Football Features

When Thiago turned goal machine: Spain’s u21 Euros winners from 2013 had some serious midfield talent

By Muhammad Butt

When Thiago turned goal machine: Spain's u21 Euros winners from 2013 had some serious midfield talent

Published: 17:55, 20 June 2023

In 2011, Spain won the European Under-21 Championship. Then in 2013 they did it again.

Everyone remembers the 2011 side because Spain sent World Cup winners Juan Mata and Javi Martinez to represent them, as they were both eligible thanks to the competition’s weird laws about age.

But the 2013 side often gets forgotten, even though retaining a trophy is often harder than winning it the first time.

Coping with fan expectations, dealing with the pressure of being champions, and having every opponent give you their best possible performance all make for difficult barriers to overcome for title holders.

Yet Spain powered through all of that in 2013, with ex-senior coach, former Real Madrid manager and now Wolves boss Julen Lopetegui in charge of the side.

But what became of the players who triumphed in Jerusalem? We’ve taken a look back at the 2013 winners to see where they are now and how they’re getting on.

David de Gea

  • Position: Goalkeeper
  • Current club: Manchester United
  • Senior Spain caps: 45

Currently Manchester United’s No.1, De Gea’s individual quality has skyrocketed over the years. A few shaky performances in recent seasons has seen him drop out of contention for Spain, not being called up since late 2021, but there can be no denying his world class talent across the years.

Diego Mariño

  • Position: Goalkeeper
  • Current club: Almeria
  • Senior Spain caps: 0

The 33-year-old failed to kick on at Villarreal, whom he progressed through the academy, and is currently backup goalkeeper at Almeria.

Joel Robles

  • Position: Goalkeeper
  • Current club: Leeds
  • Senior Spain caps: 0

Believe it or not, he was once considered a greater prospect than De Gea. Third choice in Israel, after spending five years in England, Robles returned to Spain with Real Betis in the summer of 2018. But there was time for another return to England, spending the 2022/23 campaign with Leeds.

Dani Carvajal

  • Position: Right-back
  • Current club: Real Madrid
  • Senior Spain caps: 36

He is now the starting right-back for Spain and Real Madrid and played a key role in Los Blancos‘ domination of the Champions League in recent years. Also scored the winning penalty to help Spain win the Uefa Nations League this summer.

Martín Montoya

  • Position: Right-back
  • Current club: Real Betis
  • Senior Spain caps: 0

Once deemed a can’t-miss prospect with Barcelona, Montoya was first choice over Carvajal in Israel. He failed to make the most of his talent and is now at Real Betis after a short stint in the Premier League with Brighton. He also has a handful of caps for Catalonia.

Marc Bartra

  • Position: Centre-back
  • Current club: Trabzonspor
  • Senior Spain caps: 14

The handsome centre-back never quite cracked the Barcelona first XI, but he enjoyed decent success at Borussia Dortmund before returning to his homeland with Betis. After four years with Betis, Marc Bartra made the move to Turkey with Trabzonspor last summer.

Iñigo Martínez

  • Position: Centre-back
  • Current club: Athletic Bilbao
  • Senior Spain caps: 20

Iñigo was previously seen as one of the most highly rated players that none of the big clubs really wanted. He made over 200 appearances for Real Sociedad before heading across the Basque country to join Bilbao in 2018, though he leaves the club this summer.

Álvaro

  • Position: Centre-back
  • Current club: Marseille
  • Senior Spain caps: 0

Álvaro was a back-up in 2013 and is now playing his football in the Saudi Pro League, without a senior Spain cap to his name.

Marc Muniesa

  • Position: Centre-back
  • Current club: Al-Arabi
  • Senior Spain caps: 0

Once the jewel of La Masia, Muniesa joined the Mark Hughes revolution at Stoke in the weeks after Spain’s triumph.

He had had enough after five years in the Potteries and eventually relocated to Manchester City’s feeder club Girona in 2018, though after just one season he was on the move again, this time to Qatari outfit Al-Arabi.

Nacho

  • Position: Defender
  • Current club: Real Madrid
  • Senior Spain caps: 24

The versatile Real Madrid defender hasn’t progressed beyond the role of back-up but he is now a back-up who has played with some regularity in recent seasons, including in the Nations League with Spain.

His trophy cabinet is well stocked courtesy of his time at Madrid and will always be remembered for a gorgeous strike against Portugal at the 2018 World Cup.


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Alberto Moreno

  • Position: Left-back
  • Current club: Villarreal
  • Senior Spain caps: 4

Seemed destined to battle with Jordi Alba in 2013, but his potential never really panned out and he eventually slipped down Jurgen Klopp’s pecking order at Anfield.

As such, the Spaniard left Liverpool for Villarreal in the summer of 2019.

