Football Features

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

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 12:45, 21 April 2020

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 and former Real Madrid manager 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: 41

Currently Manchester United’s undisputed No.1, De Gea’s individual quality has skyrocketed over the years. A few shaky performances in recent seasons has seen his starting berth for Spain come into question, but there can be no denying his world class talent.

Diego Mariño

  • Position: Goalkeeper
  • Current club: Sporting Gijón
  • Senior Spain caps: 0

The 29-year-old failed to kick on at Villarreal, whom he progressed through the academy, and is now in Spain’s second tier with Sporting Gijón.

Joel Robles

  • Position: Goalkeeper
  • Current club: Real Betis
  • Senior Spain caps: 0

Believe it or not, he was once considered a greater prospect than De Gea. Third choice in Israel, and is now back in his homeland with Betis after leaving Everton in the summer of 2018.

Dani Carvajal

  • Position: Right-back
  • Current club: Real Madrid
  • Senior Spain caps: 24

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.

Martín Montoya

  • Position: Right-back
  • Current club: Brighton
  • 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 Brighton. He also has a handful of caps for Catalonia.

Marc Bartra

  • Position: Centre-back
  • Current club: Real Betis
  • 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.

Iñigo Martínez

  • Position: Centre-back
  • Current club: Athletic Bilbao
  • Senior Spain caps: 11

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.

Álvaro

  • Position: Centre-back
  • Current club: Marseille (on loan from Villarreal)
  • Senior Spain caps: 0

Álvaro was a back-up in 2013 but that is certainly not the case this season, with the Spaniard playing a key role in André Villas-Boas’ backline as Marseille currently sit second Ligue 1 after an impressive campaign. The Phocaeans have a mandatory option to purchase Álvaro permanently from Villarreal at the end of this season.

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: 22

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.

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.

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 last summer.

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 is once again a dominant defensive force in the middle of the pitch.

Ignacio Camacho

  • Position: Defensive midfield
  • Current club: Wolfsburg
  • 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 have thus far scuppered his progress.

Koke

  • Position: Centre midfield
  • Current club: Atlético Madrid
  • Senior Spain caps: 44

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.

Thiago Alcântara

  • Position: Centre midfield
  • Current club: Bayern Munich
  • Senior Spain caps: 37

Inexplicably sold by Barcelona, Thiago has excelled in Bavaria, despite his fair share of injury problems. 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: Real Madrid
  • Senior Spain caps: 38

There can be no denying the ingenuity and natural talent of Isco, though he has never quite been able to nail down a consistent starting berth for Los Blancos.

Sergio Canales

  • Position: Attacking midfield
  • Current club: Real Betis
  • Senior Spain caps: 2

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.

Pablo Sarabia

  • Position: Attacking midfield
  • Current club: Paris Saint-Germain
  • Senior Spain caps: 3

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 last summer.

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 27, he’s played over 400 career games and is an established part of the Athletic Bilbao first-team.

Rodrigo

  • Position: Wing-forward
  • Current club: Valencia
  • Senior Spain caps: 22

Rodrigo was disappointing in Israel but the same can certainly not be said of his current form for Valencia, where he has helped Los Ches to successive fourth-place finishes in La Liga.

Cristian Tello

  • Position: Wing-forward
  • Current club: Real Betis
  • 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.

Alvaro Vázquez

  • Position: Striker
  • Current club: Sporting Gijón
  • Senior Spain caps: 0

Once one of the brightest striking prospects in Spain, he never quite made the grade in La Liga and is currently plying his trade in the Segunda División.

Alvaro Morata

  • Position: Striker
  • Current club: Atlético Madrid (on loan from Chelsea)
  • Senior Spain caps: 31

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.

He is currently enjoying an 18-month loan spell for Diego Simeone’s side and will become a permanent Atleti player in July.