Rafa Benitez: England can learn but it won't happen overnight


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The Independent Online

As you say in England, there is plenty more where that came from! The next generations of Spanish players have seen what was achieved in Kiev on Sunday night and are now waiting and hoping for their chance to bring triumph back to the country. Look out especially for Thiago Alcantara and his brother Rafa, adoptive Spaniards who are both at Barcelona.

They are the sons of Mazinho, who you might remember from the Brazil team that won the 1994 World Cup in the US. Also keep your eye on Suso, the Liverpool player who will now be playing for Spain Under-19s at their European Championship.

Everyone is talking now about how Spain have discovered the way of playing and developing players like these in the last four years.

But I know that Spain's coach Vicente del Bosque won't see it that way because he has been talking about it – and doing it – for more than 25 years, right back to the days when he and I were together at Real Madrid.

The point for England as they look for a bit of what Spain have is that the country cannot make the changes in one year, or maybe even five years.

It takes far longer to reach the level we have seen from Spain in the last four years – a level, by the way, which they have reached by a mixture of having the right philosophy and being able to work with players whose quality is particularly high. But you can still start putting the right things in place now.

We've already talked on these pages about having a plan, coaching the coaches in that philosophy and then bringing the right players for those coaches to work with.

Of course, it's very competitive in the Premier League, where survival is so important, and it might not always be possible to keep the philosophy in every way. But you can still do things the right way and be progressive.

Another aspect England can also learn from is the standard of competition that exists at youth level for Spanish players. Spain is very, very different from England in the way that it brings together the best players in each region to form teams which play each other. They have had to change the selection system to make sure no more than four players from one team are selected per regional team – because the local Madrid federation was selecting eight from Real and the Catalan federation called up many from Barcelona, who were equally unhappy (as a player at Real, I sometimes found myself missing out on club training to be with the regional side).

But the region versus region games allow the Under-16 national coach to see who are the best players in the country while here, in England's academy system, you can't assess those players.

Perhaps there are two good ones from the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, but you only see them when they play for the national junior teams.

The Spanish system also allows the most gifted players to be together, play against each other; to know each other very early.

It takes far longer than four years to reach the level Spain have attained in the last four years