Even the ugly jobs in Spain's U21 team are easy on the eye and FC Barcelona centre-back Marc Bartra explains how: "When I was younger, I learned to be in control of the ball."
While the likes of Isco, Thiago Alcántara, Koke, Asier Illaramendi, Cristian Tello and Álvaro Morata deliver the lightning-quick combinations up front, several other players assume a less glamorous, if no less important, role for defending champions Spain at this UEFA European Under-21 Championship. One of that number is FC Barcelona centre-back Marc Bartra.
A product of the renowned La Masia school, and polished off in the different age groups of the Spain national team, Bartra has already picked up three Liga winners' medals and been part of Barcelona's victorious squad in the UEFA Champions League, Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup. Now in Israel, he is hoping to conclude an incredible two years by lifting the U21 trophy.
"The truth is that being with this national team generates really nice feelings," he told UEFA.com ahead of Spain's semi-final meeting with Norway. "We form a tight unit."
Bartra feels fully at home within a national set-up that applies a similar footballing philosophy to that of his club. "Both teams play very similarly and here there are also a lot of players who were formed at Barcelona," he explained. "[Both teams] come out from the back and look to generate space while they hold a high defensive line to create lots of chances."
Spain came through qualifying for Israel without cause for alarm, though for Bartra, playing for La Rojita is not always as simple as they make it look. "Going to play against rivals who have their strengths and who know how to use them isn't easy," he said. "[Former coach] Luis Milla and Julen Lopetegui knew how to motivate us."
In the same, serious tone, Bartra was reluctant to say his team were favourites now that they are in the semi-finals. "We would be kidding ourselves a bit if we were to say we are favourites and that we are going to win it," he added. "We saw in our opening game against Russia the difficulties we would be facing here.
"When we see ourselves getting closer to reaching the final and winning it, we start to get that feeling of how things might shape up," he added. "But we must be patient."
The quality of Spain's football begins at the back, with Bartra singling out goalkeeper David de Gea as one of the pillars of the side. "He is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He saves a lot of attempts and knows how to play with his feet which gives us a feeling of security," said the 22-year-old, who also had special praise for club-mate Thiago Alcántara.
"I have a lot of time for him because we have been playing together for many years," he said of Spain's captain. "He brings togetherness to the group. While on the pitch you can tell he inspires the team to play and to keep possession."
With forward-thinking full-backs on either side of him in Martín Montoya and Alberto Moreno, Bartra is not used to getting up the pitch himself. However, when he does, he uses lessons learned from a young age that any attacking foray should carry minimal risks.
When I was younger, I learned to be in control of the ball when carrying it out from the back," he said. "I was taught that by Pep Guardiola and Tito [Vilanova], as well as by Milla and Lopetegui. Even Eusebio [Sacristán] in Barça B encouraged me that way. These defensive actions might not seem all that significant but they have their merits. When it comes to the moment to intervene you have to look to do things perfectly."
That defensive balance converts into an almost artisan-like task when it comes to supporting seven or eight players who are in the opposing half of the field at the same time. "With the help of a holding midfielder and being quick-thinking and concentrated in our actions we cause a lot of harm to opposing teams," Bartra continued. "All the while we feel comfortable. We are used to working this way."