In person, Vicente del Bosque emits a sense of wisdom and calm, two qualities that could also be used to describe the Spain side he has coached with such aplomb since 2008. Under the 62-year-old – a victor at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ and UEFA EURO 2012 – La Roja have also won almost universal acclaim thanks to their characteristic style of play, which has come to be seen as an example to follow by lovers of the beautiful game across the globe.
Just hours ahead of taking on hosts Brazil at the Maracana in the Final of this year’s FIFA Confederations Cup, a trophy that eluded him and La Selección at South Africa 2009, the FIFA World Coach of the Year for 2012 made time for an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Vicente, looking at the way the game went rather than the final result, what positives and negatives can you draw from the semi-final against Italy?
Vicente del Bosque: We had to go through some very difficult moments. Italy caused us more problems than any other team, above all thanks to their strengths but also due to the odd flaw of ours. For instance, we were much too open, which was an error that we’d foreseen but were unable to rectify until the second half. What’s more, we didn’t control the play: normally we have 60 or 70 per cent of possession, but the other day it was more even.
It was a surprise to hear that you did not have a pre-written list of penalty takers for the shoot-out...
It’s not a big deal. We’ve got quite a few players who are capable of taking penalties and the order wasn’t important. The same thing happens when there are penalties to be taken during games. Whoever’s feeling most confident out of the three or four main takers should step up.
Even so, it does give an insight into the way you and your coaching staff work. How would you describe the process?
A coach can’t be lost in his own thoughts the whole time, but nor can he be leaping off the bench and thinking he’s going to fix everything himself. Eight eyes see more than two and my colleagues always help me get a better perspective on things. Working on your own, you sometimes can’t see where your team’s going wrong.
In that tactical context, it was also interesting to see Javi Martinez, normally a defensive midfielder, brought on up front. Is that a ploy you’ve worked on before or was it purely to do with your reading of the game?
It wasn’t something we’d planned, it was a reaction to what was going on out on the pitch. The match needed someone with vitality, strength and continuous graft in an area of the field where Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta had already put in a huge amount of work. But we also needed someone capable of making space for themselves and who was good in the air. There were several things needed and Javi Martinez was able to give us them all.
Do you feel like Spain are being put to the test more and more?
We’ve got a burden of responsibility, which is the result of everything we’ve achieved. Before we were just contenders and now we’re the reigning [FIFA World Cup] champions, so it’s to be expected that people know more about us and we’re less able to spring a surprise. It’s not easy finding new ways to surprise teams, so everything we do we have to do really well.
One of the team’s strong points remains the backline, despite having a relatively new central-defensive pairing. Do you think Spain get enough credit for that?
We’re not a team that can be tagged as ‘defensive’, nobody could use that to sum us up. It’s clear that there’s a relationship between the amount of time we have the ball and how that impacts on which team has the initiative. This isn’t a team that needs to spend much time looking over its shoulder, and a large chunk of the credit for that must go to [Sergio] Busquets and Xavi, who give us balance.
Before we ask you what you make of Brazil, it was interesting to see your comment about how excited your players are about the whole package of the Final, the Maracana and taking on the hosts…
They’re all still young guys with hopes and dreams, and it’d be a bad day if they stopped having them. While a lot of people dream about things that are unachievable, these lads have managed to make several dreams come true, so it’s nice to know this game’s given them something new to strive for. Without emotion and excitement, you can’t do anything.
So, now can you tell us what you make of this Brazil side?
They’re not a team that are easy to dominate. All their wide players have good control and get into goalscoring positions, while their central core gives them balance – both their centre-backs and their holding midfielders. They’re a young, complete and very vibrant team. It’ll be important to make sure that they don’t overwhelm us early on.
Are you surprised by how much Luiz Felipe Scolari has achieved in just six months?
Scolari has a great knowledge of Brazilian football and he’s gone searching for the essence of that, but with the same level of organisation as a European team. They don’t have star names but they’ve got a lot about them, and he’s built them into a team in every sense of the word. This has been a big test for them and they’ve achieved their objective of reaching the Final.
Is there a favourite in the Final?
I’m stating the obvious, but what’s happened in the past doesn’t count in a game like this. In terms of titles, they are the ‘fathers’ of football and we’re still getting started, but the game will still begin 0-0.
How much would this title mean to this generation of Spain players?
Beating Brazil in their own backyard would represent a significant, symbolic feat. We’ve been given a lot of recognition for what we’ve achieved so far, but recognition goes hand-in-hand with keeping on winning. We’re hoping to live up to the responsibility.