World Cup 2010: Vicente del Bosque - The quiet manager

AT best, there is a twitch of that droopy moustache, a brief word or two, and maybe the hint of a smile, if you're lucky.

"I'm not much for showing external emotion," says Vicente del Bosque, the Spain coach who will not allow himself to indulge in anything so fleeting as a goal celebration. So far, there have been eight opportunities at these World Cup finals, and he hasn't so much as cracked his lips yet.

He was asked only the other day how he could remain so impassive in the technical area, while goals by David Villa, Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol have prompted bedlam on the touchline. Del Bosque, ever mindful of the bigger picture, said that he had more to think about when feelings run high, like the innermost thoughts of those around him. "That's why a lot of the time when the game ends, I don't seem to be happy. It's because I'm thinking about the players that wanted to be on the field and couldn't be."

Those who have followed Del Bosque's managerial career will have heard all this before. An honourable man, full of humility and respect, he is obsessed with justice and the need to treat his players equally. After each of his two Champions League victories with Real Madrid - one in Glasgow, the other in Paris - he made great play of ushering squad members down from the stand to join in the celebrations. "I am always conscious of those who are hurting for being left out," said the coach.

Expect a similar ritual to unfold in Johannesburg tonight should Spain beat Holland in the World Cup final. There will be no Jose Mourinho-style charge around the pitch, no attempt to even take the credit. After the semi-final defeat of Germany, he said only that it was a privilege to work with so gifted a group of players, that it was a tribute to his predecessors, and to the work done by thousands of grassroots coaches across the country.

With self-publicity like that, it is no wonder the lugubrious 59-year-old hasn't quite had the acclaim he deserves. Like Sir Alex Ferguson, Arrigo Sacchi and Mourinho, his name is on an illustrious list of managers to have lifted the European Cup twice. Only Bob Paisley won it more. When Alan Kennedy's goal secured the Liverpool manager a hat-trick at the Parc des Princes in 1981, Del Bosque was a midfielder on the losing side.

Like Paisley, he was a one-club man. The son of a railway worker, he grew up with, played for and managed Real Madrid. On the pitch, he won five league titles, four Copa del Reys and 18 international caps.

Off it, he was youth-team coach, twice caretaker manager and eventually the main man, presiding over one of the most successful periods in the club's history. He took them to the semi-finals of the Champions League in each of his four years in charge, and guided his players to seven trophies, including two domestic league titles.

The decision not to renew his contract in 2003 was shocking. Real's president, Florentino Perez, more or less said that Del Bosque did not have an image in keeping with a club dominated by Los Galacticos. He wasn't glamorous enough, angry enough, even happy enough. It didn't help that one of the senior players called him "sad face" in front of the squad.

And yet, Del Bosque had succeeded in uniting, and extracting the most from, some of the game's biggest names, including Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Ronaldo. Neither an orator nor an inspiration, his trick was to let them do their own thing, merely point them in the right direction with a brand of coaching that might best be described as minimalist. His half-time team talks were said to be so short that the players were left twiddling their thumbs until the resumption. "They say I don't talk much," he says. "It's not about how much or how little you say. It's about saying the right amount."

There have been signs of a similar approach in South Africa. When some of the senior players gathered for a meeting to discuss their defeat by Switzerland in the opening game, Del Bosque let them get on with it. Since inheriting the Euro 2008 winners from Luis Aragones, a coach from whom he could hardly be more different, his job has been "not so much to govern the team as to guide it".

Which isn't so easy in a game of warring egos. Maybe it helps that he doesn't have one of his own. Players say that he treats them like adults, not school children. Asked in his Real Madrid days about the thrill of winning big games, he said that the best bit was phoning his mother to tell her the news. "I have been inoculated against the defect of vanity," he once said.

His Dutch counterpart, Bert Van Marwijk, has similar qualities. A modest coach who garnered only one cap as a player, his image contrasts sharply with that of the previous manager, Marco Van Basten. His biggest achievement at these finals has been to avoid the dressing-room divisions that have been so destructive down the years.

Plenty has been made of the stars' failure to shine in South Africa, by which they mean that Lionel Messi, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney have all made premature departures. Less has been said about a similar trend in the dugout. As Del Bosque, Van Marwijk and Joachim Low - assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann in 2006 - have made it through to the last four, Diego Maradona, Fabio Capello and a host of other more charismatic leaders have fallen by the wayside.

It may go some way to explaining the kind of football that has succeeded this summer.

The coaches of Holland, Germany and Spain have moulded teams in their own image. Van Marwijk's Holland have shown that team spirit beats individuals. Low's Germany have proved that systems overcome determination. And Del Bosque, who counts patience among his priorities, has seen his Spanish team wear opponents down with that classing passing game of theirs. In each of their knockout games, they won with a solitary, late goal.

Another such triumph tonight would elevate Del Bosque into the pantheon of managerial greats. It would make him only the second man - the first was Marcello Lippi - to conquer Europe at club level, and the world with his national team. It would also amount to one in the eye for Perez, and for Aragones, who has been critical of the team in his capacity as a TV pundit.

Not that the humble Del Bosque would dare descend to that level. Using the national team to win his personal battles would be a self-serving act of betrayal. "I will never utter a single word against the former coach," he said earlier in the tournament. "There is no Spain of Luis or Spain of Del Bosque. There is only one Spain."

And if that Spain can overcome the final hurdle at Soccer City tonight, they will become only the third side in history to win both the European Championship and the World Cup. That, more than anything, will give Del Bosque something to smile about. Maybe.


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