Spain’s se­cret is all in the coach­ing

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL - SAM SHER­ING­HAM

FANS of un­der-achiev­ing na­tions such as Eng­land and the Nether­lands, who as­so­ci­ate World Cups with false dawns and heart­break, should spare a thought for the Span­ish.

For a coun­try that has given us two of the most cel­e­brated club sides in the game’s his­tory and a roll-call of stel­lar play­ers, Spain's record in the global show­piece is noth­ing short of woe­ful.

Fourth place in 1950 is their best show­ing in 16 tour­na­ments, with most of their other cam­paigns end­ing in hu­mil­i­a­tion, mis­for­tune, or ab­ject fail­ure.

How­ever, South Africa 2010 prom­ises to be a very dif­fer­ent story. Vic­tory at Euro 2008 ended a 44-year wait for an in­ter­na­tional tro­phy and was fol­lowed by a World Cup qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign in which Vi­cente del Bosque’s side won all 10 of their games, cul­mi­nat­ing in a 5-2 away vic­tory over their near­est ri­vals Bos­ni­aHerze­gov­ina.

Spain have won 45, and lost only one, of their last 48 games. A team at the peak of their pow­ers, they un­der­lined their sta­tus as World Cup favourites with an ef­fort­less 6-0 de­mo­li­tion of Poland in their fi­nal warm-up game this week.

So what is it about this Span­ish team that makes them rise to the big oc­ca­sion where their pre­de­ces­sors foundered? What fac­tors can ex­plain the seis­mic change that has taken place?

Many foot­ball ob­servers sug­gest Spain’s trans­for­ma­tion from a peren­nial un­der-achiever to a ruth­less win­ning ma­chine is largely ex­plained by the emer­gence of a golden gen­er­a­tion of play­ers, drawn heav­ily from Barcelona’s ranks.

As for­mer Barça and Eng­land striker Gary Lineker asks: “How many sides could sur­vive the loss of Fer­nando Tor­res? Only one: Spain. Be­cause they have got David Villa.

“They’ve also got Cesc Fabre­gas, who could play be­hind the strik­ers and doesn’t get a reg­u­lar game be­cause they've got Xavi and An­dres Ini­esta in mid­field.”

Oth­ers point to the strength of the Span­ish do­mes­tic league, or ar­gue that play­ing in the Premier League has given some of the squad mem­bers vi­tal ex­pe­ri­ence of a more phys­i­cal kind of foot­ball.

But of­ten over­looked are the seeds sown by the Span­ish Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion over the last 15 years, which are now bear­ing fruit.

Pe­dro Calvo, who coached Liver­pool striker Tor­res at the Atletico Madrid academy, be­lieves Spain’s cur­rent prow­ess owes much to the fed­er­a­tion’s long-term com­mit­ment to a na­tion­wide pro­gramme for the train­ing of coaches.

Ac­cord­ing to Euro­pean foot­ball’s gov­ern­ing body Uefa, Spain had al­most 15,000 Uefa A and Pro Li­cence coaches in 2008 – more than dou­ble the num­ber of any other Euro­pean nation. And that is de­spite it tak­ing 750 study hours to ac­quire a Pro Li­cence in Spain, com­pared with just 245 in Eng­land.

“The fed­er­a­tion has re­ally fo­cused on get­ting peo­ple qual­i­fied and to the level where they can go to other coun­tries and coach,” says Calvo. “It’s not just in pro­fes­sional foot­ball, it runs right through the sys­tem. You have to have the same qual­i­fi­ca­tion to work in schools as you do to work in the top di­vi­sion.

“We are re­ally start­ing to see the ef­fects in the last few years.”

Un­like the tur­bu­lent world of Eng­land’s FA, Spain’s FA is a model of sta­bil­ity, with pres­i­dent An­gel Maria Vil­lar about to be­gin his 23rd year at the helm.

Not only are there more qual­i­fied coaches in Spain than in Eng­land, they are all pro­mot­ing ex­actly the same style of foot­ball – the highly tech­ni­cal, pos­ses­sion­based game that has taken Barcelona to the sum­mit of Euro­pean foot­ball, made Spain’s youth teams the envy of the world and al­lowed the na­tional side to end nearly half a cen­tury of fail­ure in Vi­enna two years ago.

In­deed, the se­nior team’s vic­tory at Euro 2008 was not an iso­lated suc­cess. Since 1998, Span­ish youth teams from un­der-16 to un­der-21 level have won 19 Uefa and Fifa cham­pi­onships.

For­mer Spain and Real Madrid cap­tain Fer­nando Hierro, who was made the fed­er­a­tion’s tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor in 2007, said re­cently: “We have moved on from the time when no­body knew what the char­ac­ter­is­tics of Span­ish foot­ball were.

“Be­fore, we all knew about Ital­ian foot­ball, English foot­ball, Ger­man, Ar­gen­tine, Brazil­ian. Now, it’s good to say that Span­ish foot­ball is here.” – bbc.com

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