Last Autumn Barcelona defender Marc Bartra claimed that Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos formed international football’s best centre back partnership. Whilst many will agree with his view that Spain possess two world class defenders, there is a clear lack of depth and no backup to either of them.
This was evident when Vicente del Bosque announced the latest Spain squad for the upcoming friendlies against Italy and Romania at the end of this month. There was no surprise in seeing both Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos named as two of the four centre backs. The other two defenders that were called up, Marca Bartra & Nacho, have only started 13 league games between them all season. Both players made their debut for Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively in 2010/11 and have few than 40 league starts each.
The worrying thing is that there isn’t a real alternative to these two players. Javi Martínez was part of the 2014 World Cup squad and has been used as a centre back for Spain in the past, but he has been injured for over 300 days in the past two seasons. Yes, you can argue that if he is fully fit and playing regularly for Bayern then he would feature for Spain. However, there is a serious dearth of talent at del Bosque’s disposal.
This is also a problem for the U21 manager, Albert Celades, who has resorted to using fullbacks Jonny Castro and Rubén Duarte as his first choice centre back partnership.
Jorge Meré started out in the Real Madrid youth academy, but quickly moved to Sporting de Gijón. He made his debut for their B team at the tender age of 16 during the 2013/14 and quickly became a regular. Towards the end of the 2014/15 season, he made his debut for Sporting in the Segunda División in Round 33 against fellow promotion chasers Real Zaragoza. In the following game he came on as a substitute against Deportivo Alavés and subsequently started the next three fixtures.
The talented centre back had to cut his league season short, as he was called up for the Spanish U19 squad to play at the 2015 UEFA European Under-19 Championship in Greece. During the tournament he partnered Jesús Vallejo at the heart of the defence and Spain went on to win the tournament for a record seventh time.
Last Summer both Sky Italia and Calciomercato.com linked him with Juventus but a move didn’t materialise. The elegant defender has now established himself as first choice centre back for Sporting de Gijón at just 18 years of age. His performances this season in La Liga have been impressive. For someone so young he reads the game and asseses situations very well. He is also very calm and level headed. No one would be surprised if he went on to captain Sporting as he’s a natural leader, but whether the Asturians can keep him at El Molinón is a different story.
Jorge Meré’s U19 centre back partner, Jesús Vallejo, has also had a similar career to date. He made his debut for Real Zaragoza in the opening fixture of the 2014/15 season against Recreativo de Huelva. The then 18-year-old went on to make a further 33 league appearances for the promotion chasing Aragonese.
During his debut season he also became captain for Real Zaragoza and much was made of this. However, he is a rare breed of player who displays the maturity and leadership of players twice his age. This is why he was also named as the captain of the U19 Spanish Championship-winning side last Summer.
Jesús Vallejo is an excellent reader of the game, is mature beyond his years and has been compared to Barcelona legend, Carles Puyol. He’s also an excellent passer of the ball and is extremely comfortable carrying it out from the back and building up the attacks. This is why he play has also been compared to Juventus and Italy defender, Leonardo Bonucci, a renowned ball playing defender.
With his reputation continually growing, Real Madrid swooped in and signed him for a cut price €5M, and he was immediately loaned back to Real Zaragoza for the 2015/16 season were he has continued to captain the promotion chasing outfit.