Even as the issue of Catalonia's independence from Spain rages back home and dominates headlines world over, unity has been the Spain U-17 team's biggest strength, if captain Abel Ruiz is to be believed. Ruiz led the Spain team to the UEFA U-17 European Championship back in May, with a come-from-behind victory over England in the final.
"The Spanish U-17 team are European champions because all of our players were a tight group and were united during the UEFA U-17 European Championship," Ruiz told Firstpost in an exclusive interview on Thursday.
Ruiz, Spain's top-scorer at the tournament with four goals, was among the six players from Barcelona in the championship winning team while five players came from Real Madrid’s academy. The current Spain team, chasing the World Cup title in India, has four Barca and five Real players.
The two heavyweights of Spanish football don't just have different styles of play, they have contrasting identities which represent the yin and yang of Spanish football.
Given the dichotomy, the biggest task for any player representing the Spanish national team is to put aside the differences and find common ground. Finding unity in their diversity.
It's a task that players of the Spanish team did exceptionally well to clinch the 2008 European Championship, the 2010 World Cup and the Euros two years later.
It's a task the current U-17 team will have to do again to lift the U-17 World Cup — a title the European giants have never won.
"We may be champions of Europe, but that is in the past for us. We don't feel any pressure. I believe we should go out to the field together, knowing that the most important thing is the group. We need to play to have fun and of course to look for victory," Ruiz said.
Finding common ground
Spain U-17 coach Santi Denia had told Firstpost back in July that while Real Madrid and Barcelona had contrasting styles of play, the key to the Spain team's success was finding a common thread in their possession-based styles of football.
"It is clear that the academies of Real Madrid and Barcelona are doing a very good job. It's normal that the Spanish FA is trying to approach these players and that we have many players from Real Madrid and Barcelona. But we'll try to make a national team not influenced by the style of either club.
“But both teams like to have the ball. It's the kind of football Spanish FA want their teams to play, a style based on possession. We try and talk to players and make them understand that the national team is different to the club. This is our style and our kind of football,” Denia, who was an Atletico Madrid player for many seasons, had said.
Ruiz too added that he had no issues adjusting to the Spain team's style of play. "In Spain, we like to play football with a lot of touches of the ball. I am also lucky to be playing with very good teammates, both in Barcelona and in the national team. So there is not much of a difference."
Spain have had a stop-start campaign at the World Cup so far, losing their opener 1-2 to South American U-17 champions Brazil before trouncing Niger 4-0. Two of the goals Spain scored against the African team came from Ruiz and helped Spain climb up to second spot in Group D.
However, the group is delicately poised with Niger also on three points and behind Spain only on goal difference.
"Our biggest goal is to win against North Korea. It's the next game and we can not think beyond it. It would be a mistake," Ruiz signed off.
Updated Date: Oct 13, 2017 13:00 PM