x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

In Spain, if a player is not getting regular time on the pitch with his club, the chances of getting into the national side are slim at best, writes Andy Mitten

Real Madrid and Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas has struggled for game time recently. AFP
Real Madrid and Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas has struggled for game time recently. AFP

A recent photograph of Samuel Eto’o showed who was boss. While his bare-chested teammates suffered in the sun before Cameroon’s game against Cape Verde, a smartly attired Eto’o sat with headphones on and what appeared to be his own minder.

There are international footballers who are so superior in talent to their peers, they know that barring injury, argument or a woeful dip in form, they will be accommodated and selected for their country.

And then there is the Spain team, where the competition is so high that players need to be playing regularly if they are to be considered for selection.

Iker Casillas, captain for club and country, may not be Spain’s No 1 at the World Cup in Brazil next summer because he is not starting regularly between the sticks for Real Madrid.

Barcelona’s Pedro recently expressed his frustration that he is not starting enough for his club now Alexis Sanchez is preferred in his position.

Manager Vicente del Bosque, who last week travelled to San Sebastian to watch Manchester United’s goalkeeper David de Gea, is spoilt for choice and can chose from a surfeit of talent in every position.

There are a dozen world-class midfielders, and that is without emerging talents such as Atletico Madrid’s Koke.

Further up the field Spain have David Villa, Fernando Torres, Pedro, Alvaro Negredo, Santi Cazorla, David Silva and Juan Mata — all of them wishing their personal situation with their club was in better health.

The fleet-heeled Navas has started just four of 11 English Premier League games so far for Manchester City after his summer move from Sevilla, while Negredo, who appeared to have made Spain’s No 9 shirt his own, has started seven in a mixed season so far.

Villa left Barcelona for Atletico because he wanted to play more often in the hope of regaining his place with the national side.

His decision is being partly vindicated, though he is not the lethal goalscorer of old.

Cazorla has started half of Arsenal’s games this term, Torres has begun only four of Chelsea’s league games and teammate Juan Mata five. Cesar Azpilicueta, who only made his Spain debut this year, has started only once under Jose Mourinho.

Unlike in Germany, where the national team tends to select home-based players, Del Bosque is not precious about where his players ply their trade.

He does, however, like them to play regularly. Azpilicueta performed well for Spain, but he will not be selected for his country if he is not playing too often for his club.

Of the Spanish internationals in the England’s top flight, only Tottenham Hotspur’s Roberto Soldado is a regular starter, and he has yet to impress in a team that has scored just nine goals in 11 league games.

The rest are hoping that more chances come.

Their fans and managers are hoping that they will take them when they do, while the attacking players could have done without even more competition after Brazilian Diego Costa switched nationality to play for Spain.

Not that they will ever admit that.


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