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An unlikely solution to Spain’s striking conundrum

David Villa’s long-term injury while playing for Barcelona could also be a problem for the Spanish national soccer team. There are a handful of potential replacements available, including a certain former Real Madrid veteran…


“We’ll win it for David Villa” was the message from Barcelona as they prepared for the final of the World Club Championship in Yokohama. The vast outpouring of support from his fellow players, especially his teammates from the Spanish national team, is testament to the popularity ‘El Guaje’ enjoys within the game. The fractured tibia, suffered during Barcelona’s semi-final win over Al Sadd, means Villa could be out for nearly six months and though he insists otherwise, he may not make it back in time for the European Championships in the summer.

Though his form in recent games has been patchy, over the past four years Villa has arguably been the most influential member of the Spanish national team. His five goals and overall brilliance were instrumental in winning Spain the World Cup in South Africa. Villa played in every one of their eight qualifying games to Euro 2012 and scored seven goals. Add to this the fact that he is the country’s leading goalscorer of all time with an astonishing 51 goals in 82 games and there is very little doubt that his ability to put the ball in the net will be sorely missed.

Villa’s injury comes at a precarious time for Vicente del Bosque, Spain’s manager. Spain’s other premier striker Fernando Torres is in the midst of a protracted run of such wretched form that questions are being asked of his claim even to a place in the squad. And though Spain’s style of play means that the need for an old-fashioned striker to lead the line is relatively less pronounced, recent games have thrown up enough evidence to show that when Villa is absent or in poor form, they do miss the presence of an instinctive goalscorer.

The question that follows naturally is of the identity of Villa’s replacement. Fernando Llorente of Athletic Bilbao has been part of the squad for a long time and has performed admirably when given the opportunity. But perhaps Llorente’s biggest obstacle to taking over the mantle of first-choice striker is the perception that he represents Spain’s plan B. He usually operates as the pivot in a more direct system which though utilized very well as an alternative, is unlikely to be Spain’s foremost plan of attack. Llorente’s inclusion in the squad for the Euros is almost a certainty, as is his place on the bench.

Alvaro Negredo of Sevilla is the most recent striker to be called up. Though an excellent all-round player, he is also much better suited to a quick, direct style of play. There are also plenty of question marks over his temperament and consistency.

A return to form for Torres would undoubtedly ease the strain on Del Bosque, but in the meantime he may find it impossible to continue to ignore Roberto Soldado’s claim to a place in the squad. The Valencia man has been in tremendous form but has so far failed to convince Del Bosque of his merits. Soldado has shown himself to have good predatory instincts and the injury to Villa will almost certainly mean that he finds a place in the next squad.

Thus it may well come to pass that Spain go into the Euros with a distinct lack of international experience up front. Furthermore, none of the potential replacements plays in a way that allows them to be considered a direct replacement for Villa. There is however another option, one that would address those very concerns. It has been over five years since Raúl González last played a game for Spain. And though the quality and success of the side in the interim has meant that he is retired in all but name, the current shortage and his good form for Germany’s Schalke could force his name back into the reckoning. Purely based on the numbers, he certainly has a case. He has scored 10 league goals this season, only one less than the much raved about Soldado.

Compare that to Llorente’s six, Negredo’s five and Torres’s two. Furthermore, the goals have been scored playing in a deep-lying role, with a great deal of fluidity and movement. As a consequence, Raúl also has four assists, which is more than all the others put together. He has started every league game for Schalke and played the full 90 minutes in all but one of them. In terms of form, Raúl is enjoying a remarkably fruitful Indian summer. Furthermore, he brings vast experience as well as a healthy goalscoring record for Spain.

But perhaps his politics, the reason Raúl was forced out in the first place, is what is most likely to keep him out now. The man who left the national team, however, bears little resemblance in terms of stature to the present incarnation. He carries none of the weight that he previously did as captain of Real Madrid and a highly influential figure in the dressing room. Spain have moved on far enough that he would now effectively go back to being a rookie in the squad. Playing in Germany – away from most of his team mates – would only serve to insulate him further from any dressing room discord.

Raúl has much to offer in terms of his playing abilities, but the baggage he carries makes him a risky choice. Whether Vicente del Bosque considers that risk worth taking depends on how convinced he is by the available alternatives.

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Published: Dec 23 2011
Category: Iberoblog
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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3 Comments for “An unlikely solution to Spain’s striking conundrum”

  1. Guys, I clicked on this because I thought there was finally an original idea how to overcome the economic crisis. Instead I read about people playing ball games.

  2. Sarath Balachandran

    Well Candide, what other Spanish industry defines the cutting edge its field, attracts the best talent in the world and has a truly global clientele ? I’d sooner watch a Spanish person playing ‘ball games’ than buy anything they’ve made..

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