Javier Lozano's decision to step down as Spain coach marks the end of an era in Spanish futsal. Few could have imagined that, on taking up the position back in January 1992, he would make Spain the dominant force in a sport hitherto ruled by Brazil.
Now after a 15-year reign, during which time he steered his charges to two world and three European titles, Lozano is bowing out of futsal with a reputation almost as big as the challenge that now awaits him: a directorship with Real Madrid. The big question now is whether his replacement, Javier Venancio Lopez, can fill his shoes and continue Spain's remarkable run of success.
Born winner, astute analyst
So what was the secret to Lozano's remarkable success? "It was realising that if we simply tried to imitate Brazil, we'd never be our own side, just a replication," the former coach told FIFA.com. "That's why we decided to develop our own style, taking the best bits from others but adapting it to our own game, before combining it with methods based on study and research."
Born in Toledo on 28 October 1960, Lozano feels he has left Spanish futsal with a "tremendously positive" balance sheet after his time in charge. "From a personal perspective, these 15 years have allowed me to grow as an individual, to get to know myself and others better, and learning something new each day thanks to hard work and humility. In sporting terms, it's not the results or titles what will stay with me, but rather the creation of a style, a method, a reference point, both on and off the pitch."
His record at the helm was truly astounding: 201 games played, 174 won, 15 drawn and just 12 lost. He led the Furia Roja at four FIFA Futsal World Cups, finishing third at Hong Kong 1992, runners-up at home soil in 1996 and champions at Guatemala 2000 and Chinese Taipei 2004. So which gave him the most pleasure? "You never forget your first kiss, so it would have to be the Guatemala title. That one will go down in history as it marked the coming of age of Spanish futsal. It showed us that, with humility, hard work, perseverance and respect, we could achieve the goals we'd set ourselves. In terms of self-esteem, it was a real shot in the arm."
Lozano himself graced the sport of futsal between 1982 and 1991, representing his country 40 times. Barely six months after hanging up his boots, he was back with the national team, this time as coach. His analysis of the evolution of futsal is certainly vivid: "When I started out, the sport was localised and in black and white. Today, not only is it in colour, it's in digital on a plasma screen, as well as being cosmopolitan and globalised."
While the former national coach feels the sport's future looks bright, he still sounds a note of caution. "Even though the squad is very tight-knit and competitive, Spanish clubs should not lose sight of young Spanish players if there is going to be a new generation of players coming through when the current crop retire."
That said, Lozano insists the process that has brought Spanish futsal this far is in safe hands: "The training of coaches has been critical. I'm leaving here satisfied because the national team will continue to be competitive and remain a serious and committed entity both on and off the pitch. The pupils have ended up surpassing the master, and my successor is even better than me."
Master and student
So what does Jose Venancio Lopez make of such a ringing endorsement? "As well as being the former coach, Javier is a friend of mine," the new man told FIFA.com. "We've always had a very good relationship and even now we stay in contact. He has a wealth of experience and has been like a teacher to me. I've learned a lot from him, and ultimately I owe this appointment to him."
Born in Bilbao on 27 June 1964, Venancio Lopez insists he is ready to take up the reins. "Who wouldn't want to manage the defending world champions? Challenges are there to be taken on. The responsibility is bigger because there is a greater level of expectation surrounding us than other national teams, but I'm confident in my own ability."
The Basque tactician, who at club level has tasted victory in the Spanish league, the European Cup and the Intercontinental Cup, is not planning to ring the changes. "We'll try to continue working as we have been, using the same nucleus of players, while obviously making small changes here and there so that we keep on developing. Other Europeans teams are progressing too: Italy, Russia or Portugal could take our place, and it's clear that internationally things are getting more and more competitive. What we cannot do is stand still."
While in the short term, Spain have a UEFA European Championship to tackle in November, long term the goal remains the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2008. For his part, Venancio Lopez is very clear about his priorities: "First we need to qualify, then we can start thinking about the World Cup. We want to defend our title but it won't be easy, especially with Brazil there too, who will also have home advantage. Nevertheless, we intend to work very hard and put everything into achieving our objective."