Spain’s 2-0 friendly defeat the Netherlands in Amsterdam last Tuesday meant La Roja have now lost six of their last 10 games and appear to be a team in freefall and devoid of ideas.
Having also fallen out of the top 10 of the FIFA rankings for the first time since 2007, Vicente del Bosque’s position as Head Coach is looking ever more tenuous, with questions starting to be asked over a man who led his country to a first ever World Cup victory in 2010 and European Championship success two years later.
Many believe the writing was on the wall at last year’s World Cup in Brazil, where a 5-1 defeat to Holland and a 2-0 reverse against Chile saw the reigning champions exit the competition at the group stage, their worst finish in the finals since 1998. But should Del Bosque be axed? There are valid reasons to support both his departure and continuity.
His detractors will say he has failed to make the necessary changes to a squad that has served him well for the past few years but is now possibly past its best. Indeed, six of the team that played in the first game of the 2010 World Cup against Switzerland in South Africa were in the starting line-up for the recent 1-0 Euro 2016 qualifer defeat of Ukraine: Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and David Silva.
Other seasoned internationals like Jordi Alba, Raul Albiol, Cesc Fabregas, Santi Cazorla and Pedro Rodriguez were also involved, leading to accusations that Del Bosque has been overly loyal to his old guard. Of course, several players have since been brought in, although not as many as fans would have liked.
In addition, there are claims he is not self-critical enough in his assessment of his team’s performances as well as frequently making mention of what he perceives as excessive pessimism from supporters and the media, as was demonstrated by his comments after the Dutch friendly.
“The first thought I had was that it seemed impossible we didn’t score a goal and the first 20 minutes burdened us the whole match. It was a positive experience in many ways and we were beaten, but we are not as unhappy as the result indicates,” was Del Bosque’s verdict, one that was not shared by most observers.
One of the 64-year-old’s most engaging features is his calm demeanour, which is all well and good if your team is sweeping all before it and winning trophies. However, when things are not going entirely to plan some now see this as a shortcoming if the players - many of whom have won most of the game’s top honours and are not blameless - are in need of extra motivation.
There is also the issue of the way the national team continues to play its possession-based style of football, which many feel is outdated as the game has since evolved and is played at greater speed. The option of a Plan B, when either Jesus Navas or Pedro came off the bench to inject more speed down the wings, or Fernando Llorente was used as a traditional centre-forward when a more physical presence was required, is now virtually non-existent.
Nonetheless, there is also a case against Del Bosque’s immediate departure, not least of which is that Euro 2016 is just over 12 months away and Spain are still involved in qualifying for the tournament - the appointment of a new Coach now would hardly give him time to settle into the role before the pressure was on to ensure the team made it to France.
Another problem is that youngsters who have been given the chance to make their mark with the national team have hardly been breaking down the door to cement a place in Del Bosque’s first-choice XI. Players such as Jose Callejon, Ander Herrera, Paco Alcacer and Munir El-Haddadi have all been given opportunities but have yet to show they are ready to be trusted at the highest level.
In Del Bosque’s favour is also the fact that several other big European nations are experiencing difficulties of their own. Germany are still to convince since lifting the World Cup last year, Italy are immersed in a debate over the nationality of their players, Portugal have just been beaten by Cape Verde and even the Dutch have had their doubters despite the win over the Spanish. When all is said and done, the transition from one era to another is never easy for any country, particularly one that has had the success Spain has enjoyed over the past seven years.
All the same, whatever the pros and cons over Del Bosque he will need to oversee a vast improvement if Spain’s former glories are to be repeated. Otherwise, the end of a golden era for the country in the international arena could be about to end before he gets the true credit his contribution to world football richly deserves.