It’s the end of an era. After Spain’s early exit of Euro 2016, Spanish fans and media agreed that La Roja’s dominance of international football is over. The so called “tranquil transition” led by manager Vicente del Bosque after the shocking flop at the 2014 World Cup hasn’t been successful. Now, broader changes are required.
It was good while it lasted but we are not longer the best was the front page headline in the influential sports newspaper Marca after Spain’s defeat against Italy. And that was, by far, the least critical media reaction. Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo used a pun on La Roja – La Floja(Weak) – to describe Spain’s performance, meanwhile prestigious daily El País thanked Del Bosque for his services but called for a change in the team management.
Unlike Roy Hodgson, who resigned minutes after England’s defeat to Iceland, the former Real Madrid manager refused to confirm his departure. His comment that “I have to talk with the president of the federation first” was typical of his calm personality, but has not satisfied anyone. In a poll on Marca.com, 93 per cent of the 60,748 voters demanded a change on the bench.
Obviously, Del Bosque’s legacy is unquestionable. Considered more of a manager of egos rather than a tactical master, his ability to cope with a dressing room packed with world-class footballers and their strong personalities extended the Spanish dominance established at Euro 2008 under Luis Aragonés with another two major titles.
Sadly, the ability to keep everyone happy doesn’t look like enough now. In France there were press reports about a divided squad, with some players unhappy at being reserves – Spain being the only team along with Iceland to have played all their matches with the same starting XI.
The situation was publicly exposed when Chelsea’s Pedro told reporters that “being selected for not playing isn’t worth my time”. But it wasn’t the only evidence of lack of control by the Spanish manager. After Sergio Ramos missed a critical penalty kick against Croatia Del Bosque declared that his role “wasn’t to interfere on who has to take it” – a contentious stand for someone whose team has failed close to half their attempts from the spot since he took charge.
That wasn’t the most serious situation Del Bosque had to cope with. David de Gea’s alleged involvement in a sexual assault case, revealed days before the start of the tournament, created a major debate in Spain about whether he should be in the team. While De Gea was ultimately chosen as the No 1 ahead of Iker Casillas, the accusations continue to hang over him.
Tactically, Del Bosque was out-thought by Antonio Conte just as he had been by Louis van Gaal in Brazil two years ago. Even Georgia managed to beat La Roja in the last friendly before Euro 2016. Gerard Piqué reflected on what needs to be done: “We have young players coming through who are very promising and veterans who have to keep on bringing their experience to the team. But the level isn’t the same and we have to accept that”.
Finding a new boss has to be the priority. To create a team able to reach the final stages of Russia 2018 requires new ideas which suit the younger talents. If Spain is to rejoin the international elite, no time needs to be wasted.