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.

So who are the next genuine centre backs to emerge for Spain? Looking forward, Spain have both Jorge Meré and Jesús Vallejo but they are only 18 and 19 years old respectively.

Investing in young up-and-coming players is a key strategy in Soccer Manager

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 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.


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Home to historical towns, magnificent climates and food Andalusia is one of the most attractive regions in the whole of Spain. The autonomous Spanish community is also home to one of the fiercest derbies in the world, three footballing powerhouses and an impressively long list of players who have came out of the region.

Spanish football has always had a massive emphasis on youth and this region is no different; Real Betis, Malaga and particularly Sevilla have always realied heavily on youth. In recent times, Malaga have placed a huge importance on introducing younger players into their first team activites, which is more out of necessity than choice, but the benefits are already being felt in a financial sense. Since the removal of support from their Qatari owners, Malaga have made youth development one of their most important revenue streams. The departure of both Samu’s and Sergi Darder to Villarreal and Lyon respectively has signalled that the conveyor belt has finally stuttered into motion with the absence of a big financial backer. What is most impressive is that Javi Garcia and Malaga continue to improve despite their average age being particularly young.

Down the coast into the city of Seville both, Real Betis and Sevilla have been using youth as a fundamental part of their club policy and as such have been producing players for many years. However, despite their successful business model a criticism of Sevilla is that their current squad only boasts three players from Andalusia – a far cry from the teams that housed the likes of Sergio Ramos and Jesus Navas who went on to be sn integral part of Vicente Del Bosque’s European and World Cup winning teams. Their recent emphasis on buying in foreign players has limited the influence home grown players have had on the fortunes of the team. But the fans do not seem to have a care in the world as Unai Emery and his legion of foreign players are currently going through their most successful period. However, prodigal son Jose Antonio Reyes and goalkeeper Sergio Rico continue to fly the Andalusian flag at the Sanchez Pizjuain.

Betis, however, are seen as a club of the people and are completely apathetical of their bigger brothers across the city. Their recent relegation to La Segunda meant that foreign imports were shed in a bid to cut their wage bill. A situation that draws similarities with Malaga, although Los Boquerones (Anchovies) were never relegated. As such, Betis have 9 Andalusians in their squad of 23 inclusive of one of the most exciting prospects in Spanish football. Dani Ceballos actually began his player career as a Sevilla player, before they released him. Since then, the 19 year old has gone on to become an integral part of Spain’s U19 squad as well as one of the most important squad members in the full Betis side. A creative player, who relies heavily on pace and skill he is one of the most coveted players in Europe. Betis also produced one of the most exciting players Spanish football has produced in recent times, Joaquín, and despite his lengthy career doesn’t seem to have gained the plaudits he deserves.

Outside of of the three giants, Andalusians have made their mark on football all over Spain and as well as the rest of the World. Just above the coast of Portugal in Vigo, Nolito is proving to be particularly outstanding playing in the left-wing position for Celta and looks as though he may return to Barcelona where he failed to make the grade first time round. In London, former Real Betis goalkeeper Adrian, is playing a vital role in West Ham’s ascension to the top half of the Premier League.

Andalusia has produced so many footballers that you could make a team that could easily challenge teams across Europe. An all time selected XI would look something like this:

Adrian (West Ham); Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Fernando Hierro (Real Madrid) Carlos Marchena (Villarreal), Juantio (Betis); Isco (Real Madrid), Samu (Villarreal) Jose Antonio Reyes (Sevilla), Joaquín (Betis), Nolito (Celta Vigo); Jesus Navas (Manchester City).

About the Author – Ben Jarman

Freelance football writer with a penchant for Spanish and European football. Work published by Fulham FC, Italian FA and the Evening Standard.

Twitter: @sonikkicks


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