Today, Vicente Del Bosque González is the man; the epitome of success in football coaching. The legend. The man whose cv is coveted by all other managers, with two UEFA Champions League titles, A World Cup, and a European Championship. He has them all, all three of the most prestigious competitions in football, an unprecedented achievement.
It has not always been this rosy. Throughout his career, he has been doubted, ridiculed, villified and undermined, often based more on his personality rather than his concrete achievements . At Real Madrid for instance, he was undermined and accused of being inept, and having the galacticos doing his work for them. He was also accused of being too soft spoken,‘safe’and diplomatic, always shying away from confrontations with his charges as well as media polemics. With Spain, people have suggested that he inherited Luis Aragones’s dimunitive tiki taka wizards (as well as enjoying a beneficial continuity of Barca’s philosophy at the national level), therefore having very little to do.
There has always been an auror of pessimism anywhere he’s been, despite always delivering. Maybe it is because he does not have the phenotype of ‘the media’s favourite’ – because he never attracts controversy or looks like the monolithic figure his that the high profile positions he has occupied is used to. Maybe his efforts – like keeping a winning team in winning mode, or achieving with a star studded side – have not been the sort of efforts that is on the surface, easily seen and praised. Maybe his hardwork has always been eclipsed by certain circumstances through no fault of his.
Due to all this perhaps, despite his stunning achievements, the calm, unassuming Salamanca born manager of the Spanish National team – a team already heralded as the greatest ever - hardly ever receives the kind of media spotlight that, say, Guardiola or Mourinho receive today.
But that is not, and has never been, a problem for the famously moustachioed 61 year old. In fact, he refers it that way, he loves the quiet away from the media lens. And he could not care less about being criminally downplayed and underrated. His immense success speaks for itself.
But how did it all begin for him? Well, his journey towards the pinnacle of success began in 1999, with an unusual first season. A first season that captured his familiarity with the concept of the underdog, and of achieving against the odds. A first season I’m sure, he’ll always look back on with nostalgia.
During his playing days, he was a midfielder. His most notable period was with the club dear to his heart – Real Madrid. He played in Madrid for 14 years, between 1970 and 1984, winning 5 La Ligas and 4 Copa Del Reys. After that spell he worked diligently behind the scenes for almost 16 years, during which he coached the Real Madrid B side, and at times handled the first team on an interim bases during times that there were no substantive managers(11 matches in 1994 and 1 match in 1996)
The man, once described in a 2003 BBC article as being ”as cool as a cryogenically frozen cocumber”, never rushed. He was patient, working hard and taking all his chances as and when they came. He knew he would one day eventually end up in the manager’s seat at the Bernabeu on a full-time bases. Managers came and left, and humble Del Bosque was remained behind the scenes, learning, waiting.
And then it came. His time. His opportunity. On the 17th day of November 1999. The board at Real led by Lorenzo Sanz – after having problems with manager John Toshack and his non performance – felt it was time to shake things up on the technical bench, and finally time to give Del Bosque his chance. Real Madrid had been managed by a staggering 7 managers in three years. The club sought some sort of stability. There was a need to secure the services of an astute trainer for the long term. Debts were also piling up. There was the need for success. The board turned to modest Del Bosque , and he did not turn them down. He officially assumed the most popular hot seat in football on the 18th day of November, 1999.
It wasn’t exactly a high profile appointment. He wasn’t the most popular of candidates. But the board felt they had to try something new. Just like how Barcelona recruited Guardiola or Inter did Strammacioni. He had not been a manager at the top level for a full season before. Experience did not favour him. It was basically a gamble. But Del Bosque had been working with the club for almost all of his life. He knew the club well, he loved it. Above all, he was hardworking.
He had a tough job to do. John Toshack had drawn and lost most of the league games at to that point, and the team was sitting 8th on the table. There was also the Champions league, and qualification to the next round from the second group stage (Toshack had already qualified the team from the first group stage). And there was the Copa Del Rey too. The task was ginormous, and the then 48 year old Del Bosque had been thrown in at the deep end. Even though he was a faithful Madridista through and through, there was no way he was going to evade the sack if he messed up. Politics at Real meant Lorenzo Sans was virtually betting his presidential future on Del Bosque. It was more or less make or break.
He got to work in earnest, trying to juggle the demands of all three competitions and their accompanying expectations. But he held his own, remained focused, and sought to deliver.
The rookie’s success
Del Bosque finished the 1999/00 La Liga season in fifth place – a position which would have been normally disastrous for a club like Real Madrid – but it was not.
Why? They achieved a points tally of 62, only 7 points behind champions Deportivo La Coruna, impressive, considering how bad they started the season. Also, 5th position then, meant Champions League qualification – which in fact they found out they wouldn’t need, because…..
……they went on to win the Champions League itself, beating fellow Spanish club convincingly in the final, with a 3-0 win. This was after qualifying narrowly from the second group phase(above third placed Dynamo Kyiv via head to head), and subsequently flooring their quarter and semi final opponents.
It became their second triumph in four seasons. Interestingly, Del Bosque also reached the semi final of the Copa Del Rey, only losing to eventual winners Espanyol. The man who took over in medes res, amidst poor performances and instability, united the club, raised their game, and went on to secure the biggest trophy in club football. And this was all done in his first full season in his top level management career. This was, also done at the biggest, most successful club in the history of football, where the pressure is unimaginable.
The first chapter of a remarkable success story had been written.
Don Vicente went on to win six more trophies in his next three seasons at the helm, including another European Cup in 2002 as well as two La Liga titles, in what became the club’s second most successful era.