Asier Illarramendi

  • Position: Defensive midfield
  • Current club: Real Sociedad
  • Senior Spain caps: 3

Illarramendi moved to Real Madrid shortly after Spain lifted the trophy but struggled for game-time. He has since moved back to San Sebastian and became a dominant defensive force in the middle of the pitch.

Ignacio Camacho

  • Position: Defensive midfield
  • Current club: Retired
  • Senior Spain caps: 1

Camacho didn’t see much action in Israel but became Malaga’s all-action defensive superhero in the middle of the park. His numbers were incredible, prompting Wolfsburg to sign him in 2017, but injury problems meant he had to retire in 2020 at the age of just 30.

Koke

  • Position: Centre midfield
  • Current club: Atlético Madrid
  • Senior Spain caps: 70

Koke is Atlético Madrid to the core. Since 2013 he has helped his side lift La Liga and make it to two Champions League finals (losing both). He is a world-class midfield talent who is on course to become a certified Atleti legend, if he’s not already there.

Thiago Alcântara

  • Position: Centre midfield
  • Current club: Liverpool
  • Senior Spain caps: 46

Inexplicably sold by Barcelona, Thiago excelled in Bavaria, despite his fair share of injury problems, and is now starring in Klopp’s midfield at Anfield, playing a key role as the club won a domestic cup double in 2021/22 and reached the Champions League final. The playmaker marvel netted his first and only career hat-trick in the final against Italy and has gone on to establish himself as one of Europe’s most complete midfield players. 

Isco

  • Position: Attacking midfield
  • Current club: Free agent
  • Senior Spain caps: 38

There can be no denying the ingenuity and natural talent of Isco, though he never quite nailed down a consistent starting berth for Los Blancos, also struggling for game time at Sevilla in the first half of the 2022/23 campaign.

Sergio Canales

  • Position: Attacking midfield
  • Current club: Real Betis
  • Senior Spain caps: 11

By 2013 the shine had already come off the Canales apple thanks to injuries and a bad career move. But now he’s back on track at Betis along with several other of his 2013 team-mates. And he’s one of five players from this squad to have won the Nations League with Spain.

Pablo Sarabia

  • Position: Attacking midfield
  • Current club: Wolves
  • Senior Spain caps: 26

This devastating talent had something of a breakthrough season under visionary Jorge Sampaoli at Sevilla, and after a prolific 2018/19 campaign, he earned a move to the French capital in 2019, though with talent like Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe ahead of him in the pecking order, he had to go on loan to Sporting CP to get game time. In Lisbon, Sarabia netted 21 goals in 45 games across all competitions as Sporting secured the Taca da Liga, and he left PSG permanently earlier this year, joining Premier League side Wolves.

Iker Muniain

  • Position: Winger
  • Current club: Athletic Bilbao
  • Senior Spain caps: 2

He had already played four full seasons when the 2013 tournament rolled around. Now, despite being just 30, he’s already played over 500 games for Athletic Bilbao, and is an absolute club legend at San Mames.

Rodrigo

  • Position: Wing-forward
  • Current club: Leeds United
  • Senior Spain caps: 28

Rodrigo was disappointing in Israel but the same can certainly not be said of his form for Valencia, where he helped Los Ches to successive fourth-place finishes in La Liga, before upping sticks for Leeds United under then coach Marcelo Bielsa. The Brazilian-born Spaniard has blown hot and cold at Elland Road but remains a menacing force on his day and was part of Spain’s Nations League-winning squad.

Cristian Tello

  • Position: Wing-forward
  • Current club: Al-Fateh
  • Senior Spain caps: 1

Cristiano Tello is faster than the speed of light, but his lack of end product saw Barcelona move him out on loan to improve. He helped Fiorentina finish eighth in Serie A in 2016/17 and joined Betis that summer. After a short stay with LAFC, Tello is now in Saudi Arabia signing for Al-Fateh.

Alvaro Vázquez

  • Position: Striker
  • Current club: FC Goa
  • Senior Spain caps: 0

Once one of the brightest striking prospects in Spain, he never quite made the grade in La Liga and moved down to the Segunda Division with Sporting Gijon. He has since turned into a bit of a globe-trotter, turning out for Kerala Blasters FC and most recently FC Goa in India.

Alvaro Morata

  • Position: Striker
  • Current club: Atlético Madrid
  • Senior Spain caps: 64

Morata never got a proper crack of the whip at Real Madrid, despite an impressive loan spell at Juventus. Chelsea broke the bank to sign him in 2017 but, after a promising start, he lost his way in west London and was sent back to the Spanish capital, only this time for Atleti. After two seasons on loan at Juventus, where he netted 32 goals in 92 games, Morata made his return to the Metropolitano to lead the line for Diego Simeone. He continues to lead the line for Spain too, with 30 goals in 64 caps.

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