Four games so far in the European Under 21 Championships for Spain and four wins. Eight goals for and none against. Complete dominance in a group which featured the Netherlands, Germany and Russia and then a comfortable win in the semi finals against Norway. It’s certainly no fluke; the Spanish squad is clearly another sensational crop of talent but there’s something else which sets them apart from other squads.
The bulk of the squad are playing week in, week out at their club sides, which are mostly in the top division of their respective countries. Players like Isco, Iker Muniain, Koke and David de Gea, to name a few, are all vital cogs in top European clubs. Nathaniel Clyne and Jordan Henderson are the only ones who could really call themselves regular Premier League players. There’s no doubt Spanish players have developed from extended game time at the highest level.
The combined total of appearances in a country’s top division in the 2012/13 season by players in the Spain Under 21 squad equals 489, which divided by the 23 players, means an average of just over 21 appearances per player. The same total for England is 154, at an average of 6.7.
Of course, many of the Three Lions’ squad are regulars at Championship level but the gulf between that and the Premier League is clear to see and the division does not compete with a familiarity of playing at the top level. The stats make it clear to see where England are lacking. This is despite a higher number of the English squad with full international caps, five to Spain’s three. Although it is fair to say Roy Hodgson would love to have a player of Rodrigo’s quality to lead the line for the senior side despite the Benfica forward having yet to make an appearance for Vicente del Bosque’s side.
He is just one of the many who would undoubtedly have senior caps if they were English. Below are some of the players who have been vital so far for Spain U21s but do not have senior caps. Appearances include those won in this year’s tournament so far.
Álvaro Morata – Age: 20 Club: Real Madrid Position: Striker U21 caps: 4 U21 goals: 4
The current top scorer in the competition, Morata has kept up his impressive scoring record for Real Madrid’s second side in the Segunda Division. He managed twelve in just eighteen appearances before being given his shot in La Liga where he scored a further two. The forward is tall at 190cm but is not slow and has scored a variety of goals for the Castilla. Has scored in all four of his appearances in the tournament so far.
Cristian Tello – Age: 21 Club: Barcelona Position: Winger U21 caps: 11 U21 goals: 2
The latest player who has developed through Barcelona’s B team, Tello had a very impressive season in La Liga. He scored seven goals at an average of one every 168 minutes in his 22 appearances and also contributed four assists from left wing. A full international cap is surely not far away if he keeps up his form at the Nou Camp.
Iñigo Martinez – Age: 22 Club: Real Sociedad Position: Centre back U21 caps: 14 U21 goals: 0
There was no-one more important than Martinez in claiming fourth spot for Real Sociedad this season. The defender missed just three league matches all year and played the full ninety in every game he started. A rock solid presence at the heart of the back line he has become a key part of the Under 21 set up, now with 13 caps. Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos lay ahead of him in Del Bosque’s squad but neither have been as reliable as the Basque defender.