Spain’s secret is all in the coaching
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