From his native Spain, ex-international Joan Capdevila slowly reels off some of the best squads in European soccer. It’s not the most demanding of tasks, but he is the one to know.
“I see Manchester City as being very strong,” the jet-black-haired former full-back tells me in an exclusive interview. “Real Madrid is also strong,” he adds, turning to La Liga. “Barcelona, we will see how they go with everyone they have signed.” Further afield? “With the players, Bayern Munich, possibly. They are always there. There are also strong Italian teams, amongst the best in Europe.”
He points out one keyword—money. Most elite teams have it, although not all rich ones are the best. And for all it brings, Capdevila knows there is more to a top team. The Spaniard played in one of the most famous national sides ever, helping Spain claim two of three consecutive major trophies—two European Championships sandwiched by a World Cup—which catapulted La Roja to dizzying heights a decade ago.
When considering what made Spain’s golden generation so special, he says: “The most important thing was the group.” That knowledge and experience have served him well. Since then, he has communicated the same thinking to the business world after hanging up his boots in 2017.
Spreading the word
Much of those learnings reside in a book called Equipos Con Futuro, which he co-wrote with another former sportsman, Álvaro Merino. Capdevila is not many people’s standout player when thoughts turn to Spain’s golden crop, with Barcelona coach Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Real Madrid icon Sergio Ramos perhaps the most revered in that squad. But no such magic is possible without everyone, and Spanish success would not have come without him.
Elaborating on what makes a great unit is his focus: “The book is about the experience, in this case sporting with the Spanish national team. And it is about what I lived through, what it is to work in a team across different eras with different coaches and to move it to organizations.
“We (him and Álvaro) had a little chat and some conferences with different businesses to see what connection there is, in this case, with the national team.”
As well as recognizing how elite soccer teams can influence others outside, he suggests there is an even broader effect. “Football (soccer), like society, has its rhythms and changes bit by bit. Everything is changing. The game is becoming more modern in all respects.
“So many clubs, like players, are an example—above all—to young people and children. This example is fundamental to those who follow behind. An example to give is behaviour and how you conduct yourself.”
A perfect model
He and his teammates’ story is seismic. In its pomp, Spain went from being no real threat on the international stage to a formidable champion—a considerable shift. And in doing so, it played a new-wave style of hypnotic, possession-based soccer, on which future teams—including the generation heading to Qatar for the World Cup later this year—loosely base themselves.
Its relevance is still crucial today. Individual players, like walking brands, generate discussion alone. But those ruling Europe are founded on more, with Manchester City one modern case study. Despite the significant investment—typified by Erling Haaland’s transfer this summer—it remains a force more formidable than the sum of its parts, orchestrated by manager Pep Guardiola. There are other models too, not least Liverpool and teams in other leagues.
And internationally, when the World Cup rolls around, the Paris Saint-Germain trident of Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi and Neymar—three superstars at the same club—won’t be enough to win it on their own. It will come down to much more, something Capdevila understands.
As for the teams Capdevila holds close, he’s hoping for the best. He closely follows Espanyol, where his career took off, and Deportivo La Coruña, a massive name in Spain for so long but now languishing in the third division. Capdevila played over 200 games for Deportivo, more than any other employer, and now hopes it can return to the professional level.
He is also aspirational about ex-club Villarreal, a Europa League winner. It’s some story—a team from a town with approximately 50,000 inhabitants and a consistent participant in European competition and the La Liga top half. On a high after dispatching Real Valladolid in its opening competitive game, it’s in a great position to enjoy more success under coach Unai Emery.
“I think Villarreal is a team that works well. They are professionals, and I think it’s a model to follow,” Capdevila continues. “I think it’s as much of a reference in Europe as in Spain. I think it’s a mirror in which many teams can look. It’s a strategy that’s working well, and they can go very far.”
And then, of course, there is Spain, led by Luis Enrique and readying itself for Qatar. Enrique has a rich pool to choose from and has so far experimented with dozens of players in search of the right formula.
“To win or not win is sometimes about details,” the attack-minded defender adds. “They are generating excitement in the country. The story is good. People are excited and awaiting the World Cup with the expectation Spain can go far and have a good tournament, with the luck of repeating the triumph.”
The team is vibrant and has the credentials. But whatever transpires, there is something to take from those who came before—a strong reference point all these years later. And not only in soccer. In the corporate and social sphere, as well.