Profile: Spain’s gentlemanly football genius, Vicente del Bosque
He was famously fired by Real Madrid before taking charge of the national team and many of the world’s best players. But the mastermind behind Spain’s successful European champions always keeps his cool.
By Nick Lyne
Gentlemen are thin on the pitch in soccer today, but if anybody deserves the soubriquet of el caballero, it’s Vicente del Bosque, the coach of Spain’s national side.
Going into the European Cup with a World Cup under his belt, and with Spain the favourites to win the tournament for the second consecutive time, Del Bosque, 61, displayed his typical understatement when describing his team’s chances, saying: “The important thing is not to lose a sense of modesty, that they continue being good guys and if they continue like that, everything can get better.” And better they got: progressing steadfastly through the tournament to trounce Italy 4-0 in the final on July 1 in Kiev.
Del Bosque’s success with the national side is Real Madrid’s loss; the club unceremoniously dumped him in 2003 after he won a major trophy in each of his four seasons at the Bernabéu.
Del Bosque was relieved of his duties the day after he won Real Madrid’s 29th league title. Club president Florentino Pérez said: “Del Bosque’s profile is a traditional one, we’re looking for someone with more emphasis on tactics, strategy and physical preparation. We believe that the squad we are building would be more powerful with a coach with a different character.”
The decision was not only extremely ungracious, but also ill-advised. While Real won two far-from-pretty league titles between 2003 and 2011, the likes of Carlos Queiroz, Bernd Schuster and Fabio Capello all failed to match Del Bosque’s feats, and it has taken Mourinho two bad-tempered seasons before claiming a league title. The club has failed to reach a Champions League final since 2002, and has been forced to play second fiddle to Barcelona domestically.
Del Bosque is, at least in public, the antithesis of Mourinho: he never wanted the spotlight to be turned on him in the first place, never enjoyed the pressure and ultimately paid the price for not being a big enough name for a club where image is everything.
He said little at the time of his departure and maintained his dignified front. But later he said that he was hurt by the manner of his exit, particularly the way in which it was “leaked out through the hangers-on at the club”. He said that he could not sit on the balcony of his flat overlooking the club’s training ground for many years, and it was not until 2009, the year after he had become coach of the national team, that he could bring himself to return to the Bernabéu for a Real Madrid game again.
Respect for the old school
The irony that Del Bosque led Spain to their maiden World Cup with the core of his squad hailing from Barcelona, has not been lost on many. With the players’ mentality having strengthened in the wake of the Euro 2008 triumph under Luis Aragonés, Del Bosque took control of what was already a well-oiled machine and set about making the team even better.
He is the kind of coach that players respect: he had been a popular, if unspectacular, defensive midfielder for Real during the 1970s and early 1980s, winning five league titles and four Spanish Cups in addition to 18 international caps. His avuncular, low-key approach has generally avoided confrontation with his players, despite the stellar egos in the squad, and he has never once lost his calm in front of the media – a far cry from his predecessor, the often hostile Aragonés.
While many viewed Del Bosque as a brilliantly capable coach, having already won La Liga and Champions League titles at club level, the new coach was largely branded as the beneficiary of much of Aragonés’s hard work in developing the unique one-touch passing, possession-style of play that Spain had employed on the way to conquering Europe in 2008.
The core of the Roja ranks was largely set and the team’s tactics needed few adjustments (at least initially). But where Del Bosque was set to truly make his impact on the Spanish national team was in his ability to create a piña; a Spanish term that literally means ‘pineapple’, but figuratively references a close-knit band of brothers, resembling the tropical fruit’s close bunching.
His soft-spoken, unassuming approach reflects that increasingly rare quality in Spaniards: educación, meaning politeness, a certain formality and respect when dealing with people. Del Bosque rarely wears his emotions on his sleeve and still prefers to keep away from the limelight. In managing the national side, the Salamanca-born coach’s innate diplomatic skills have come to the fore. Despite his traditional background from central Spain, Del Bosque is a man of progressive ideals and excels in bringing people together to create a sense of pluralism in his teams. It was this quality in particular that allowed the coach to blend a squad of players from across Spain’s diversity of nationalistic regions and put together the World Cup-winning side of 2010.
Closing the Barça-Real rift
In this context, his handling of the at times explosive Barcelona-Madrid relationship is particularly notable. With the national side, he was lucky to inherit that Barcelona core of players brought up under Pep Guardiola, in a squad where teamwork and a team spirit were, and remain, the order of the day.
The facts speak for themselves: Del Bosque became the most successful coach of all time on debut with a national team when he won his first 13 games in charge. He also helped guide the country to a new record of 15 consecutive wins, and joined Brazil’s class of 1993 to 1996 with the longest undefeated run of 33 matches.
In a combined 18 qualification games for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, Del Bosque has won all 18. He has only ever lost two competitive encounters: to the United States in the 2009 Confederations Cup and to Switzerland in their opening game of the 2010 World Cup.
During his first 50 games as Spain coach, he won 42, while drawing two and losing six with 123 goals scored and just 40 conceded in the process.
Just before the European Cup, Del Bosque said that he will stay with Spain until the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, where, despite his modesty, his side will be among the favourites, and perhaps in with a chance of joining Brazil and Italy in winning two consecutive World Cups. If it does, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer chap.
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Published: Jul 3 2012
Category: Featured, Portugal News, Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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Tags: Barça, Barça Real Madrid, Del Bosque, Euro 2012, football, Mourinho, Real Madrid, spain, Spain football, spain soccer, Vicente del Bosque