World Cup scouting: Jesús Navas (Spain)

If recent World Cup history teaches us anything, it’s that pre-tournament form is a fickle indicator of how sides will fare at the sport’s showpiece event. Favourites typically stumble at early hurdles (France and Argentina in 2002, Brazil in 2006) and the teams that make it to the final - as Italy and France demonstrated in 2006 - are often simply those that come into form at the right time.

Spain, then, have little reason to feel complacent. Undeniably the most attractive footballing side in the international game after their scintillating 2008 European Championship success, they qualified for the World Cup with a perfect record and are currently outright favourites with most bookmakers to secure the beautiful gold and malachite trophy for the first time in their history.

Their shock 2-0 defeat to the United States in the semi-finals of last summer’s Confederations Cup was, with hindsight, a timely setback. With fans and pundits blithely anticipating a meeting between Spain and Brazil in the final, the European champions were ambushed by a disciplined and spirited American side who brought their record-equalling 35-match unbeaten run to an abrupt and unexpected end. A year to the World Cup and Spain suddenly had to re-focus.

One of the challenges now facing coach Vicente del Bosque is maintaining levels of motivation in a team that essentially picks itself and also making sure that he has the right alternatives on the bench for the rare occasions when Spain’s passing game is frustrated. Jesús Navas has benefited from this precise quandary. The Sevilla winger has the pace and the attacking incisiveness to make the established first-teamers sweat and also gives Del Bosque a one-man Plan B should he need one.

The 24-year-old made his Sevilla debut as a teenager in the 2003-2004 campaign and reportedly attracted interest from Arsenal in 2006, but was unable to play for Spain due to acute homesickness that provoked serious panic attacks whenever he spent time away from his home in Seville.

A consistent force in the side that won back-to-back UEFA Cups in 2006 and 2007, Navas has recently been linked with Real Madrid (whose Spanish international defender Sergio Ramos said he’d prefer Navas to Franck Ribéry), having finally made himself available for international selection in August after deciding to confront his psychological problems head on.

“To play for your country is the greatest thing and I hope to be able to,” he said at the time. “Playing in the World Cup finals is the ultimate achievement for a player.”

He was rewarded with a first ever call-up for November’s friendly internationals against Argentina (in Madrid) and Austria (in Vienna) and played in both games before featuring as a second-half substitute in Spain’s crushing 2-0 defeat of France last month in Paris, where he terrified the French defence with his speed and saw a low shot flash narrowly wide late on.

A nippy, nimble right-winger, Navas has the ability to beat men but is also a measured passer of the ball from wide positions and has amassed 35 assists for Sevilla over the last four seasons. Despite a slender frame and standing at only 5’7″, he also packs a punch when shooting and with nine goals to date in 2009-2010 he is enjoying his most prolific season at the club.

With neither Xavi, Andrés Iniesta nor David Silva possessing real pace and David Villa a magnet for accurate crosses, Navas might just prove to be the impact substitute that makes the biggest impact of all in South Africa.

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12 Responses to “World Cup scouting: Jesús Navas (Spain)”

  • Carlton:

    I feel Jesus Navas will have a big part to play as a subsitute in the World Cup. Weaker teams will undoubtedly pack the centre to reduce the influence of Spain’s creative players and wingplay will come in handy on those situations.

    With Mata on the other side and Llorente in the box it’s a decent enough plan B.

    It’s funny that Torres + Fabregas should both be out with long-term injuries, they’re the only players really fighting for a spot in what’s a fairly consistent starting XI. The dilemma for del Bosque is that Torres and Villa can’t both perform at their best when playing in a 4-1-3-2, he’s experimented with 4-4-1-1 with Fabregas just off Villa and it’s worked well, but Torres can’t be left out.

    It’s a good dilemma to have though, and I’m envious that Spain have so many different options on the bench. They can easily switch from 4-1-3-2 to 4-3-3/4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2 just through 1 or 2 subs. I really hope we get to see them in the final against Brazil (draw-permitting).

  • One of the best wingers in the world right now – hope he gets over his psychological problems. Will be a real “Plan B” if you will, or could even start as Riera seems out of the picture and was starting before his Liverpool exile in some games for Spain.

    Now they can play him towards the right and Iniesta left.

  • Nigel Jones:

    I haven’t had the opportunity to watch many games in the Spanish leagues over the past few season so hadn’t heard of Jesús Navas until reading this blog.

    He does sound like an interesting player and will be watching anxiously to see if he does indeed offer something extra for Spain at the World Cup.

    I too hope, as The Brain has commented, that he can overcome his homesickness and perform on the big stage at the WC given the chance.

    Having watched the highlights video there he seems a very composed and skillful player. I really should get back to watching the Spanish league football more…

  • Tom:

    I can’t remember the last time a team went into a World Cup with quite so many outrageously talented midfielders. Iniesta gives them craft and dribbling, Silva provides magic around the penalty area, Cesc Fabregas can make and score goals, Xavi is the best passer of a ball in the world and Juan Mata and Navas offer searing pace on either flank. And that’s without even mentioning Xabi Alonso, Albert Riera, Santi Cazorla and Pablo Hernandez. And Marcos Senna. It’s like the football equivalent of a Swiss army knife.

  • JBJ:

    Nothing irks me more in player profiles than saying they are “only” so and so many cm or feet and inches. I know its hardwired into the mammalian brain that taller is probably better (cue surveys on peoples income vs their height) but surely some of us can rise above that primal feeling and appreciate that height is usually the least interesting and relevant statistic.

    • Tom:

      JBJ, the reference to Navas’s size was made purely with regard to his shooting power. I was trying to emphasise that skill at long-range shooting need not be the preserve of muscle-bound behemoths like Cristiano Ronaldo or Julio Baptista.

  • [...] World Cup scouting: Jesús Navas (Spain) “If recent World Cup history teaches us anything, it’s that pre-tournament form is a fickle indicator of how sides will fare at the sport’s showpiece event. Favourites typically stumble at early hurdles (France and Argentina in 2002, Brazil in 2006) and the teams that make it to the final – as Italy and France demonstrated in 2006 – are often simply those that come into form at the right time.” (Football Further) [...]

  • Roberticus:

    Hi Tom,

    yes, you’re right to be envious of Del Bosque’s array of midfield and attacking options.

    When he came into the job, he indicated in his own typically unassuming way that for he was not going to radically alter Aragones’ shape (which Del Bosque described as a 4-1-3-2 which could switch to 4-2-3-1). The only experiments which Del Bosque has dabbled with throughout the qualifiers and the Confederations Cup has been a Plan C of incorporating pure wingers (as in outside-forwards) for a switch to 4-3-3.

  • Roberticus:

    I’ll just add that, regardless of changes in formation, the team seemlessly preserves its style; the benefits of continuity and solidifying an identity. Few other countries can boast this going into the World Cup.

    I’ve seen Del Bosque play a 4-2-2-2 vs England in Seville, a Barcelona-esque 4-3-3 vs Belgium (with Villa and Silva playing wide of Torres), and of course the 4-2-3-1 vs France in Paris.

  • [...] H Spain: 22. Jesús Navas Switzerland: 23. Xherdan Shaqiri Honduras: 12. Georgie Welcome Chile: 14. Matías Fernández [...]

  • [...] he returned to the side against Honduras, Del Bosque moved Villa into a wide left position with Jesús Navas on the opposite flank. Villa has shone in the role, with four goals in his last three games turning [...]

  • [...] in his defensive duties as well, particularly for a recently converted winger. Group H Spain: Jesús Navas – Group match 1 (Spain 0-1 Switzerland): Brought on shortly after Switzerland scored and [...]

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