Dumped out of a second-straight major tournament following a 2-0 defeat to Italy in the Euro 2016 last 16 on Monday and without a Coach after Vicente del Bosque’s exit announcement only 72 hours later, Spain are facing their most delicate period since the months between the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008 qualifiers. Delicate in that the unremarkable and unemployed Joaquin Caparros is favourite to take control of the most innovative national team of the past 10 years.
The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) made a serious error of judgment by allowing Del Bosque another two years at the helm, much like the English FA did by keeping on Roy Hodgson, and both situations share distinct – and unwanted – parallels. La Roja won nine of their 10 qualifiers for the finals in France but laboured to victory in over half of their matches.
Del Bosque was given enough warnings, not at least by Barcelona sacrificing ‘tiki-taka’ during that time, that his style of play was becoming stale and predictable, while the retirements of Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso et al were supposed to usher in a new wave of talent being established on the international scene. Instead, the Coach preferred to play it safe and has set the country’s development back by several years.
Granted, international jobs no longer have the same pulling power as their club counterparts. The opportunity of working on a daily basis and more trophies on offer has long tipped the balance in club football’s favour, especially for younger Coaches. The economic disparity also makes Hodgson the highest-paid international trainer with a salary of €5m – three times less than what Pep Guardiola will receive in a year at Manchester City. Del Bosque, for his part, earned €3m, so surely Spain can do better than hire Caparros, who was most recently sacked by Granada 18 months ago?
This is in no way a personal attack on the 60-year-old. This is the same man who laid the foundations for Sevilla’s present-day success and helped unearth gems such as Jose Antonio Reyes, Julio Baptista, Adriano and Dani Alves, steadied the Athletic Bilbao ship for Marcelo Bielsa and then Ernesto Valverde to lead towards bigger and better things and guided Levante to the second-best La Liga finish in their history.
Yet this is also the same man who has been sacked from three of his last six jobs with Deportivo La Coruna, Mallorca and Granada, lasted just five games at then-troubled Swiss team Neuchatel Xamax and whose only silverware remains a Segunda title some 15 years ago. The speculation has drawn comparisons with Italy’s choice of successor to Antonio Conte. Giampiero Ventura is 68 and has the managerial career of a journeyman, but the veteran leaves behind a five-year legacy at Torino. Caparros, on the other hand, is clinging onto achievements from the previous decade.
Caparros is reportedly a close friend of RFEF President Angel Maria Villar, hence the former’s installation as favourite to become the next Spain boss, but if this is the case then it represents a damning indictment of football in the country, where appointing the best man for the job comes second. The likes of Julen Lopetegui and Roberto Martinez have also been put forward but were sacked from their most recent roles. Cheap options and advocates of Spain’s possession style they might be, but why should they be viewed as candidates on the basis of what they’ve achieved so far in club football?
Lopetegui did enjoy success with La Roja’s youth teams, most notably winning the European Under-19 Championship in 2012 and the U21 equivalent a year later, so it can be argued that he has served his apprenticeship for Spain, yet he failed to lift a single trophy in his season-and-a-half with Porto, prompting their President to publicly regret hiring him. Moreover, the 49-year-old has been linked with English second-tier sides Wolverhampton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest – alongside La Roja.
Paco Jemez, Rafa Benitez and Marcelino were other names mentioned before their respective commitments to Granada, Newcastle United and Villarreal, while former legends such as Fernando Hierro and Carles Puyol have yet to prove themselves as Coaches fit for an institution like the Spanish national team. And that’s exactly the problem. Not only are La Roja suffering from a dearth of managerial excellence, but they’ve left it far too late, and there can be no excuses if Del Bosque is right in saying he had agreed to leave “months ago”.
If they had any ambition, Spain would – and should – be going all out for Luis Enrique, not only a great player in his day but someone who is also shaping up to be an equally-great Coach. Instead, the cronies running its game are likely to appoint another of its own kind, a trainer whose defensive, contradictory tactics have since been trumped by his unorthodox approach to man-management.