In international football terms, Spain’s team is one of the most distinctive. A few of their stalwarts have retired in recent years – Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique just in the last few months – but they still retain a side many can ring off the tongue. Their lineup reads like a world XI.
Jordi Alba is one such player who gives Spain such distinction. He is, after all, arguably the best left back in the game right now, winning title after title over the past six years at Barcelona. And yet Alba has been left out of the Spain squad for the upcoming fixtures against England and Croatia this week and next.
What is even more baffling is that Luis Enrique, Alba’s former manager at Barca, is the one who has made the decision, naming his first squad as Spain manager. Enrique won the Champions League with Alba at left back and was integral in turning the left back into the player he is today. Alba probably, with some justification, feels a little betrayed by his old coach.
In Alba’s place, Enrique has instead picked Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso and Valencia’s Jose Luis Gaya. Both players are of a high calibre, with Alonso in particular enjoying a strong start to the season, but are they really of the calibre of someone like Alba, who is also in good form at the moment?
It could be argued that Enrique is simply seeking to try out different options, perhaps planning for a future where Alba, now 29 years old, will enter the twilight of his career. But these upcoming games against England and Croatia are technically competitive fixtures for Spain, as part of the inaugural UEFA Nations League. There’s at least something on the line for Spain over the next week.
“We’ve not spoken about it,” Alvaro Morata said when asked for his view on Alba’s omission. “We miss him. He’s a crack, someone who adds to the good atmosphere and a spectacular player. I don’t think I have to offer an opinion on it. I think we were all surprised that he wasn’t called up.”
Morata’s surprise is reflective of the general mood within the Spanish game over Enrique’s refusal to pick Alba for his first squad. “It’s the coach’s decision,” said Sergi Roberto, who incidentally has returned to the national team fold after missing out on a place at the World Cup. “In this case, [Alba] has not been called up. But he’s an important player, he’s calm and he will keep working hard [at Barcelona]. If he gets the call, he will be happy [to come back].”
It’s difficult to envisage that Alba won’t be back at some point. He is one of the very best at what he does and so there’s only so long that Enrique can ignore the Barcelona left back. Alba is deserving of his place in the Spain team. Most can see that.
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