Andy Mitten

Young, gifted and Spanish

Andy Mitten

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Spain's
Under-21 internationals beamed as they walked through arrivals at Madrid's
Barajas airport on Sunday. Fresh from being crowned European champions after
victory against Switzerland in Denmark, most of the team were still wearing
team shirts covered in the signatures of team mates in marker pen. The stature
of those names is set to grow and grow.

There
are countless footballers who represent their country at U21 level and see
their careers fail to fulfil the early promise, yet most of the victorious
Spain team are already household names in their own country.

Valencia's
Juan Mata and Athletic Bilbao's Javi Martinez were in the senior squad that
lifted the World Cup last year and the young Spaniards mimicked the dominating
style of the senior side; their 59 per cent possession against England was the
lowest in their five matches and the future of Spanish football at
international level couldn't be brighter.

Mata
showed off his winners' medal but refused to comment on transfer speculation
linking him with Europe's premier clubs. Barcelona's Thiago Alcantara was
another wearing the Spain shirt with pride as he showed off two of his team's
trophies and arms full of tattoos. He also refused to be drawn on talk of a
move away from Camp Nou and while he made it clear that he'd like to stay at
Barca last week, the decision may not be his. If Barça sign Cesc Fabregas then
Thiago's progress could be stifled, though 80 per cent of Barca fans would
prefer Thiago to the Arsenal captain.

Atletico's
David De Gea's spell back in his home city was brief - a day later he headed
back to northern Europe for his Manchester United medical. De Gea - pronounced 'De
Hey-a'- has convinced United that he's the right man with his form for
Atletico. Two decades ago, such a move would have been considered a step down.

When
United met the Atletico of Bernd Schuster in the 1991-92 Cup Winners' Cup, the
Madrilenos justified their favourites tag with a convincing 3-0 victory in the
Calderon. Schuster was the top paid Atleti player on a reported £10,000-a-week -
three times that of United's top earner Bryan Robson. The game wasn't televised
as the controversial madcap Atleti president Jesus Gil pulled the plug on the
cameras an hour before kick-off. He'd be even unhappier if he were alive to
today: Blackpool earned more television money last season than Atletico.

Financial
profligacy and the unfair distribution of television money in Spain, combined
with the strength of the Premier League's television contract is one reason why
many of the young Spanish diamonds are being linked with moves abroad. In
January, Espanyol had to sell two of their best youngsters, internationals
Victor Ruiz and Didac Vila to Napoli and Milan to stave off administration.
Osasuna accepted a €7 million (€6.3m) bid from Marseille for Cesar Azpilicueta
last summer.

Atletico
still had enough power in Spain to take advantage of Deportivo La Coruna's
relegation by signing striker Adrian, the U21 golden boot winner in Denmark, on
a free but they'd struggle to keep hold of him if he moved into Kun Aguero's
class.

Only
Barca and Real Madrid have the financial muscle to keep their stars, though
there wasn't a single Real Madrid player in Spain's U21 squad. Madrid buy
brilliance rather than creating it.

There
were five Barça players, though the Catalans have let Bojan Krkic go to Roma.
Jeffren Suarez, another who triumphed in Denmark, could also be used in a deal
which sees Alexis Sanchez arrive at Camp Nou, though Jeffren, like Thiago,
doesn't want to go anywhere.

The
problem for debt-laden Spanish clubs like Mallorca is that they will struggle
to keep hold of Emilio Nsue if a serious bid came in. It's hard to portray
Europe's best young internationals as victims when clubs profit greatly from
selling young stars, but more financial parity in Spain would ensure that huge
clubs like Atletico or Valencia can keep their most promising players.

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