Spain paid the price at Euro 2016 for Vicente Del Bosque failure to move with the times, writes HENRY FAGAN.
Despite Vicente del Bosque leading Spain to unprecedented glory in his eight years at the helm of La Roja, the success of the side in the past should not be allowed to paper over the cracks of the side’s present day failures.
When Del Bosque took over as Spain boss from Luis Aragones in 2008, he had inherited the best national side in world football. Spain had just been crowned European Champions. Their imperious midfield contained the likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez approaching their prime, while upfront they were spearheaded by the then best striker in the game, Fernando Torres.
With Aragones have laid the foundation for success with a highly technical side playing a reborn tiki-taka style, Spain not only boasted a methodology no other side had an answer for, but also the players to execute the philosophy to the letter.
But football has moved on. The first dramatic indication came when the seemingly peerless Barcelona, also playing tiki-taka, were thrashed 7-0 on aggregate by Bayern Munich in 2013. Building on what Jose Mourinho had done at first Inter Milan and then Real Madrid, the Bavarians combined pressing, a dynamic midfield, and resolute defending. The side exposed Barca’s midfield’s lack of resoluteness, turning the technical possession-based approach from a strength into a frailty.
In recent seasons, Barcelona has adapted. The side rebalanced the midfield after bringing in the likes of the energetic Ivan Rakatic. The side also eventually abandoned the false-nine policy that had become too easy to crowd out, moved Lionel Messi out wide, and put Luis Suarez up front to lead the attack. Barca duly won the treble in 2014-15.
Football has moved on, but Spain’s hasn’t. Despite signs that tiki-taka was ailing, Del Bosque remained true to the style for the 2014 World Cup. As a result, the midfield was overstocked with technical passing players and short on both energy and steel. The side was duly exposed in their opening fixture by a vibrant Netherlands side playing a dynamic 3-5-2 formation. Spain had no answer. The heavy 5-1 defeat marked a changing of the guard on the international stage as La Roja crashed out in the group stage.
But despite the disastrous defence of their world champions title, Spain have learnt nothing. Though still boasting players the envy of world football – even their ‘left behind XI’ looked a better side than virtually all their competitors – the balance remained all wrong.
Rather than playing hard working players to power the midfield, del Bosque persisted with the same tired tactics.
Instead of dynamism down the left with Koke, del Bosque opted for David Silva – essentially a poor man’s Iniesta, who was already on the pitch.
Instead of an engine man in midfield, del Bosque opted for unneeded playmaker Fabregas. Bruno Soriano, Saul Niguez, or Javi Martinez, would all have been vastly better served in the role; the latter pair did not even make the squad.
La Roja was duly humbled 2-0 by an enterprising Italy side as the Azzurri simply borrowed and effectively executed well-established counter tactics.
Firstly, Conte opted to play a 3-5-2 formation with wing backs Alessandro Florenzi and Mattia Di Sciglio helping the central midfielders strangle the Spanish’s build-up play. Secondly, the mobile attacking pairing of Graziano Pelle and Eder created space by running the channels and dragging Spain’s defence to and fro as they scrambled to cover. In addition, they helped facilitate counter attacks with effective hold-up play. Finally, with Daniele Di Rossi shielding the centre backs, this enabled attacking midfielders Marco Parolo and Emanuele Giaccherini to run through the heart of the Spanish midfield within seconds of a changeover in possession.
But it should never have happened. Itlay were superb, but Spain played into their hands.
To put it in perspective, none of Italy’s players (bar perhaps centre backs Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini) are good enough to even make Spain’s starting XI.
It has to be concluded that Del Bosque’s lack adaptation has brought about Spain’s failure.