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Developing football in Spain

The Royal Spanish Football Federation continues to set new standards for European football development, on- and off-the-pitch.


Spain has a football youth system that is the envy of the game, with national teams in both the men’s and women’s game serial winners at Under-21, Under-19 and Under-17 levels for the past three decades. The Royal Spanish Football Federation’s (RFEF) ability to nurture the talented generation of David Villa, Iker Casillas, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Fernando Torres underlay Spain’s victory in an unprecedented three successive international tournaments from 2008 to 2012.

Despite such success, the national association is constantly looking forward, guided by a long-term strategic plan to further develop the game at national and regional levels. The RFEF aims to be best in class, not only in terms of performances on the pitch, but also off it, pushing the envelope in:

  • the organisation of competitions
  • corporate management
  • social responsibility

Like many other European national associations, accelerating the development of women’s football is a key priority for the RFEF. The association hopes the inspirational record of its women’s national teams will help make football more popular than basketball among young girls.

At junior level, Spain won the FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup in 2018 and has claimed four of the last 11 UEFA European Women’s Under-17 European Championship trophies. At the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, Spain were only eliminated by the narrow score of 2-1 against eventual champions the United States in the round of 16. Hosting the 2020 UEFA Women’s Champions League final tournament in Bilbao also boosted the women’s game in Spain.

The RFEF has also taken two steps to ensure there is a clear career path for female professional footballers in Spain:

1. granting professional status to the top two tiers of Spanish women’s league football;

2. establishing a national minimum salary for women playing in the top flight.

During the pandemic, the RFEF medical team, including doctors and sports psychologists, used their expertise to support the public health service, while the association offered its facilities for use as a vaccination centre to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine. The RFEF also purchased millions of coronavirus tests to ensure that football matches could take place with minimal risk of infection.

UEFA support

UEFA’s HatTrick programme, which channels EURO funds into football development across Europe, supports the RFEF’s strategic goal of strengthening the game nationally by working regionally.

EURO revenue helped to implement Programa Avanza – the modernisation of the 19 Spanish regional federations responsible for organising amateur football across the country, as well as lower league competitions. By supporting and strengthening these federations, the RFEF aimed to increase participation rates across the country and invest in new areas of the game. HatTrick funding facilitated improvement of regional competition, youth player and women’s football development, referee training, the renovation of infrastructure and new social responsibility programmes.

As part of its commitment to using the power of football to promote change in society, the Spanish association is drawing on HatTrick funding to implement an innovative social responsibility project: establishing football academies at 39 Spanish prisons to help rehabilitate inmates.

Competitions will give 38,000 inmates the chance to play in penitentiary competitions, with some also training as football instructors and referees.


Association history

1889: One of Spain’s first club sides, RC Recreativo de Huelva, is set up. Football is introduced to Spain by British miners working in the Basque region, from where the game spread to Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia.
1903: The Copa del Rey – still the premier national cup competition – is initiated by King Alfonso XIII. For nearly 30 years, it is Spain’s only national tournament, with clubs playing in a regionalised cup competition whose play-off winners are regarded as national champions. It is soon dominated by FC Barcelona, Athletic Club and Real Madrid CF.
1909: Foundation of Royal Spanish Football Federation (Real Federación Española de Fútbol or RFEF).
1913: The RFEF receives the official royal seal of approval. By now, Spanish football has 25 officially registered clubs.
27 July 1914: Spain is admitted to football’s world governing body, FIFA.
February 1929: 10 teams take part in Spain’s first unified professional national league competition.
1954: Spain is a founder member of European football’s governing body, UEFA.
1982: Spain hosts the FIFA World Cup, using 16 stadiums in 13 different cities.

National team competitions

August 1920: Spanish national team make their debut – a 1-0 win against Denmark.
1920: Spain take silver in their first international competition, the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp. Goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora’s acrobatic performances play a key role in securing victory.
1934: Zamora breaks his leg in his country’s highly physical 1-1 draw with hosts Italy in a 1934 FIFA World Cup quarter-final; Italy triumph 1-0 in the reply and go on to win the competition.
1950: Spain register their best-ever performance to date in a FIFA World Cup, defeating England, holding eventual winners Uruguay to a draw and finishing fourth after a 6-1 loss to hosts Brazil.
1964: Spain win the 1964 UEFA European Championship, defeating the Soviet Union 2-1 in the final in Madrid with goals from Jesús María Pereda and Marcelino Martínez. The match is watched by 120,000 fans.
1982: Despite playing the 1982 FIFA World Cup on home soil, Spain are eliminated at the quarter-final stage.
1984: At the UEFA European Championship in France in 1984, the national side defeat West Germany and Denmark en route to the final against the host nation, where they succumbed to a gifted French side led by Michel Platini.
1986: Spain reach the quarter-finals at the 1986 FIFA World Cup finals in Mexico, before going out to Belgium in a penalty shoot-out.
1992: Spain win gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
1996: At EURO '96, Spain are eliminated in a penalty shoot-out against hosts England at Wembley.
2000: Spain finish as runners-up at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
2008: Spain triumph at UEFA EURO 2008, defeating Germany in the final in Vienna through a 33rd-minute goal from Fernando Torres after winning all their group matches – the first team to win all their matches at a EURO since France in 1984.
2010: Under coach Vicente del Bosque, the likes of David Villa, Iker Casillas, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Fernando Torres take Spain to their first-ever FIFA World Cup title. In Johannesburg, Iniesta scores the only goal of the final, four minutes from the end of extra time.
2012: Spain continue an unprecedented period of success by retaining their UEFA European Championship crown with a 4-0 victory over Italy in the Olympic Stadium in Kiev. It is the first time any national side has won back-to-back EURO titles.

Under-21 titles

1986, 1998, 2011, 2013, 2019: Spanish victories at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship.

Youth titles

1986, 1988, 1991, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2007, 2008, 2017: men’s national side wins UEFA European Under-17 Championship.

1995, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019: Spain win men’s UEFA European Under-19 (formerly Under-18) titles.

1999: Spain’s national team claim the FIFA U-20 World Cup.

2004: Spain claim their first-ever international women’s title with victory at the UEFA Women’s European Under-19 finals of 2004.

2010–11: Spain win back-to-back editions of the UEFA European Women’s Under-17 Championship.

2015: Spain take back the UEFA European Women’s Under-17 Championship crown.

2018: Spanish women’s team triumph at the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay

2017, 2018: Spain’s Under-19 team win the UEFA European Women’s Under-19 title for the second and third time.

Futsal titles

2000, 2004: FIFA Futsal World Cup winners.

1996, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2016: Spanish successes at UEFA European Futsal Championships.


Luis Rubiales

Nationality: Spanish
Date of birth: 23 August 1977
Association president since: 2018

Luis Rubiales
Luis Rubiales©RFEF

General secretary

Andreu Camps

Nationality: Spanish
Date of birth: 9 February 1961
Association general secretary since: 2018 

Andreu Camps
Andreu Camps©RFEF

Royal Spanish Football Federation website