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Assessing The International Futures Of Spain’s Stars

Many going into this World Cup had tracked the form of the Spain and Barcelona teams in the last 18 months and surmised that this summer’s extravaganza in Brazil would represent a dying of the Spanish light. As it happens, it turned out to be worse than they had feared and we have witnessed a total blackout.

The exit at the hands of Chile was almost kind such was their troubles and against the Dutch, a burnt out group of high-achievers were clearly too far gone to turn it around.  Some will say that this tournament represents the final nail in the coffin of ‘tiki-taka’, but the decline of Spain is more to do with the arch-protagonists of that style such as Xavi and Iniesta being on the way down.

The material element missing looks to be that the players can no longer press the ball effectively when out of possession.

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Iker Casillas: Has won the lot as national team captain but has endured a torrid last two seasons at club level where successive managers haven’t played him regularly. We may have seen the reason for this demotion in the last 2 games and as much as ring rust will have been a factor, Casillas’s level has certainly dropped.  Will be on a big wage at Real and could be difficult to move on given top clubs may now be sceptical of him. Likely we have seen the last of him at this level.

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Raúl Albiol: Talented ex-Real Madrid defender on the international scene since 2007 without ever truly establishing himself. Composed on the ball and a solid tackler, he could now set down a marker at Italian cub Napoli over the next few years but prospective new coach likely to try and rehabilitate more well-known alternatives.

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Gerard Piqué: One of the top defenders in the world since 2009 but has suffered an alarming dip in form over the last 18 months. Has all the tools to reverse the slide but needs to do it soon before his prime years are wasted, has concentration issues.

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Javi Martínez: Monstrous athlete with tonnes of technical ability into the bag. He looks equally adept in midfield or at Centre-back.  Not established himself at Bayern Munich as well as had been hoped but there is time yet. Needs to cultivate a bit more aggression but should be a pivotal player for years to come.

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Juanfran: Something of a late-developer who only made his national team debut in 2012 at the age of 27. Has had a great year at Athletico Madrid where his solidity and concentration levels have stood out. He should probably have been in the starting eleven this time around as he brings pure defensive attributes that were sorely missing in others.

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Andrés Iniesta: One of the great midfielders of all time, this tournament was as poor as Iniesta has ever shown. Too often dispossessed; at just 30, he looked like an old man playing from memory. Endured a rough year at club level, his patchy form may have been the reason why Barcelona were slower than expected to offer a new contract.  Played a lot of football and may be jaded, too talented to give up on but his legs are going on the evidence of this.

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David Villa: Fading now but as good a Centre-forward as any in his prime as exhibited by his major tournament and Champions League exploits. Likely to get a run against Australia as his swansong, a move to America at club level signals the end of his time with the national team. Likely would have linked up better with his team-mates than Costa.

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Xavi: Iconic midfielder who has been the architect of every major Spanish success. Redefined midfield play over the years with the possession based game.  The ignominy of being left out against Chile will not have been lost on him. It is something he has suffered at club level too of late and he has been linked with a move to the middle- east.  Mobility has been greatly reduced and it is ironic that he seems to have been outlasted by Pirlo as a top level player given that rival had pleaded with him to ‘stop running’ in the dying embers of the Euro 2012 final.

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Fernando Torres: Light of former years – a succession of niggling injuries have robbed him of his acceleration. Once the most feared striker in world football, he has been in steady decline for some time. Marking time at this level.

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Cesc Fàbregas: Never truly nailed down a spot at Barcelona where the crowd didn’t take to him. Had always looked the long-term successor to Xavi and is likely to battle Thiago Alcantara for that mantle.  Technical capabilities well known so he can fit in well at Chelsea whose need for a deep-lying playmaker should dovetail well with his national team ambitions. This has to be his time.

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Pedro: In-and-out at Barcelona where his form has been indifferent since Guardiola’s departure. Held off Navas for a squad berth but may find life tough at club level with Gerard Deulofeu coming back from Everton. Likeable, pacy-trickster and a good finisher but there is a sense that we may have already seen the best of him at just 26.

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David de Gea: Arguably the most naturally talented goalkeeper in world football. An exceptional shot-stopper, de Gea has worked hard to eliminate a certain timidness under the high ball. Has scope to progress still further and the number 1 jersey is his to throw away.

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Juan Mata: Yet to establish himself at international level where the ball-playing/between-the-lines type is well catered for. Needs to sort out his club situation first but he can take heart from the way Louis Van Gaal has successfully integrated Wesley Sneijder into his Netherlands team. Now or never.

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Xabi Alonso: Put down a fine year at Real Madrid where he was instrumental in the run up to their Champions League success. At 32, this may have been a bridge too far for the season but his technical ability and game-management are hard to come by and his club form suggests this World Cup was an aberration. Has more in the tank.

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Sergio Ramos: The most gifted defender in the world today; Ramos has the lot. Lets himself down at times with poor decision making and that is unlikely to be ironed out now but such is his pace power and skill, it is impossible to be without him.

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Sergio Busquets: At one time the premier defensive midfielder in world football, the 25 year-old has endured a slump of late in keeping with many of his Barcelona team mates. Looked seriously burnt out here but has time on his side and enough credit in the bank to make it back.

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Koke: Brilliant year on the right for Athletico. He is a fine footballer without having some of the flourishes of his contemporaries. Should have played a far more prominent role here where his vast energy reserves might have been an antidote to the general lethargy. Certainly has the character to be a player next time.

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Jordi Alba: Unrecognisable from the player who burst on the scene at Euro 2012. Defensive slackness was coupled with a lack of energy and poor use of the ball. Young enough to come again but will need to buck up with Moreno in the wings.

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Diego Costa: Key man for Atletico Madrid and may have wanted for fitness here but the way he failed to relate to technically minded team-mates is worrying with his future prospects in mind. Doesn’t appear to be as quick over the ground as first seemed and it remains to be seen whether he can build on what he did last season.

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Santi Cazorla: Sublimely gifted two-footed footballer who has suffered for being born in the same era as Silva and Iniesta. Would likely walk into any other national team and it is positive that he appears to be taking on more responsibility at club level. Has all the talent in the world but needs to shake the habit of going missing in big games. This is his time now.

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David Silva: Simply, a brilliant midfield creator who does things others wouldn’t even think of. The main man at club level, he will benefit from the prospect of Iniesta stepping aside. One of the better players at this tournament, his form has never been an issue but he would likely appreciate some strong athletes around him to get on the end of his probing passes.

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César Azpilicueta: Good defender who does everything well without being outstanding in any one particular area. Could well be the starting right-back for some time to come but there is a sense that he isn’t physically imposing enough to be a truly outstanding defender.

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Pepe Reina: Fine keeper with exceptional distribution. Brendan Rodgers has decided that he isn’t worth his hefty wage packet and the feeling persists that he isn’t quite as good as he was 3 or 4 years ago. Suffered at the hands of Casillas but if he was ever going to be number one he would have done it by now.

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Neill Dennehy, Pundit Arena.

About Neill Dennehy

Neill is a fan of most sports but favours Racing, Football, Boxing and GAA. Can be found on Twitter @Neill_Dennehy

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