THE sight of the Italian defence continually being carved open in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium earlier this month didn’t just prove Spain remain the barometer for the high point of world football.
It underlined that, when it comes to the very best the game has to offer, biggest doesn’t always mean best.
And Alan Irvine can barely contain his delight.
The Everton academy director was among the many millions across the globe who marvelled at the manner Andres Iniesta, Xavi, David Silva and Pedro helped Vicente del Bosque’s side complete an unprecedented treble of major international trophies.
All are no taller than 5ft 7ins – the same height as Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest player in the world at present.
The stories are myriad in English football of players almost slipping out of the game simply because they weren’t particularly tall or strong.
It’s a failing from which the Premier League, under the guise of the FA’s new Elite Player Performance Plan, are determined not to fall foul of again.
And Irvine believes the modern landscape being painted by the Spanish suggests brain rather than brawn is the more potent weapon in the game.
“It should always be down to ability and I am absolutely delighted that at the moment the best players in the world are small,” says the 53-year-old.
“Maybe 10 years ago people looked at the ideal midfielder as being Patrick Vieira.
“He was an exceptional midfield player but sadly that meant everyone became obsessed with 6ft 3in central midfielders. You can be all different shapes and sizes and be an excellent player.
“Fortunately those Barcelona and Spanish players have shown that it’s not about size; it’s about technical ability, it’s about tactical understanding and it’s about intelligence. It’s about what you do with the ball.
“As a developer of young players the ideal person is the one who believes in playing out from the back, playing through midfield, players trying things and players playing with imagination, freedom and without fear.
“The fear comes from winning games and at Academy level you don’t need to win games, you need to develop players.”
Catching Spain is one thing. The trick, according to Irvine, is to ensure the Iberians do not stay one step ahead.
“It’s something we are going to try to emulate and clearly we would all love to be as good as Spain and love to be as good as Barcelona,” he adds.
“What we have to do is look at the development of their young players and see what they will be like in 10 years and try to catch Spain up.
“If we set our targets on where they are now, then they will always continue to improve and move ahead of us.
“We need to try and forecast what those Spanish players are going to look like in 10 years’ time and focus on that.”