Every Spain squad Luis Enrique names sparks outpourings of anger - particularly, but not only, among Madridistas. Criticising the national coach’s team selection is as old as the Spain side itself (a century and one year), but it has never reached these levels. It’s now a feature of Luis Enrique's squads that no Real Madrid players are involved and, on top of that, he adds fuel to the fire with bold calls such as the inclusion of Gavi, who has accrued just 363 minutes of first-team football at Barcelona; or Pedro Porro, the mystery full-back who played a half before the Euros, then disappeared; or Sergi Roberto, who has become emblematic of the downtrodden Barça we’re seeing week in, week out. The Spain boss also persists with Eric García and, with Álvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno unavailable, still refuses to turn to Iago Aspas.
Is it because Luis Enrique enjoys the controversy? No, I don't think so
There are those who take it all as gratuitous provocation, something Luis Enrique does simply because he gets off on it. But I don’t believe that, as much as he endeavours in his press conferences to avoid calming the storms he unleashes. I think it’s down to something else: he picks players he is sure will blindly follow his orders. Submissive, devoted young lads ready to eat out of his hand and heed the Mussolinian mantra ‘credere, obedere, combattere’. Rather than showing the kind of real leadership that would allow him to win over players who are harder to persuade, he shows artificial leadership over a faithful, easily pliable group of lads who he shepherds from atop that scaffolding platform of his. Javier Clemente, one of Luis Enrique’s predecessors, did something similar, minus the scaffolding.
Spain back in action today with Italy Nations League clash
But it’s a method and, as was the case for Clemente, it is, up to a point, getting Luis Enrique results. Clemente's wasn’t a hugely successful Spain team, but it put up a fight. This one does, too. It is at least competing, and given the current quality of our best players, you can’t ask for much more. If you compare the 16 best players from the 2008-2012 Spanish vintage with the 16 best of the present day, you’ll see what I mean. Today, Spain return to action in the Nations League against the side that eliminated them from the Euros, Italy, an opponent of the highest order. I don’t know what XI Spain will start with, but what I do know is that they’ll go out there to follow to the letter the game plan set out by their coach. And that is something.