Forecasts are difficult at the best of times. And as Luis Enrique’s Spain approaches this summer’s European Championship—staged across the continent for the first time—the questions are bouncing from all angles.
This soccer competition does not concern the “who” alone—who makes the team, who faces who, and who surprises. The where, why, what, and how have been equally dizzying.
Spain, an enigma under Enrique, is at the center of that dizzying storm. His squad selection was brave and controversial, with captain Sergio Ramos left out of the tournament picks. If that wasn’t enough, none of his Real Madrid teammates are involved either.
Ramos’ exclusion was surprising, despite his injury problems last campaign. The archetypical leader is often an easy choice, but conventions are now out the window. Even the subplots have fallen. Iago Aspas, fresh off another electric season with Celta Vigo, has been dropped among others.
Instead, a more youthful group will play. Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba are notable survivors of Spain’s heyday. But nobody knows what impact Pau Torres, Marcos Llorente, Fabián Ruiz, Dani Olmo, and Pedri will have, for instance. They will be competing at their first major competition as senior players, as will most of the list.
Enrique has rejected tradition, and it hasn’t been to everyone’s taste. The former Barcelona manager’s choices are confusing to some. Still, bucking the trend may not be the worst idea. Spanish dominance has turned to disappointment in recent times, sinking from Euro 2012-champion status to last-16 elimination in 2016. Now is the perfect time to announce a new Spain.
That new Spain was at its smooth best against Germany in the Nations League last November, when it won 6-0. But the same group has also underwhelmed against Ukraine, Switzerland and Greece in the build-up to the long-awaited event.
In more ways than one, predicting outcomes is tricky, not least because the scripts keep changing. Until April, Bilbao was set to host La Roja in its three group games against Sweden, Poland and Slovakia but could not guarantee fans attending. The splendid La Cartuja stadium in Seville, which was the venue for Germany’s humiliation, has since taken its place.
Marca suggests that Spain’s first battle (Spanish) is to tackle any negativity surrounding the national setup. Domestically, Barcelona and especially Real have come through tough seasons, and, for many of their fans, they hope Spain can provide some joy. More importantly, though, the elected players—many of whom don’t play for Barcelona and Real—can approach the games with freedom. The underwhelming performances of past squads are not down to them.
Hosting each group game will be settling; for the first part of the competition, the Euros will come to Andalusia, and the draw has been relatively kind. Spain has avoided the favorites, though Sweden and Poland have arguably the best forwards in the tournament, in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robert Lewandowski, respectively.
There are different kinds of pressure—performing at home, progressing from the group and, for Enrique, proving his critics wrong. But it was always going to be that way. Ramos asides, there were many worthy players to choose from, so much so that Enrique could have picked them from a hat. The coach, who has also led Celta Vigo and Roma, was never going to please everyone.
It is hard to see Enrique staying if his team struggles. With his selections and some of the press bewilderment, his eventual departure is a believable narrative. Yet narratives do not decide results, and especially not this summer. Who plays and where has finally been concluded, but how the country fares and what happens are tough calls. Who knows? A defensive injury could force Ramos to return and lead Spain to glory. Given what has gone before, it is a conceivable outcome.