Spain are on the brink. Not of anything new, but of returning to the Spain of old, with 2010 an increasingly distant anomaly. The underperformers, the second-tier side. The England, pre 2018.

Ryan Pierse/GettyImages

However, perhaps if anyone can arrest this slide, this return to type, it might be Luis Enrique Martínez García - a man known for his preference for quick transitions both on and off the pitch. 

Enrique took over Barcelona in the summer of 2014 during a similar, if not quite so stark identity crisis. In one season under the Argentine Tata Martino, Barça had conceded La Liga but also part of their soul; with Enrique tasked with rekindling the ideas and spirit of Rijkaard, Guardiola and Vilanova, whilst rebuilding an ageing squad caught between eras.

As well as his implementation of more aggressive pressing tactics and rapid transitional play, Enrique's work in the transfer market redesigning his squad was key to turning Barcelona back into the dominant treble-winning force they became just a year later. 


In Enrique's first transfer window, out went first team mainstays Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez, along with Victor Valdes and the retiring Carles Puyol. While he does not have the safety net of being able to sign the likes of Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez, the same decisive ruthlessness and ability to adapt to change will be needed of Enrique with Spain now four years on.

Power Sport Images/GettyImages

Andres Iniesta has already walked, while Gerard Pique's retirement is also expected imminently. While the other survivors from the class of 2010, Sergio Ramos, David Silva and Sergio Busquets have given little indication of their futures yet. Regardless of the players' personal decisions, Enrique must be bold and indiscriminate enough (to paraphrase the character Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight film) to kill off heroes, before they live long enough to become the villains. 


That will be half the battle for the former Barcelona manager, and one likely to be played out in the minefield of the Spanish press. The other half will be replacing the old guard with the new and turning the promising club talents like Marco Asensio, Saul Ñiguez and Álvaro Odriozola among others into bonafide international stars to stop 2010 from becoming a distant, unrepeatable memory. 


England too have suffered with the albatross of a single World Cup win. 1996 has both inspired complacency through a sense of entitlement and unattainability in its idealised perfectness. Spain maybe have one more tournament to stop the same fate happening to them. Luis Enrique's experience means that might be all he needs.

You May Like

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)