A safe pair of hands; the man not to rock the boat. When all else went awry at Real Madrid, they used to call for Vicente del Bosque.
When he received the call from the Spanish national team, however, it came at a time when they were riding the crest of their most impressive wave, since 1964. After decades of being branded the dark horses for every major tournament they qualified for, only to be easily spooked, Spain had just been crowned as the winners of the 2008 European Championship.
Luis Aragonés, having denied he had new employment plans set for the next season, walked away from his role as head-coach of Spain, while at the peak of his powers and popularity, to take the helm of the Turkish outfit, Fenerbahçe.
Del Bosque, arguably with an impossible job on his hands in following Aragonés, promptly won the World Cup, in South Africa in 2010. A landscape altering success, no European nation had ever won the World Cup away from European soil before.
It was a glory that came with a few terms and conditions attached to it, however. While there was great beauty involved, it had not been the perfect success. Despite their best intentions, all of Spain’s wins had been narrowly attained, while it had all begun with a shock defeat at the hands of a Switzerland who then went on to contrive not to reach the knockout stages.
Then there was ‘that’ final too, against a sadly brutal Netherlands approach.
Spain winning the 2010 World Cup was heavy on iconic connotations. A first World Cup on African soil; a first European success away from Europe. It had its imperfections too, however. Del Bosque’s best line-up always seemed to be one that omitted the talents of the wonderfully talented Fernando Torres. It was the elephant in the room of the most spectacular party.
Observant of the winds of which Barcelona in particular had been blown, it was Aragonés who had been the man to introduce Tiki-taka to the Spanish national team. It was just that it came with a blend of pragmatism too, with him operating a system which was perfect for a player like Xabi Alonso, yet the manager couldn’t seem to find a place for him.
Del Bosque was of another mind, however, and Alonso was soon placed into the Spanish midfield, alongside Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, and David Silva. Part of a formation that either had David Villa at the sharp end, or an array of false nine options. It was football of great consequence and shuddering beauty, produced without a striker.
This was never more evident than at the 2012 European Championship finals.
With Villa missing the tournament through injury, and Torres struggling to find the form that had made him one of the game’s most sought-after commodities, Del Bosque’s idea of winning Euro 2012 without a striker was akin to the concept of Roger Federer’s oft mused idea of winning Wimbledon by playing the aesthetically pleasing, yet outmoded, serve and volley game, or Ronnie O’Sullivan aiming to win the World Snooker Championship playing left-handed.
Yet, while neither Federer nor O’Sullivan would fulfil their fanciful notions, Del Bosque wasn't taking no for an answer.
Fielding a stunningly settled side, ten players would start all the six games that it took Spain to win the tournament. Casillas, Arbeloa, Alba, Pique, Ramos, Busquets, Alonso, Silva, Xavi, and Iniesta.
It left Del Bosque only one serious headache, whether to deploy a striker, or to go false nine. Cesc Fàbregas was selected for the opening draw, against Italy, while Torres was unleashed against Ireland, against whom he scored twice.
Question seemingly answered, Torres kept his place for the last group game, against Croatia, only to be hooked after an ineffectual hour, replaced not by Fàbregas, but by Jesús Navas instead, who went on to score the only goal of the game, with just two minutes remaining. It was a result that won Spain the group, and with it, a different route to the final.
Fàbregas returned for the quarter-final, against France, on an evening when Alonso was the hero, but rather than this relay between Fàbregas and Torres causing problems, or being a product of indecision, it acted to disorientate opponents.
Del Bosque’s intelligent use of substitutes always felt like targeted little footballing bombs, that he would detonate at pre-planned stages of games. A mark of a man who was more than a simple safe pair of hands. This was hugely evident in the semi-final, against Portugal, when he threw his Iberian rivals the curveball of naming Álvaro Negredo, rather than Fàbregas or Torres.
Again, Fàbregas was introduced early in the second half, and the second guessing that it left Portugal to do totally unnerved them, to the point that the former Arsenal man netted the decisive spot-kick, in the resultant penalty shootout.
It was Fàbregas who got the nod for the final, with Torres making the cameo from the bench, on the evening in Kyiv where perfection did eventually happen. A performance that was their version of Brazil’s masterclass in the 1970 World Cup Final, just as 42 years earlier, Italy were the unwitting victims of brilliance.
Silva made the early breakthrough, and when Alba doubled Spain’s lead shortly before half time, any realistic hope of an Italian fightback was ended. Torres then got his goal with six minutes remaining, before Jaun Mata made the most audacious three-minute contribution to the tournament.
Climbing from the bench, to replace Iniesta in the 87th minute, within 60 seconds Mata had made it 4-0. And then it was all over. History made yet again, as Spain became the first nation to win three major tournaments in succession.
Del Bosque had taken possession of something beautiful from Aragonés, and then set it free, to almost organically allow it to reach this seemingly unattainable level of perfection. It was a style of football that only comes once every couple of generations.News Now - Sport News