Spain coach Vicente del Bosque is very much his own man and has been ever since deciding to break away from the family tradition of working on the railways and dedicating himself to the world of football. Having enjoyed a lengthy and successful playing career at his beloved Real Madrid, this quiet but fiercely determined character went on to enjoy a glorious spell at Los Blancos’ helm, a period that featured two La Liga titles, two UEFA Champions League successes and victory in the 2002 Toyota Intercontinental Cup.
Now, less than two years into his tenure as coach of La Selección - he took up the reins following Luis Aragones’ triumphant UEFA EURO 2008 campaign - Del Bosque is on the verge of one of his greatest challenges: the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. In Sun City for 23 February’s South Africa 2010 Team Workshop, the experienced coach made time for an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Señor Del Bosque, what conclusions did you draw from the Team Workshop in Sun City?
Vicente del Bosque: It’s always positive to attend events like this, where you can pick up a lot of information ahead of a tournament. But one can also take advantage of the opportunity to meet up with old friends and acquaintances like Oscar Tabarez, Carlos [Alberto] Parreira, Fabio Capello, Carlos Queiroz and Radomir Antic, to name but a few. All of us who are representing our national teams have to give a good impression. There are people with a great deal of experience here and that’s very good for football.
What can you tell us about South Africa? What can we expect from the first FIFA World Cup finals on African soil?
We’ve got our experience from the Confederations Cup to look back on so we’ve already got a pretty clear idea of what to expect. But above all else I think that we coaches, as well as those who will be at the World Cup in other roles, have a duty to portray Africa in the best possible light. This continent needs that and I think that this tournament will be just as successful as the previous 18 finals.
You mentioned your involvement in the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009, so you had first-hand experience of how cold the weather can get here in June.
All the better! That’s just one of a host of things that will be good [for the competition]. When it’s hot the players can feel almost like they’re on their summer holidays and that can affect their performance. I think that it’ll be a positive factor, as we saw last year. When it gets chilly at night it helps the teams put on a better show.
Since the Final Draw was held, what question have you been asked most?
The question I’m constantly asked over and over is if we’re contenders for the Trophy. And even though we don’t agree, we can hardly say it doesn’t make sense that we’re singled out, given we’re European champions and have won so many games in a row.
What makes you think that Spain are not favourites for the title?
We know inside that we’ve got some very strong rivals ahead of us. Once you’re at a World Cup there are no small teams or surprise packages. We have to be very focused to avoid being caught cold by Switzerland, Chile or Honduras.
What do you sense that the supporters expect from La Roja?
A lot, of course. Everybody in Spain thinks that anything except winning the World Cup is a failure. I think that’s nonsense and an extremism but, in the times we live in, it seems that extremism sells.
On the outside you appear to be the epitome of calmness. Is that what you are really like?
No, no I’m not! (Laughs) Well, maybe it’s better if I appear to be like that.
What's more, your father, a railway worker, was known for having a very strong character, isn’t that right?
No, not at all. (Laughs again) My dad was a very sensible man. It’s possible that he had very radical views on things, but he was a nice guy.
What things make your blood boil?
Injustice. And we know that in football there’s a lot of scope for trickery and all those other things one doesn’t like. But deep down you have to be careful, because while you may think that something your opponents do is out of order, it may be going on in your side too.
You have been involved in football for 41 years now. Do you think this has affected your personal life at all?
No, not at all. I don’t think I’ve missed out on anything, on the contrary in fact. Of course, I spend all day on my job, on my football and I have to represent the Spanish Football Association as well as I possibly can. But I’ve also got a family, which is the most important thing of all. I’ve been in the game since I was a little lad, so I know what it’s about by now.
Turning to the modern game, which is the player that most catches your eye?
There are currently a number of top-drawer players, and they nearly all play in attacking positions. There are several players who can turn a match such as [Lionel] Messi, [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Wayne] Rooney and [Didier] Drogba. Those four are fantastic.
Is the fact that Spain can perform outstandingly without relying on individual stars one of their strengths?
I don’t know. Football is a team game but you still need pieces of individual skill to turn a game. And we’ve got players throughout our side who can produce those, from our goalkeeper, through midfield and into attack. We’ve got great players.
Finally, where do you see yourself come 12 July 2010, when the tournament has finished?
We don’t know, destiny is impossible to predict. The key will be to prepare as well as we possibly can for the battle ahead, because we’ll come up against very very strong opponents. This includes those teams who aren’t going into the finals among the favourites. Argentina are a good example of this because they’ve got a genuinely top-class team and tremendous players throughout the side. They may have struggled in qualifying, but they shouldn’t be ruled out as contenders because of that. We can expect a very tough tournament.