It will probably go down as one of the worst calls in the history of football. Real Madrid's decision to dispense with Vicente del Bosque in 2003 came after the Salamanca-born Coach had led his former team to two Champions League crowns and two Liga titles, among a host of other trophies.
Their trainer was tired, the club claimed, and his contract was not renewed. But as Del Bosque departed, Madrid's dominance disappeared. Under the man with the moustache, they had claimed two European Cups in four seasons. A decade on without him, they are still waiting for another coveted continental crown.
But Real Madrid’s loss is now Spain’s gain. Del Bosque did not end La Roja’s long quest for a trophy at international level with Euro 2008 success, nor did he manage Madrid as they claimed their first European Cup ‘in colour’ with victory in 1998. In both cases, he came later on, each time picking up the baton and improving the previous model.
With Spain, he took over from Luis Aragones in 2008, after the veteran boss had led La Roja to European Championship success that summer – their first trophy since claiming the continental crown on home soil in 1964. It was a hard act to follow.
One World Cup win and another European Championship crown later, he has seen Spain through their most successful spell ever on the football field. And still, remarkably, he is questioned.
At Madrid, Del Bosque was often described as a man-manager, someone capable of handling the egos in the dressing room, but limited in terms of tactics. Madrid's hierarchy had been unimpressed as the capital club struggled to shake off Real Sociedad in La Liga in 2002-03 and seen their hopes of a second successive Champions League disappear with an emphatic 3-1 loss in the semi-final second leg at Juventus. So that was that.
With Spain, voices of discontent could be heard during Euro 2012. Ultimately, the defending champions regained their crown with a fantastic 4-0 win over Italy in the final. Prior to that, however, they had been below their best.
These days, Spain’s golden generation of players are expected not only to win, but to do so in style. Del Bosque is seen merely – and unfairly – as a sort of father figure who just tells them to go out there and play a little like Barcelona.
Nobody is beyond criticism, of course, but Del Bosque’s decision to field a ‘false 9’ in Poland and Ukraine was brought about out of necessity, given the injury to David Villa and the form – and suitability – of Fernando Torres, while his persistence with the double pivot has brought defensive steel and balance to an array of attacking talent. And his record speaks for itself anyway. During Euro 2012, the Coach recalled that Spain had gone quickly from ‘poor to rich’ in football terms. Many had short memories. As usual, though, Vicente remained calm – he had been there before.
The 61-year-old is used to such pressures – Madrid made for ideal preparation in that respect and Del Bosque learned much at the Santiago Bernabeu – both as a player and a Coach.
A technically gifted midfielder, Del Bosque spent his entire career at Madrid – save spells on loan at Castellon and Cordoba. Injuries restricted his role with Spain, though, and he made just 18 appearances for his national side, scoring one goal – rather appropriately in front of Salmantine support at El Helmantico in a 2-0 win over Cyprus during Euro 1980 qualifying.
After his playing career came to end, he stayed on in a coaching capacity with the youth side before stepping in at the very top in 1994, for two months, and 1996, before Jorge Valdano was appointed.
He finally took over in a full-time capacity in November 1999 and never looked back, winning seven trophies in an ultra-successful spell.
Following his departure, Del Bosque returned to the game with Besiktas but was later dismissed as results eluded him. He was subsequently offered the chance to coach Mexico, but politely declined. In 2004, he has also knocked back Spain.
In 2008, however, the conditions were right and ripe for a return and the Salmantine this summer became the first Coach ever to win a World Cup, a European Championship and a Champions League crown. His cool, calm approach has seen the players thrive, while the whole fall-out between Barcelona and Real Madrid in recent seasons is forgotten as the Spain stars pull on their shirts. Diplomat, tactician, man-manager, friend and father figure, Del Bosque's blend of qualities make him the ideal candidate to lead La Roja – and the results are there to prove it.
Now the objective is to claim another World Cup in Brazil 2014 and Spain are likely to go into that tournament as favourites following their form in recent years. Win it, and he might just get the credit he truly deserves.