For all its glory, coaching Spain can be a thankless task. Win and the players are the heroes; triumph by a narrow margin and it's just not good enough; lose and it's all your fault.
Go down to Italy on Sunday in the final of Euro 2012 and Vicente del Bosque will be the villain; win and perhaps, finally, he will be accepted by the masses. But don't hold your breath.
The Salamanca-born coach, it is often noted, took over an already successful side. This team, many still believe, was built by former Spain coach Luis Aragones, the man who led La Roja to glory at Euro 2008. Indeed, not only did Del Bosque inherit a team of winners, but he also benefited from a golden generation guided to glory at Barcelona by Pep Guardiola. All of the pieces were in place. For putting them all together, however, he is given little credit.
Vicente del Bosque with Spain
|2||Perfect qualifying campaigns, with 18 victories en route to the World Cup in 2010 and Euro 2012|
|8||As well as the World Cup, Del Bosque claimed seven major trophies at Real Madrid between 1999 and 2003|
|13||Del Bosque won his first 13 matches in charge to set a new record before losing 2-0 to United States|
|18||Since losing to Switzerland in the opening match of the 2010 World Cup, Spain are unbeaten in 18 competitive matches|
|60||Del Bosque has won 50 of his 60 matches in charge and lost just six, four of which were friendlies|
|145||Goals scored in his reign, which will now extend until the 2014 World Cup|
Del Bosque was always going to be in for a bumpy ride. But it started smoothly, with a record-breaking 13 straight wins after assuming control in the summer of 2008. Then came an unexpected upset: defeat to the United States in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup in June 2009. Alarm bells rang, criticism came. The honeymoon period was over.
But back to more meaningful matters, Del Bosque steered Spain to South Africa with a perfect 10 victories as La Roja became only one of a handful of sides in history to qualify with a flawless run of results. Optimism, again, was high, but the biggest tests were ahead.
Switzerland, Honduras and Chile awaited in what looked a simple sector for Spain in South Africa, but the favourites failed at the first hurdle, somehow succumbing to an ultra-defensive Swiss side. And the Durban disaster meant there was now no margin for error - Del Bosque's men simply had to win their two group games.
The mood was sombre and sad - this was not part of the plan. Del Bosque assumed the role of father figure; deep down he was hurting more than most - mortified, miserable and morose. But he assured his players that in the morning, everything would be different. And it was. The savvy Salmantine retired to his room, watched a DVD of the game and slept on it.
At breakfast, the mood was upbeat. Many of the Spain squad had watched the game too. There had been little wrong with their performance and there was a real belief that things would come good. And they did, of course, although a 2-0 win over Honduras in La Roja's second match failed to silence the critics, either.
The biggest debate of all concerned the 'double pivot' formed by Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso. The latter was now a seasoned performer in the national side, but did Spain really need two deep-lying midfielders? After all, they had the ball almost all of the time anyway. But Del Bosque - a stylish midfielder himself in the 1970s and 80s who represented Spain on 18 occasions and scored one goal for La Roja - in his home city of Salamanca - was not for turning. And the former Madrid coach played the paternal part once again, defending the Barcelona midfielder, very much a new kid on the block at that point and still only 21.
"If I was a player [now], I would like to play like Busquets," Del Bosque told the press after questions arose about the much-maligned midfield pairing. The message was clear: this is how we will play. And perhaps even more importantly, Busquets' crumbling confidence was handed the biggest boost of all. It was a motivational masterstroke.
'We have been looking for a [playing] style for our whole lives and now that we have found one, and it is successful, we criticise it'
- Vicente del Bosque
Spain never looked back, beating Chile and then, one by one, seeing off Portugal, Paraguay, Germany and Netherlands to make history with a second straight success in major competitions and a first World Cup win for the Iberian nation. Dismissed just weeks earlier as a tactical novice, Del Bosque was now the toast of the town.
He had another title, the biggest one of all - the World Cup. Indeed, his is quite a collection: at Real Madrid Del Bosque led the Santiago Bernabeu side to two Champions League crowns and two Ligas among a total of eight successes (nine if you include the Copa Iberoamericana he claimed as caretaker coach in 1994) before his ridiculous removal in 2003, a decision from which it can be argued that Madrid have only really recovered from now, almost a decade on.
Del Bosque spent almost his entire playing career at Madrid and coached the club through their most successful spell in the modern era, including a seamless transition into the Galactico years. Bizarrely, he was deemed too tired in 2003, but as soon as he left, everything fell apart. Spain should take note.
After the World Cup came another title as the coach was made Marquis Del Bosque in 2011, receiving the noble honour from King Juan Carlos in a prestigious ceremony. But prestige cannot prevent criticism and, despite another 100 per cent performance en route to Euro 2012, the 61-year-old has seen his methods questioned throughout this continental competition. As ever, the coach has replied respectfully and diplomatically. "All opinions are valid," he explained last week.
A draw with Italy in Spain's opening Group C game was met with a muted response, while a 1-0 win over Croatia to seal passage to the quarter-finals brought more complaints. The 2-0 victory over France and shootout success against Portugal have cooled the criticism, but Spain still do not seem to realise how lucky they are after a period of 44 years in the international wilderness before 2008.
"We have gone from being very poor to very rich in a short space of time [in football terms]," Del Bosque said earlier on this month. "We have been looking for a playing style for our whole lives and now that we have found one, and it is successful, we criticise it." He has a point. Expectations are at an all-time high in Spanish football now, but win on Sunday and Vicente - by name and by nature - will become the first coach ever to claim a Champions League, a World Cup and a European Championship. Surely it's time his brilliant work was recognised.
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