“This is a great era for Spanish football,” beamed Vicente Del Bosque after Spain achieved the nigh impossible a few months ago – winning three major international tournaments consecutively. One could easily go further with little doubt that this is the greatest era for Spanish football. Some could keep going and lay the claim that this Spain is the greatest team in history. It is debatable, but they are certainly in the debate.
Much of Spain’s success has been put down to its players. Spain and Real Madrid legend Fernando Hierro is in no two-minds about it – they are, according to him, “the greatest generation in Spanish football of all time.”
The plaudits, praise and lauding of Spain’s current crop of players has come from far and wide. BBC pundit and former England international has called them ‘the best team ever’ and Arsenal legend Martin Keown has agreed. Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Futterman has even gone as far as to suggest they might be the best ever team in any sport.
But, at the heart of the superstar team that triumphed at the 2010 World Cup and the recent European Championships has been Del Bosque – a most unassuming, mild-mannered, friendly and avuncular 61-year-old, who hails from the small town of Salamanca. Respected Spanish football journalist Sid Lowe has described him as: “a lovely man, a good man who is impeccably delightful, loyal and overwhelmingly decent. He is like a favourite uncle with a bushy 'tache, a portly belly and the warmest of handshakes.”
Almost certainly, as a result of his media-shy and placid character, Del Bosque has never received the acclaim his more flamboyant, stylish and younger peers have courted. It’s a shame for he is certainly deserving of more, for his role in Spain’s recent successes should not be underestimated.
In many ways, it has been exactly because of his personality and his complementary style of managing that he has been able to unite his players and provide an environment for them to reach new heights under his tenure.
Cesc Fabregas has underlined the importance of Del Bosque in fostering the right environment within the team. “He is very important because he always makes us calm. He transmits this tranquillity, this way of just not making you nervous. He has something which makes you calm and he lets you play — it makes you feel like the way you want. He’s really been a special Coach for Spain.”
Del Bosque’s ability to bring together his stars has been no mean feat. In years gone by, many have cited this as being the principle reason why Spain used to continually underperform in big tournaments. The main difficulty in this had centred around the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid. Since Jose Mourinho’s arrival in Spain two years ago meetings between the two sides have only intensified and sometimes have descended into downright ugliness. In addition, rising social and political divisions have only intensified football in the country as a political instrument.
Yet, whatever has come to pass in the Clasicos, both on and off the field, Del Bosque has been able to defuse any tensions his players may have brought to the camp and has been able to refocus their efforts on one common objective - to win, representing the same team and the one country.
On the eve of Euro 2012, he told Barcelona-based newspaper La Vanguardia that: “We will have to heal the wounds [stemming from the Clasicos] as soon as possible.” Judging by the outcome, it is safe to say he did a good job of it.
Despite all that he brings to the table, Del Bosque is happy to toe the popular line and continue to deflect the attention on to his players. After their magnificent victory in Kiev in the summer, he refused to take the credit for his team’s success, saying: “We're talking about a great generation of footballers. They know how to play together because they come from a country where they learn to play properly.”
It was typical Del Bosque. He is not and never has been one for the limelight. Perhaps one can go back further and use this to explain why despite having won two Champions League trophies, two Liga titles, a Spanish and a UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup in his four years at the helm of Real Madrid – arguably the club’s most successful period in the modern era – individual recognition that he has deserved has never been afforded him.
But, this year in becoming the only Coach in history to win the three most coveted trophies in the game – the Champions League, European Championship and the World Cup – it’s about time it was.