Del Bosque: A tough act to follow

As the new man at the helm of the Spanish national team, Vicente del Bosque will have to follow in the footsteps of predecessor Luis Aragones, whose four-year tenure came to a glorious conclusion last month with victory at UEFA EURO 2008. The principal objective for the new coach, who signed a two-year contract this month, will be to secure Spain's berth at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ via Group 5 of the European Zone, which also includes Turkey, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Armenia and Estonia. In addition, as champions of Europe, La Selección have another challenge on the horizon in the form of the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009.

The 57-year-old tactician knows the challenges he faces will be difficult ones, especially as expectancy surrounding the national team has risen considerably in the wake of the European Championship success that ended a 44-year senior title drought for the Iberians. Nevertheless, one thing the new man has in abundance is experience at winning major honours.

A history of success
As a player Del Bosque wore the jerseys of Castellon, Cordoba and Real Madrid with distinction, going on to represent Spain on 18 occasions, including at the 1980 European Championship. He took his first steps in coaching at the Bernabeu, where, as a defensive midfielder between 1973 and 1984, he became a household name and won five league titles and four Copas del Rey.

After cutting his teeth with the Madrid youth and reserve teams for six years, he was handed the head coach's job ahead of the 1999-2000 season following the departure of John Toshack. The Salamanca-born coach made an immediate impact, steering the capital side to their eighth UEFA European Cup/Champions League title that same season. In his four years in charge of Madrid, he would enjoy further Champions League success (2002) along with two league titles (2001 and 2003), a Spanish Super Cup (2001), a UEFA Super Cup (2002) and an Intercontinental (Toyota) Cup (2002).

After his spell at the Bernabeu, Del Bosque spent the 2004-05 season with Turkish side Besiktas before returning to Spain, where he worked as a football analyst.

Change of style
Aside from the obvious technical changes the new coach's tenure will bring, there will also be a distinct change of personality on the Spanish bench. Whereas Luis Aragones was renowned for his temperamental, impulsive and occasionally polemic style, Del Bosque can be expected to bring discretion, calmness and patience to the role. The new incumbent was roundly praised for the manner in which he handled a star-studded Real Madrid dressing room containing the likes of Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Raul, and the supreme man-management skills he demonstrated at the time augur well for an equally harmonious relationship between La Furia Roja's coaching staff and players.

Spain's new coach is the archetypal quiet man, known for his ability to keep his cool in even the most stressful situations. His conciliatory nature and measured approach, as witnessed in his previous coaching assignments, was equally evident during his work as an analyst, when he remained an authoritative figure without ever raising his voice. A further demonstration of Del Bosque's tact was his decision to cancel his EURO 2008 commentary work once he had been offered the Spain job, the coach being of the opinion that it would be ill-judged to evaluate the work of the man he was about to replace.

Going forward
After many years searching for their own identity, it would appear that La Roja have now found a highly effective style that they are comfortable with: a slick brand of passing- and possession-based football whose starting point is the extremely adept Spanish midfield.

Received wisdom says you should not mess with a winning formula, so it will be intriguing to see what, if anything, Del Bosque changes once settled in the job. Many suspect that his ties with Real Madrid and friendship with past and present Merengue icons like Fernando Hierro and Raul could be a factor, with the latter possibly in line for a recall.   

Whatever happens, fans will not have to wait long too for an answer, with the new coach set to make his debut on the Spanish bench on 20 August away to Denmark. His first competitive outing will come shortly afterwards, with La Selección kicking off their South Africa 2010 qualifying campaign against Bosnia-Herzegovina on 6 September in Murcia.