And so a four-year cycle ends where it all began for Spain. Sunday’s successful defence of their European Championship crown sends La Roja into the record books and surely consolidates their place as the greatest international side in history.
The first country to win three consecutive tournaments, the biggest margin of victory in tournament final history, and in Fernando Torres, the first player to score in two Euro finals. Not bad for a team once viewed as perennial underachievers.
However, it was once suggested in Spain that current boss Del Bosque lacked the tactical nuance to become a true leader of men. A ‘thoroughly nice guy’ yet ill-equipped for the rapidly evolving demands of modern football.
Despite leading Real Madrid to their most successful period in four decades, Del Bosque was unceremoniously relieved of his duties as head Coach just days after guiding them to a record 29th title in 2003.
It was a harsh way to curtail a life-long association with the club and ended an extraordinarily successful four-year spell at the helm of the most expensively-assembled football team in history.
Del Bosque oversaw the beginning of the ‘galatico’ period and guided Zinedine Zidane and Co to a raft of trophies, including two UEFA Champions Leagues and two League titles.
However this success proved insufficient to keep Del Bosque in the job as President Florentino Perez sought the services of suave Portuguese tactician Carlos Queiroz. There were rumours of a political split in the dressing room and critics further suggested Del Bosque had not really coached the team at all – with the likes of Zidane, Luis Figo and the Brazilian star Ronaldo, surely it didn’t matter who stood on the touchline?
The fact that Queiroz was shown the exit himself less then 12 months later without further addition to the trophy cabinet seemed to prove this theory less than solid.
And so to Spain. Five years after his Charmartin departure and following a short stint at Turkish side Besiktas, Vicente Del Bosque was named successor to Luis Aragones, who had just lead La Roja to glory at Euro 2008.
Under the former Spanish international midfielder, Spain have lost just two competitive matches – a 2-0 Confederations Cup defeat to the United States in 2009, followed by the 1-0 reverse suffered against Switzerland at the 2010 World Cup. With Sunday’s triumph, Del Bosque also became just the second Coach to guide a team to both European and World glory – Helmut Schoen of West Germany being the only other man to achieve this feat.
Despite his mounting achievements, Del Bosque still has his detractors. With typical self-promotion, former Coach Aragones once said he had simply inherited the all-conquering team, while others claim tactical naivety.
However the impact the 61-year-old has had on the national side dispels this fallacy. Imposing his own style on the team, Del Bosque has successfully kept a squad traditionally hampered by regional divisions at the top of their game.
Proven more than adept at tactical evolution, Del Bosque’s decision to employ the inexperienced Sergio Busquets in all but 30 minutes of the 2010 World Cup was bold and ultimately key to victory – the stoic defence of the much-maligned ‘doble pivote’ has also proved justified.
Del Bosque’s most controversial tactical decision of course – outside Spain maybe more so, is the employment of Cesc Fabregas in the position of the ‘false No 9’.
While orthodox strikers have sat on the bench – Fabregas has offered the midfield link-up that has helped Spain further dominate games. This was never more apparent than in the final when the previously imperious Andrea Pirlo was reduced to role of by-stander, crowded out by Spain’s deployment of men in the central area of the pitch.
Despite intense pressure, Del Bosque remained loyal to his system and was ultimately justified. Yet again. And so, he has watched his side make history in Kiev on Sunday evening – yet typically, the mild mannered Coach preferred to watch from the shadows as his players took the plaudits.
While the accusations of tactical naivety may be way of the mark, there can be no disputing the once back-handed compliment that Vicente Del Bosque is a ‘thoroughly nice man’.