Should Spain win tomorrow night’s Euro 2012 final against Italy, Vicente del Bosque will become the first coach to win the Champions League, World Cup and European Championship trophies — an achievement which eluded even West Germany’s Helmut Schön, Holland’s Rinus Michels and Italy’s Marcelo Lippi.
Yet, even in Spain, del Bosque is rarely placed in this elite coaching company. At Real Madrid he was famously sacked despite winning two Champions Leagues in four seasons. During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa he was heavily criticised for his team selections. This summer, knockers — including his predecessor with La Roja Luis Aragonés — have been unimpressed by a “boring” style of football based on maintaining possession and lacking attacking thrust.
Spain’s players have been baffled by the negative reactions from fans and journalists. “We ask the fans to trust in us,” said Iniesta. “We have confidence in what the coach tells us and what we are doing.”
“Sincerely, I do not understand the criticisms,” said Casillas. “I guess people always find something to talk about.”
Many of the external grumbles about del Bosque seem based on a feeling any manager could win trophies with the likes of Casillas and Iniesta to call on. Also, his heavy and balding appearance and genial avuncular personality do not fit with the modern conception of a top coach. ‘The Big Moustache’ neither looks nor acts like Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola. His 2003 sacking at Madrid, after 36 years at the club in various roles, reportedly happened because club president Florentino Peréz decided he could not handle big-name players.
Such under-estimation also took place during del Bosque’s playing career. An unfussy defensive midfielder, he rarely made headlines but nevertheless won five La Liga titles and four Spanish Cups at Real Madrid between 1973 and 1984, and played for Spain at the 1980 European Championships.
Now 61, the veteran has taken a similarly diligent approaching to coaching his national side. Soon after taking over Aragonés’ Euro 2008-winning team, del Bosque began to tweak it. Marcos Senna was replaced by Barcelona’s then inexperienced Sergio Busquets. The Madrid media was unimpressed but del Bosque stuck to his guns and Spain won a first World Cup.
The last 12 months have also been testing. del Bosque never criticised any individual directly during the Mourinho-fuelled spats between Barcelona and Madrid, but made it clear he was not impressed and would accept no divisions in his squad. Pre-tournament injuries to Carles Puyol and David Villa were also handled with a minimum of bother.
Reputations mean little to del Bosque. When Peréz invited him back to the Bernabéu to receive an award in October 2011, the request was politely but firmly refused. Before the tournament under-fire Spanish president Mariano Rajoy said that the Spanish people “needed a lift from the national team in these difficult times”. The national coach responded dryly — “Those who know football know how difficult it is. We want to defend our title, but I do not think that would be a solution for Spain.”
This faith in his own judgement feeds his team’s performances on the field. This Spain team believe matches will always go their way, and they almost always do. Del Bosque has now won 85 per cent of his 60 games in charge, an unparalleled record for any international manager, in any era. In competitive games the statistics are better — 35 games, 31 wins, 2 draws and 2 defeats.
It is understandable then that some frustration occasionally appears. After the Croatia group win del Bosque reminded his fellow Spaniards of the not so distant past when their team won little.
“We have passed too quickly from being poor to being rich,” he said. “We do not know how to value what we have. I accept that some people do not agree with what I do, but yesterday, even though we won, I am left with the sensation that things went badly for us.”
Del Bosque is right to think this is a false sensation — things are going very well for Spain. Victory over Italy tomorrow night will make them the first side to win three consecutive major international tournaments.
Despite all he has had to deal with, Spain’s coach will be more than happy to share the glory around.
“We are here representing our country,” he said, “all of us in football feel proud of what is happening and I wish we can achieve what has never been done before. It would be very good for everyone, for Spanish football, and for our country.”
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