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Luis de la Fuente planning major Spain rebuild

Less than one week after being knocked out of the 2022 World Cup, Spain had a new manager. Luis Enrique’s resignation after the shock penalty shootout loss to Morocco came as no surprise to those who expect the former Barcelona boss to re-enter club football again at some point in the near future. However, Luis de la Fuente’s appointment as his successor certainly was unexpected.

De la Fuente had been Spain’s Under-21 coach. His record at youth level is an impressive one, winning the 2015 European Under-19 Championships before winning the 2019 European Under-21 Championships, but few expected the Spanish national federation to hand him the senior job after disappointment in Qatar.

The two weeks will offer an early indication as to whether or not this was the correct decision with Spain starting their Euro 2024 qualification campaign against Norway and Scotland. De la Fuente’s first squad as Spain manager has already offered a hint of the 61-year-old’s intent to rebuild the national team.

Of the 26 players selected for the upcoming Euro 2024 qualifiers, only 11 have survived from the squad for the 2022 World Cup. Injuries to a number of key players have forced de la Fuente’s hand in a number of different areas, but the former youth team manager clearly wants to make his mark on the team, and quickly.

Enrique was charged with carrying Spain into a new generation after the calamitous 2018 World Cup campaign which saw Julen Lopetegui sacked on the eve of the tournament. Players like Sergio Ramos, David Silva, Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta were pushed to the side in favour of young players Enrique could build around for the future.

Gavi and Pedri have become the youthful core of the Spanish national team and that won’t change under de la Fuente. Pedri has pulled out of the squad for the Euro 2024 qualifiers against Norway and Scotland, but Spain have two generational talents to set the tone for the rest of the team around them.

In all other areas of the team, though, de la Fuente has already demonstrated a willingness to try new things. Real Sociedad’s Martin Zubimendi, Osasuna’s David Garcia and Espanyol’s Joselu, all uncapped, have been called up with Iago Aspas back in the squad – many believe Enrique should have used the Celta Vigo forward more frequently.

With Sergio Busquets now retired from international duty, one of de la Fuente’s first tasks will be to find a new successor for the Barcelona midfielder. Rodri could fit the bill, but Mikel Merino, Fabian Ruiz and Zubimendi give the new manager a number of different options in the centre of the pitch.

Spain might not boast the world class talent they did a number of years ago when the core of their 2014 World Cup-winning team was still together, but the future could still be bright for them. There is now 18 months until the next major tournament for de la Fuente to find a new group of players to mould into a team in his own image.

For many fans and experts, Enrique’s approach was too pure to succeed. The former Barcelona boss liked his team to play a possession-heavy game that sae Spain control most matches they played. However, they were frequently toothless in the attacking third. It was too often possession without a purpose.

De la Fuente, on the other hand, is more pragmatic. He will likely shift Spain from a 4-3-3 formation into a 4-2-3-1 shape with an orthodox number nine. His teams still play with the ball at their feet, but Spain under de la Fuente’s control are about to undergo a rebuild that is about more than just the personnel in the squad.

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