Julen Lopetegui is keeping Spain's old bike ticking over

Like so many other people, I remember my first bike. It was bought for me to grow into and it lasted for many years. Like so many other people and their bikes, from time to time I changed something. The brakes, for example, the light, or the dynamo. The chainrings, as new and better ones became available. The handlebars, which back then I preferred in racing style. And of course, the tyres and the inner tubes. A lot of spokes, of course, one by one, up to and including the wheel rims. One day, after many years, I looked at it and wondered if it was still my bike. I added it all up. The frame was still the same, although I had mulled changing that as well. But yes, I decided, it was still my bike.

The same thing happens with football teams, I thought to myself last Friday when Julen Lopetegui’s line-up reminded me of my old bike. He has been in charge for 13 months now. At the outset of his tenure he worked with the same players that Vicente del Bosque had, with the main difference being a greater role for Vitolo. Since then he has continued to make small adjustments. Against Albania there were several at once, many due to injury absences. Odriozola at full back, Saúl in central midfield, Rodrigo as a number nine and Isco definitively elevated to master of operations. David Silva remained as a reminder of that nucleus of sublime passers of the ball in midfield but even he, with his shaved head, now seems a different player.

A new bike? No, it is still our old one; the one that Luis Aragonés built, Del Bosque maintained for so long and which started to make incredible headway with a few replacement parts. Now it is Lopetegui’s turn to replace a few bits and pieces, but the bike remains the same. The team’s style is still a familiar pleasure, like the wind in your face when riding in summer, any given summer. Lopetegui is doing an excellent job, with tact, consideration and working hand in hand with the passage of time to his benefit. Spain is still producing players and he knows when to bring them in. Meanwhile, La Roja continue to give us huge satisfaction.