The Tiki-Taka purveyors have a rich history of swapping paella for pies, but ahead of England taking on Spain, which Spaniards in England make their way into the Greatest XI?
Pepe Reina (Liverpool)
One of Rafael Benítez’s few signing successes, Reina has not only been instrumental in the Reds’ impressive defence record since he arrived in 2005, but he is a valuable attacking outlet. One of the best ball-playing goalkeepers in Europe, his bears the alacrity of Jason Statham in Crank when instigating attacks and has contributed to the rebranding of the goalkeeper. Although liable to experience a bout of the jitters, he has only conceded more than 30 goals in a league season during the past two campaigns – when the club was inflicted with strife off and, more pertinently, on the pitch.
Albert Ferrer (Chelsea)
The first regular Spanish international of any stature to play in England while still a Spanish international. Ferrer moved to Chelsea in the summer of 1998 and was part of the landmark Blues XI for a Boxing Day clash at Southampton which comprised of 11 foreign players – the first all-foreign starting XI in the 111-year history of English football to that date.
Ivan Campo (Bolton)
A cult figure at the Reebok, Campo was loaned to Bolton by Real Madrid for the 2002/03 season and was pivotal in helping the Trotters stave off relegation on the final day of the season. Thereafter Sam Allardyce’s artisans thrived throughout four seasons, finishing 8th, 6th, 8th again and 7th, whilst they were also edged out in the 2004 League Cup final. Campo was a mainstay throughout a frankincense period for the club, versatile enough in the defensive midfield gig where, like Jeff Lebowski’s rug, he really tied the room together.
Fernando Hierro (Bolton)
A Real Madrid legend with a capital ‘L’, Hierro headed to England’s north-west after a season in Qatar, following his release by Los Blancos in 2003. At the age of 36-going-on-37 he made 35 appearances for Allardyce’s Bruise Brothers when they were at their most fearsome zenith. He bowed out of football in a 3-2 win over Everton in the final match of 2004/05, providing an assist for unit Radhi Jaidi before he was substituted to a standing ovation, receiving hugs and kisses aplenty from smitten teammates.
José Enrique (Newcastle and Liverpool)
From calamitous to competent. Enrique arrived in England in 2007 after one impressive season for Villarreal, heralded as the Next Big Thing. The burdening £6.3m price tag, expectant Geordies and his Keystone Cop competition winners beside him however contributed to a couple of dismal seasons for the Magpies. Mike Ashley had just arrived along with Sam Allardyce, and although the fans loathed both it was the recent acquisitions who bore the brunt of the bile after Allardyce’s departure in January 2008. Lowlights included a 4-1 home reverse to Portsmouth – with three goals shipped in the first 11 minutes – and a 6-0 mauling at Manchester United. The latter scoreline actually flattered the visitors.
Remaining loyal to the Toon after their 2009 relegation, Enrique has now matured into one of Europe’s finest left-backs and is arguably Kenny Dalglish’s best signing. Harshly though, he continues to be overlooked by Vicente del Bosque for the Spanish squad.
Cesc Fàbregas (Arsenal)
Probably the greatest player to have emerged from Arsène Wenger’s stable of émigrés. Although the Gunners still miss Patrick Vieira’s presence, the midfield void would have been as gaping as the aftermath of a nuclear explosion if Fàbregas wasn’t present. Plucked from Barcelona’s La Masia in 2003, he threatened to outshine Thierry Henry in the Frenchman’s final two seasons at Highbury and then the Emirates. Blessed with enviable grace and vision, his effect on the Premier League has compelled other clubs to cut home-grown players from the same cloth as the Spaniard. Jack Wilshere, Josh McEachran and Ravel Morrison are three outstanding English playmakers breaking the mould of the blood-and-guts archaically associated with British football. Although not a regular for Spain, he was invariably the game-changer in their 2010 World Cup triumph.
It was a mark of his brilliance and the increasing respect and fear opponents have for him, in a scene not dissimilar to scenarios Lionel Messi is embroiled in on a weekly basis.
