FFT 100: good news for Spain, bad news for la Liga

If England had won back-to-back European Championship and World Cup titles, there would have been motions in Parliament calling for the national side to withdraw from all future competitions. After all, no team has ever made it three tournament victories in a row, so the only realistic future would be complete football failure followed by months of gloomy introspection in phone-in shows over where it all went wrong and how everything was all Fabio Capello’s fault.

This is the unappetising scenario that Spain will be trying to avoid in Euro 2012. However, unlike the excitable English in their alternate dimension, Spain will be going into the tournament in a rather a downbeat mood before a ball is even kicked.

Once all the debris and other more unmentionable material had been hosed and in some cases scraped off the streets after Spain’s 2010 World Cup victory, the country got back to business fairly swiftly with barely a mention, never mind a gloat over the glorious goings-on in South Africa.

This is partly because the Spaniards are a fairly modest and perhaps even insecure bunch, despite the ‘Viva España!’ flag-waving image, and also because of the subsequent economic collapse of the country that sees 22% of the population unemployed and nearly one in two young people out of work. Although Andrés Iniesta’s goal will forever be remembered with a fond smile and a toast, it doesn’t pay the mortgage.

It’s this sense of national unease that currently surrounds the Spanish side, despite the dutiful tub-thumping and cheerleading of the sports papers. Spain’s inability and even unwillingness to perform in friendlies, which sees defeats to Argentina, Portugal, Italy and England along with a disastrous recent performance against Costa Rica, certainly doesn't help confidence levels either. What’s more, the continued growth and progress of Holland and Germany are also being watched closely, considering these were two sides that Spain had to squeeze past on their way to their World Cup victory in South Africa.

Nevertheless, from a non-Spaniard perspective, the future is looking incredibly rosy for Spain judging by FourFourTwo’s 100 Best Players in the World results. The country contributes nearly a fifth of the footballers with a record total of 19, eight ahead of their nearest rivals, Brazil. It's an enormous leap since the list was first published in 2007 and reflects Spain's current position as the best international side on the planet.

Whilst the double-winning French side of 1998 and 2000 was made up of a single ‘golden’ generation, the conveyor belt of talent for la Seleccíon looks good for another six-year cycle. Players such as David Silva, Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla, Fernando Llorente and Javi Martínez are all ready to take over from the current Spanish starters, and then there are future stars such as Ander Herrera and Iker Muniain at Athletic Bilbao – footballers who are more than hungry enough to keep the trophies coming for la Furia Roja.

The results of the Top 100 aren’t just promising for the national game but also la Liga, with the Premier League losing the bragging rights of being The Best League In The World (TM) by contributing 30 players to the list compared to la Liga’s 31 – a swing of seven players since last year's list. This is largely in part to the continued growth of Barcelona, who now have 14 footballers in the top 100 – the most of any club side – and the sudden spurt of Real Madrid, who had just six players in 2007 but have now doubled that figure due to the purchase of players like Mesut Özil.

However, it isn’t all good news for the Spanish game. The country’s third-best team, Valencia, doesn’t have a single footballer in the list, now that Juan Mata, David Villa and David Silva are all gone, and only five players of the 31 do not feature in the ranks of the big two.

That’s a situation that is only likely to worsen, with Villarreal, Valencia and Atlético Madrid always set to be selling clubs. Although Málaga may continue their big spending that saw the purchase of Cazorla – one of the top 100 – it will never be enough to make a dent in the world-class strength of Barcelona and Madrid.

The results show that Spain still have plenty of reasons to be cheerful ahead of Euro 2012 and even the next World Cup, despite their current mini-downer. Even la Liga has some ammunition to its sponsor’s claim of being The Best League In The World (TM).

But the Top 100 also showcases the continuing trend of la Liga being the smallest league in the world, with the gap between the top two and the also-rans growing not just financially, but also in terms of footballing talent.