Vicente del Bosque is well versed in the ways of winning. Earlier in his coaching career, the 59-year-old collected two Spanish league titles and two UEFA Champions Leagues with Real Madrid, a glittering prelude to his crowning achievement with Spain at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Now engaged in the task of defending the European title La Roja seized in 2008, Del Bosque spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his coaching philosophy and the things that make his side tick.
FIFA.com: Vicente, what’s your take on the tactics we saw at South Africa 2010?
Vicente del Bosque: Most teams chose to play the same way though there were some sides that went out with different set-ups. I’m not a great believer in formations. It’s part of the game now but it’s not the be all and end all. The most important thing is that the team plays as a unit in defence and attack. Formations give you an initial picture of things but that’s all.
You say that, but the way Spain played is very difficult to copy.
Some of the teams we played knew exactly what they had to do to stop us from playing. Chile and Paraguay counteracted us extremely well and we found it really hard to adapt to their gameplans. You have to congratulate them on their defensive play in particular. They didn’t cause us too many problems up front but in terms of organisation they did very well against us.
What is the key to Spain’s way of playing the game?
First and foremost, the fact that we don’t copy anyone, and secondly the type of players we have. With the midfielders we’ve got it’s impossible to play anything other than a possession game and mix long balls up with short ones. We have our strong points and we can’t go against them, but no team is complete without having some defensive strengths too. In our case that’s our ability to close the opposition down and win the ball back.
I can see virtually all of the world champions making 2012 and most of them getting to 2014, but we need to be on our guard if they don’t.
Do you work on that in training or is it something Spanish players have in their DNA?
It’s a little bit of both if you ask me. The clubs do some great work in that respect and we have to give them full credit for that. We’re setting an example for others to follow here and it’s something we drum into players when we coach them. Technique is innate but you have to nurture it too.
How much tactical freedom can you give to players?
Even in professional football I think players have to have a certain amount of freedom. That’s where the coach comes in. It’s his job to combine organisational aspects with the talent of the players, to draw the two together. He shouldn’t set limits on inspiration, though. Coaches aren’t just there to organise but to bring on players with excellent individual skills and allow them to express themselves.
Spain have struggled in their first few games since the FIFA World Cup finals. Did you expect that?
When you consider how the game panned out, the journey we’d had and the fact we hadn’t trained, I thought everything went perfectly against Mexico. No one got injured and we acquitted ourselves well. It was one of the games I’ve been most pleased with really. Against Argentina we started badly and couldn’t get back into the game. We were up against a great side but still I think we put in a decent performance. In any case, sometimes it’s not so bad to lose. It can be helpful at times.
You brought in some new faces for those games. Are you planning some kind of generational change?
I can see virtually all of the world champions making 2012 and most of them getting to 2014, but we need to be on our guard if they don’t. There were quite a few differences between the squads we had in Vienna and in Johannesburg. We had seven or eight new players in South Africa, so it’s something that’s ongoing.
The Spain players seem to get on well with each other. What’s the secret to keeping a dressing room happy?
It’s not the most important thing but if the spirit’s good then it’s easier to win things. Every coach handles it differently, depending on their character and the training they’ve had. I have to say I’ve been lucky with the squad I’ve got. They’re good sportsmen, good people and we haven’t had any problems up to now. I don’t think there’s any single approach that works. I just feel you have to adapt to the group. Coaching this Spain team is not the same as when I was in charge at Real Madrid, for example. There’s no magic formula. In fact you could also say it depends on the player, who has to be able to adapt as well.
People say national coaches have a more relaxing job than their counterparts at club level. Would you agree with that?
You still have a lot of things to do. To start with you have to represent the national association, keep an eye on your upcoming opponents, talk to the players and look at any changes you might have to make at youth level. There’s not enough time, to be honest. In terms of pressure, the big difference is that it tends to be concentrated into very short periods of time, but I don’t think there’s any less of it than at club football. Whether they’re supporting their national team or a club, fans have just as many expectations.
One last question. Are you a football addict or do you have time for other things in your life?
We all have our lives outside football. Some coaches are more obsessed than others, but when you’re born into this world and brought up in it then you’re always thinking about it to some extent or other.