Xabi Alonso (Liverpool)
Another of the post-2004 Spanish Inquisition on Merseyside, if Alonso was Benítez’s greatest signing, he was also his greatest mistake. A bargain arrival at £10.7m from Real Sociedad, Alonso was crucial in swaying the 2005 Champions League final win, freed up by the half-time arrival of Dietmar Hamann. He was granted a generic chant by the Anfield crowd, but he was effectively an unsung hero whilst Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres accepted the acclaim of the Kop. In the 2008/09 campaign – the closest Liverpool have come to a title win in over 20 years – he was the team’s best player, despite Benítez’s willingness to flog him in the summer in order to sign Gareth Barry. How foolish. Liverpool’s demise coincided with Alonso using his manager’s madness as leverage to transfer to Madrid, where he is as indispensable as he is in the national side.
David Silva (Manchester City)
The third best player in the world. Now that Roberto Mancini has let the Tiki-taka talent off the leash, City have been as potent as Frankie Cocozza (allegedly) since he started X Factor. On one occasion during the Citizens’ derby demolition of United, Silva was surrounded by half-a-dozen Red shirts, yet no one could prise the ball off of him. It was a mark of his brilliance and the increasing respect and fear opponents have for him, in a scene not dissimilar to scenarios Lionel Messi is embroiled in on a weekly basis. His first term at Eastlands was impressive yet profligate, whereas now he has tensed, rather than added, the goals string to his bow. The two Spanish giants, fond of fielding domestic talent, will surely come-a-calling sooner or later.
Gaizka Mendieta (Middlesbrough)
One of the world’s greatest during his pomp at the Mestalla, a move from Valencia to Lazio for a whopping €48m, where he became the sixth most expensive player ever, ironically instigated his career downfall. A move to Teeside came after a season-long loan spell at an instable Barça, and it was in the Premier League where he experienced a short but sweet Indian Summer. He was part of the club’s first ever trophy success in the 2004 League Cup triumph and the following year demolished Manchester United with two goals in a 4-1 win. A vintage performance that was all-too-rare, he fell out with Gareth Southgate and played his last professional game in a goalless draw at Goodison Park on Boxing Day 2006. He now resides in Yarn.
Roberto Martínez (Wigan Athletic)
Part of Wigan’s Three Amigos, Jesus, Bob and Issy, AKA Jesus Seba, Roberto Martínez and Isidro Díaz, Martínez swapped paella for pies in summer 1995, where his matador-style goal celebrations changed the outlook of the club. He scored on his debut against Gillingham and became the first Spaniard to play in the FA Cup along with Díaz, becoming an instant success. That was recognised at the end of the season when Martinez, leading scorer with 13 goals, was included in the Third Division Team of the Year. Now the Latics’ manager, he stayed loyally at the club until July 2001. A frequent visitor to local schools as an ambassador for the club, he played a total of 180 games with a further 47 appearances from the bench, scoring 23 goals.
Fernando Torres (Liverpool and Chelsea)
When on-song, there’s probably not a better striker in world football than Torres. Quick, predatory, creative, aerially excellent and deceptively strong, he bears all the hallmarks of a great forward. Phenomenal in his first season at Liverpool, he scored 33 goals (including three hat-tricks) before dinking the ball past Jens Lehmann to claim Spain’s first piece of silverware in 44 years at Euro 2008. Injury struck the following campaign however and Torres has sporadically shown glimpses of his 2007/08 summit since then. Yet that term he still netted doubles against Everton, Chelsea and Arsenal as well as showcasing a virtuoso display at Old Trafford in a 4-1 win as his relentlessness shone through as much as his quality. Miserable and disinterested in the last days of Benítez and the ill-fated Roy Hodgson era, he was the butt of jokes during his 13-game goal drought after a mid-season £50m switch to Chelsea. He has nevertheless played superbly so far this term, yet ironically is tainted by that miss at Old Trafford and a red card against Swansea. His current record stands at four goals in 12 club appearances.
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