When the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) transformed its youth team set-up in July 2008, the only man remaining after a review of the staff was current U-17 coach Gines Melendez. And though the only title won since then has been the 2009 Mediterranean Games, those involved have expressed their satisfaction with the progress being made.
One of the new boys was Luis Milla, handed the reins of Spain's U-19 and U-20 sides, and who is set to guide the latter at this year's FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt. "Though we've only won one title, I think that good work has been done," the former Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia midfielder told FIFA.com.
"You can't win everything, every year, and this (Football) Association is one of the few that has helped its youth teams reach the final phases of all the European and world competitions. We new coaches have kept faith with the footballing philosophy that was in place before. We've preserved the style and the way of understanding football that we have here in Spain, because that is our footballing culture."
It is this very same culture of short-passing and one-touch football that Milla himself purveyed during a professional career that lasted nearly 20 years and took in Spain's biggest clubs. After hanging up his boots in 2001, he worked within Valencia's youth system until spending 2007/08 as assistant to Michael Laudrup at Getafe and subsequently accepting his current position.
"It's a very good experience and it's been a very positive year," he said, when asked for his verdict on his first 12 months in the job. "We've worked less with the U-20s but we were given a very pleasant surprise in Pescara, when we ended up champions of the Mediterranean Games."
"The squad hadn't spent that much time together but they really grew close. There were some difficulties but the group was able to overcome them. They took the initiative and got stronger as they went on. That's how we came through the tough games against France and Italy," added Milla, whose team beat France in the last four before a 2-1 final win over Italy.
A silver generation
The team which won gold in Pescara should form the basis of La Roja's squad for Egypt 2009, though the door is still open to those competing at the UEFA U-19 European Championship in Ukraine. One man whose involvement remains up in the air, however, is Barcelona's Bojan Krkic. Though young enough to take part, it would seem unlikely the forward will drop down to the U-20s having already appeared at senior level.
"We've got an open mind on any player who is available for selection, but above all they must have the desire to take part. Bojan's the right age and, though he's made his senior debut and is a regular for the U-21s, this (U-20) World Cup means a lot on the football scene," said Milla of a player who was the driving force behind Spain reaching the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007. "It will all depend on him, his attitude and his club. I'm open to the possibility of him coming with us."
Other members of the squad that finished second to Nigeria at Korea 2007, such as Fran Merida and David De Gea, are expected to travel to Egypt. And they will get the chance to avenge that final defeat against the Golden Eaglets, who have also been drawn in Group B along with Venezuela and Tahiti. "African teams are very strong, seasoned and competitive. I'm sure they (Nigeria) will be our most demanding group opponents," was the verdict of the 43-year-old coach.
"Venezuela have a great team. What's more, they progressed through a qualifying phase in which reigning world champions Argentina came up short. They've got a lot of quality, are very well set up technically and have very athletic players in every area of the side. They're going to be very tough to play against."
Does he feel that Tahiti are perhaps the easiest group rival on paper? "We can't be overconfident because if you start badly or you lose concentration, you can end up in trouble. Especially seeing as it's the first game.
"If we go into the tournament in good form I think we can do well, but I don't want to pile more pressure on my players by setting goals beforehand," continued Milla, who intends to take his charges to Egypt a week before the competition begins to get used to the conditions.
"We're aiming to get through the group phase and then keep getting stronger. These lads are talented and we're teaching them how to compete. But you must realise that they put pressure on themselves, they don't need any more by having objectives imposed on them."