The importance of unity, ft La Roja.
A couple. Boyfriend. Girlfriend. A perfect couple. Only one element could disturb destiny: An angry stepfather. Such is the story of Luis Enrique and La Roja, while Spanish media remain tumultuous when it comes to the undisturbed marriage. As if it was a dictatorship, Spain still has not accepted Luis Enrique as the father of Spain’s current generation. But the marriage bond will not be broken by a bunch of unhappy journalists: For the unity Enrique has created is too strong to be divided.
When Enrique arrived at the helm of La Roja, the Spaniards were not the team they are today. There were talents, but that was all. There was no continuum, no project. Only the dull remorse of a shameful 2018 World Cup remained in Spain’s memories. Much was regretted, but little was offered. Fortunately for La Roja, Enrique was ready for the challenge: Get Spain to rebuild for the 2020(1) Euros, but more importantly: Unveil a new face to the team, for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. What happened in 2018 had to be a lesson, and in no way should history repeat itself. Ever.
Expectations were high. But fans knew they couldn’t expect a replication of the 2008–2012 generation. For the legendary players that once tread Spanish fields were no more: Barcelona and Madrid are no more what they were, and La Roja felt the hits too. Claiming Spain did not have any talents was self-pity: It was a lie. An open secret. Enrique therefore had the mission of finding a cohesive unit able to compete at the highest European and World level. That said, he only had a few years.
“Divide and Conquer”
If Luis Enrique united the team, he also divided Spain. Known for his courage, Enrique’s choices rarely are the most popular. Regular players like Jesus Navas, Iago Aspas, or even Canales are usually still snubbed despite impressive performances at club level. Benching Morata for R.D.T(Raul de Tomas) against Sweden was not necessarily the most popular decision either. But that didn’t matter. Not to Luis Enrique, at least. For he searched union in his players, not in common media. With the Barcelona/Madrid crusades, the ex-Barcelona manager went through hell on earth for refusing to choose any Madrid player. Not out of pure hate: More so as a consequence of a lack of quality. Madrid doesn’t possess a lot of Spanish players: The only ones worth considering would have been Nacho and Vazquez and Carvajal. Fa from starters, yet the controversy stirred debate across the country.
Luis Enrique divided Spain. But he also united it. His players would not agree with Madrid-based papers claiming he has an agenda against ‘Los Blancos’. For the simple reason it doesn’t matter. Many players are gaining importance under Enrique, lately Laporte, Azpi, Olmo or Morata. In the midfield. Gavi and Pedri accompany an ageing Busquets. Soler has gained importance too, while Ansu Fati had become Spain’s brand-new finisher — the unique loophole asides from a shaky defense in Lucho’s squad.
He convinced his players. But fans remain divided.
Lucho’s La Roja has become synonym of contradiction. While it convinces through its superb technicians, marked by croquetas, its results does not convince. More than simple goals, it is the lack of solid finishers that hurts many. Concerns have been raised about La Roja’s true ceiling: Yesterday’s game v Sweden was perhaps one of the most challenging in recent months. For it was the ‘perfect’ opponent: Compact enough to resist Spain’s threats, explosive enough to break Spain’s leaky defense. That said, the score did not mention much about La Roja’s performance.
Unfortunately, Spain’s blue sky has clouds too. Dark clouds. While able to control the game for the 90', La Roja is still unable to take advantage of its chances, and that is not exactly individual related: The collective as a whole sees success, but little are those that take responsibility when shooting. Best marked by penalties in the Euros knock-out rounds, that is the one aspect that Lucho needs his players to improve. If this issue might seem individual, it has persisted for nearly every front three combination, unless Fati was included, if not injured.
There’s still space for improvement. For player form can change from month to month, when it *really* matters is when the alarm bell should be used: in December 2022 and June 2021. When major tournaments happen. Until then, Enrique still needs to find his ideal formula, as he has tried it different variations of what his model XI could look like. Only time will tell whether Spain will become World Champions in Qatar, but one thing’s for sure: Enrique’ team are ready to compete.