Michu's call-up could shift manager's mindset
10 October ~ While a good percentage of the Spanish national team plays in the Premier League, some players struggle to get noticed by coach Vicente Del Bosque while playing abroad. Swansea striker Michu has finally been called up to replace injured David Villa after scoring 27 goals since joining his current club 14 months ago. A move to England can look like a good opportunity for some Spanish players: with the average La Liga clubs in financial difficulties, they can get good contracts and play for competitive teams in the Premier League.
However, for some of them the move means they reduce their chances of making an appearance for the national team.
Mikel Arteta has performed to very high standard since he arrived at Everton in 2004, being voted player of the year by fans and team-mates several times. Although a Basque, Arteta was raised in Barcelona’s youth system and shares the predominant style of Spanish midfielders nowadays. It hasn’t been enough to get him into the Spain squad, though, and Fabio Capello tried to recruit him for England in his days in charge. FIFA’s rules made it impossible, but it says a lot about Arteta's quality.
Less talented or consistent players – Guti, Pablo Orbáiz, Borja Oubiña – have had opportunities to play in central midfield in friendlies, but Arteta seemed to be off the radar for Luis Aragonés and his successor Del Bosque. The players who have already made the manager’s shortlist, such as David Silva, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla, didn’t have any problem in making the team when they moved to Manchester and London; the problem is not being forgotten by the manager but getting his attention in the first place.
Spanish players have tended to play mainly in their domestic league, more so than Italians, Britons or Germans. The main exception to that was Luis Suárez, the 1960 Ballon d’Or winner who left Barcelona in the best years of his career to join Inter and, later, Sampdoria. But until the early 2000s, emigration was just a means to pick up one last big contract in Mexico or Asia.
Del Bosque has rarely travelled to watch games in England or Germany so while Alberto Moreno (Sevilla), Koke (Atlético Madrid) and Nacho (Real Madrid) have been recently called up in the first months playing in La Liga, more experienced footballers such as Chico Flores, Carlos Cuéllar and Àngel Rangel have to do more to make themselves noticed.
Now Michu has broken this barrier after averaging one goal every two games at Swansea, even if his chances of going to Brazil in the summer still seem limited. He’s clearly behind Villa and the recently naturalised Diego Costa in Del Bosque’s list, but this call could signal a change of mentality in Spain’s managers. Antonio Mateo