Winners of UEFA EURO 2008, the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ and EURO 2012, Spain are one of the finest national squads of all time. La Roja coach Vicente Del Bosque needs no introduction, and the Salamanca-born supremo and his Selección are determined not to rest on their laurels, with their next major priorities wrapping up qualification for Brazil 2014 and success at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013 – a title they would love to add to their trophy cabinet.
After the draw for next year’s Festival of Champions, which took place in Sao Paulo on 1 December, the former Real Madrid strategist and candidate for the FIFA Coach of the Year 2012 award spoke exclusively to FIFA.com. Today we bring you the first instalment of our two-part interview.
FIFA.com: Vicente, where does next year’s FIFA Confederations Cup currently stand in your list of priorities?
Vicente Del Bosque: Well, we deal with short-term objectives. That being the case, our focus is qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, which we’d like to wrap up as soon as we can. Coming up soon in March we’ve got two games [against Finland and France] that are extremely important for our future prospects and then the Confederations Cup will come in the medium term. Having finished third at South Africa , we want to prepare well in order to go into the competition in the best possible shape and have a good campaign.
Many coaches take advantage of this tournament to try and find a settled squad and spend an extended period of time with their players. Given Spain have had a settled core for a while now, what can the competition bring to La Roja?
Yes, it’s true that we have quite a stable squad. But new players are appearing all the time, to the point where I’d say we’ve got great competition for places – enormously so in some positions. It’s going to make our decision-making process very hard, because there are a number of players who’ve been performing excellently for their clubs for a long time now. But new lads are appearing on the scene and we’ve got to bring them through, bit by bit. We’re going to find ourselves in a real situation, though I’d not go so far as saying an uncomfortable one - as us national coaches are used to it. What we will be doing is selecting those players we think give us the best chance of winning the competition.
Spain were knocked out in the semi-finals by USA at South Africa 2009. Do you think that painful experience helped La Selección win the FIFA World Cup on year later?
No doubt about it. Particularly in terms of getting to know the surroundings: where we were going, to which hotels and getting used to the training pitches and the climate. It was fantastic for us, an enriching experience.
What are you expecting from host nation Brazil, a country with a rich footballing tradition?
We’re going to the country which has the most feeling and passion for football. And we’re carrying a great deal of responsibility, as we certainly don’t see the Confederations Cup as a minor competition. On the contrary, it’s a tournament that features the champions of several different competitions and we’re going to treat it with the importance it deserves. From our own experience, we know that every international, whether it be competitive or a friendly, carries with it a lot of responsibility. In fact we don’t see any game as a friendly. They’re all international matches and that’s how we see them.
Turning to Spain’s phenomenal recent success, do you think perceptions have changed since victory at South Africa 2010?
There might just be too much praise coming our way, which always happens with the team that are crowned champions. In our case, rather than just being about one specific event like the World Cup, the praise comes from having won three major tournaments in a row. That increases our players’ profile, but it also puts more pressure on you with every passing day. You can even make people get used to winning, make it look all too easy. And the Spanish fans might be really fond of us but if we fail, which can happen because this is sport and there are some other very good teams, they’ll feel a bit let down. We’ve got to fight against that.
Is this national squad setting an example for others to follow?
There isn’t just one way of playing if you want to be successful, but yes it’s true that our players have certain characteristics that really shape the way our side plays football. And we mustn’t try to go against that style. In this case, I think it [the style] has gained greater admiration because it’s been accompanied by results. But, at nearly every world or European tournament, it seems that we all try to look for certain trends. Watching closely how the champions play is to be expected. It’s wouldn’t be stretching the truth to say that people are trying to be like us in certain ways, which is nice.
If the Netherlands’ Arjen Robben, for example, had put the Final in South Africa 2010 beyond Spain’s reach, do you think La Roja’s style would still be getting so much coverage?
I’m aware that we’ve had plenty of good fortune. In the penalty shoot-out against Portugal, in the semi-finals of the EURO , Bruno Alves’s shot hit the bar and went over while [Cesc] Fabregas’s effort hit the post and went in. We know what football’s like, but the important thing is not to doubt what we’re doing. When we lost our first game at the World Cup against Switzerland we could have been overcome with doubt, but we didn’t let it affect us. In fact against Honduras we played the same XI, except for Fernando Torres replacing David Silva and Andres Iniesta missing out through injury. The rest were all the same guys.
Staying on the subject of style: do you think you’d be able to get a team playing this way without these particular players? To how great an extent do you shape your tactical planning around the players at your disposal?
Let’s see. I have my own footballing taste, which has a lot in common with what we’re doing here [with the national side]. I like my teams to keep possession. Back when I was at Real Madrid, and I had very good players there too, I used to like the team to take the initiative in games, to defend high up the pitch, to pin teams back in their half, to play with depth and also find a balance between short and long passing. But at the same time I try to achieve that level of balance tactically too. Without a team becoming disorganised, I like every player to have enough freedom for his talent to shine through.
Now everybody knows how crucial possession is to Spain’s playing style, is there a Plan B in place should the opposition cope with that?
Over and above the coach, who happens to be me in this case, we’ve got players who, while they’re out on pitch, are able to evaluate what they need to do against the opposition at any given moment. Depending on if our opponents are sitting really deep, if they’re pressuring us higher up the field, etc. I’d say that they spend ten or 15 minutes almost studying the game. It’s not an analysis that we do from the dugout, the lads on the pitch are able to see what’s happening: if the opposing defence is playing a very high line, if they need to get behind their marker or drop deeper to play a one-two, whether we need more width or if they need to go it alone. They’re very intelligent and it’s really good they’re able to solve problems themselves.
In that context, who would you say was your right-hand man out on the pitch?
I wouldn’t single out just one player for that role. We’ve got a few players who have the leadership we need in every circumstance. There are more impetuous players and others who are more cool and analytical. In midfield areas we’ve got two or three players who are tactically perfect. They know how to protect the full-backs, make themselves available for the ball and whether to go short or long with their next pass. They’ve got so much footballing intelligence. We can’t say that “this guy’s unique” or “if he doesn’t play we’ll struggle”, as it’s not true.