These are testing times for Vicente del Bosque. But, just as he refused to get carried away when things were going well, nor is he losing his composure in this difficult period. Following the debacle at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, the coach is determined to get the team back on track and, in spite of a shaky start to UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying, is facing his critics head-on and staying true to his ideas.
During the FIFA/UEFA Conference for National Coaches and Technical Directors held in St. Petersburg, Russia, Del Bosque took time out to sit down with FIFA.com and analyse some of the key issues La Roja have faced in recent months.
FIFA.com: You’ll have gone over this a thousand times but, on reflection, what were the reasons behind Spain’s poor performance in Brazil?
Vicente del Bosque: You can’t look for one specific cause – it was the accumulation of several small details. But you shouldn’t only talk about your own weaknesses. You also need to point out the strength of your opponents. The Netherlands and Chile were better than us, and we need to accept defeat like good sportsmen. We shouldn’t look for pointless excuses.
The Conference found that a more attacking style of football was on show at Brazil 2014 than we saw four years ago in South Africa. Could this be a footballing legacy of Spain’s all-conquering style?
This World Cup has been more attacking than the previous one. Teams have put an emphasis on pressure, pressing higher and higher up the pitch, immediately after losing the ball. We’ve also seen quicker transitions. I think that this balance between possession, which is what Spain have always embodied, and these quick transitions would be ideal.
Once Spain had been knocked out, how did you follow the World Cup? What surprised you the most?
I think it was the tactical variety. I was very pleased to see the success of Germany and the Netherlands at the World Cup, as they were excellent ambassadors for European football. But football in the Americas has come on leaps and bounds. It’s clear that the Americas no longer just means Argentina and Brazil. Colombia, Costa Rica and Chile also performed well. The Asian and African teams also look to be getting closer to the level of those sides.
How was the flight home?
It was very sad, a huge disappointment. But it would have been very difficult to repeat our achievements from the previous World Cup. We certainly hoped to progress further. I think the defeat was taken well because we knew how to lose as sportsmen. Now we’re looking towards the future and preparing ourselves for EURO 2016 in France and the 2018 World Cup.
The defensive system with three centre-backs and two wing-backs enjoyed great success in Brazil, as exemplified by the Netherlands, who thrashed you. Do you think this system will become more widespread?
It wasn’t just the Netherlands. Chile also played that way, with two very wide full-backs, which gave them more depth and enabled them to hurt us. You can’t put our defeat down solely to this, but it certainly played a part. I’m not sure if it’ll become more widespread. I believe in the concept of the game more than in a formation.
You can never stand still in football. You always need to look ahead and we need to search for new players. But Spain doesn’t need to change much.
From your point of view, what was the key to Germany’s victory?
We shouldn’t only look at this World Cup in isolation. You need to look back and take into account the patience of the Germans. They’ve always been a top side, and were finalists at EURO 2008, reached the semi-finals in 2010 and 2012, before finally becoming champions in 2014. Throughout all those years, there has been the same coach in charge and a strong group of players. Their success has come as a result of patience and work that has been well managed from the bench.
Now that the time has come to overhaul the national team, will you continue with the same template and search for the ideal players? Or will you see which players are available in order to adapt the system?
Even aside from the defeat in Brazil, you can never stand still in football. You always need to look ahead and we need to search for new players. But Spain doesn’t need to change much. We need to maintain and build on those things that we have done well in those years and those successes, and not turn our backs on something that can still be improved upon. We are working on this, finding the balance between possession, quick transitions and depth, as we discussed earlier.
There are often contentious arguments and debates surrounding the team – like at present with Iker Casillas and Munir el Haddadi. As a coach, how does the opinion of the media affect you?
That’s how things are with a national team. Some because they’ve played for many years, others because they’ve just broken through... We’ve still got a lot of confidence in Iker, because he’s not too old in footballing terms and we trust in him. But we also have faith in the new generation, as is the case with Munir, who embodies all that is new in Spanish football.
Diego Costa is another burning issue with La Roja. Why is he finding it so tough to fit in to the national team? Is it a case of incompatible styles?
I don’t think they’re incompatible. I don’t see why a player who is playing very well for his club, both for Atletico Madrid and now for Chelsea, should be detrimental to our national team. I’m confident that he’ll integrate perfectly into the group over the next few matches, and that the group will also adapt to him.
When you call up the national team, which position causes you the biggest headache?
We have a few tricky positions… Goalkeeper, in spite of having many options, centre-back, centre-forward... But these things happen every so often. In 2010, after Joan Capdevila, we had issues at left-back. And we solved that problem eventually. These days, we have got six or eight players who can slot in perfectly to the national team: [Nacho] Monreal, Jordi Alba, [Cesar] Azpilicueta, [Juan] Bernat... and we were worried that we didn’t have any full-backs! Now we’ve got the issue at centre-back. Following Puyol’s retirement we’re lacking in that position, but given time we’ll find a solution and we’ll call up the best players to the national team.
Following all your success, and given the criticism over the performance in Brazil, how do you find the motivation to continue?
The most important thing is to follow through with your work. It’s something that comes from within. After all the successes, now we have the duty and the responsibility to do things right and ensure that our football continues to prosper.