Enrique stamping his mark on Spain

VALENCIA • Across Europe, the scent of revolution is in the air with Germany and Italy undergoing a remodelling process, but perhaps the most intriguing of all is the transformation of Spain.

Luis Enrique, appointed last July after the shambolic sacking of Julen Lopetegui and the brief interregnum of Fernando Hierro, is continuing to put his stamp on the squad.

And, rather than replacing old stagers with young talent, the former Barcelona boss appears to be moving in the opposite direction.

Enrique's squad for their Euro 2020 qualifying opener against Norway today contains three uncapped players - Sevilla defender Sergi Gomez, Real Betis midfielder Sergio Canales, and Getafe forward Jaime Mata.

There is also space for Valencia midfielder Dani Parejo, who has a single cap, while Sevilla's Jesus Navas, who was last capped five years ago, has been recalled as a right-back.

Among those with whom Enrique has lost patience are a group of players hitherto considered the future of the national team.

The Atletico Madrid midfield pair of Koke and Saul Niguez have been dropped together with Real Madrid midfielder Isco, Villarreal midfielder Pablo Fornals and Celta Vigo midfielder Brais Mendez.

Speaking ahead of the Norway meeting at the Mestalla, Enrique revealed that he had to tinker in the wake of their failure to qualify for the Nations League semi-finals, insisting Spain would be "able to defend better" if they "attacked in a more orderly fashion".

If the 48-year-old is hoping to catalyse a resurrection of the national team, who have not made it past the last 16 of a major tournament since winning Euro 2012, then he could not have picked many players who embody that better than Canales.

He was seen as the next big thing in Spanish football when, at 19, his form for Racing Santander earned him a move to Real.

But he lasted only one season at the Bernabeu and, since then, his career has been hobbled by several long-term injuries, including a cruciate ligament rupture - he had the scar from the operation transformed into a fish skeleton tattoo.

However, Canales has flourished under Quique Setien at Betis this season, and he told Marca that despite "moments during the recoveries when things were not going well", quitting football was never on his mind.

The 28-year-old, however, had almost given up hope of playing for La Roja as a senior player.

The attacker added: "I did not have it as a short-term or long-term goal. I did not consider it. I saw the national team as a fan more than anything. Now I want to give 200 per cent, the best of myself, for it."

For now, the unlikely figurehead of Spain's regeneration game is a man with a fish skeleton tattoo. It offers an apt symbol of the desire to replace the scars of past failures with the bones of a new era.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2019, with the headline 'Enrique stamping his mark on Spain'. Print Edition | Subscribe