This evening Spain has a ‘double-opener’: the opening game for head coach Luis Enrique and the team’s opening fixture in the new Uefa Nations League. And Wembley, which will no doubt be full of hopeful and excited English fans still on a high since the World Cup, is a fitting stage for this momentous occasion for La Roja.
Gareth Southgate is the first coach to be massively revered in England since Alf Ramsey – so much so that some English fans have taken to dressing up as him (smart trousers and tailored waistcoat) on match days.
The well-dressed coach led England to their best World Cup finish since 1990, with striker Harry Kane taking home the Golden Boot. And he did so with a new generation of players who will have many more tournaments ahead of them. Like Southgate, this young group of players are beloved by the fans, mainly perhaps for appearing to have less airs and graces about them than the recent generations that have gone before them.
Spain, meanwhile, with the retirements of Silva, Pique and Iniesta, begin a renaissance under Luis Enrique. And despite this and a terrible World Cup, La Roja’s odds of winning are more or less on par with the hosts’.
The new coach wants to make Spain less predictable, but without straying completely from the style that has defined the team in modern times. It is true that the team has sometimes been predictable, and no more so than in the agonisingly monotonous performance against Russia in the last 16 of the World Cup.
With the old midfield guard of Xavi, Iniesta and Silva now gone, it is from the centre that something new must be generated. I like the fact that Luis Enrique’s debut is a stern test in a stadium in which Spain has only won once – in a 2-1 victory over the Three Lions back in 1981. With World Cup finalists Croatia coming after on Tuesday, Luis Enrique could not have asked for a more difficult start to his Spain managerial career.