Ladies and gentlemen, in the red and blue corner, Mister Pep Guardiola. Credentials: three La Liga titles, two Uefa Champions League honours, one Copa del Rey, a whole host of Supercups and the greatest beard in the world. And the guy is 40 years old. And, in the red with gold trim and-a-gold-star-above-the-crest corner, Vicente del Bosque. CV includes taking Real Madrid to two La Liga titles and two Uefa Champions league trophies, the most successful period in Madrid’s modern era. And... the best moustache in the world? Maybe not, but he does have that one knock-out blow, his haymaker, his upper cut… a World Cup Winners medal.
So who deserves the credit for this new era of Spanish football dominance? Pep's Barcelona, the best team ever? Currently tearing apart every team in Europe? Or del Bosque's Spain, currently ripping apart every team in the world? Who's helped who out?
There are obvious similarities. The Tiki-Taka style of both teams, which was originally introduced by Luis Aragones who forced it onto the Spain Euro 2008 team. Both managers have the luxury of Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Villa, Fabregas, Thiago, Pique, Puyol and Valdes. Both managers are hugely talented no doubt and their individual honours speak for themselves. The main difference is that, for some reason, all I ever hear is Pep, Pep, Pep...
This certainly is not undeserved. I'm fairly certain I love the man, but I can't help thinking that Vicente del Bosque doesn't get the credit he rightfully should. I have a certain soft spot for a man who can win a WorldCup. It shows character, patience, tactical awareness and expertise. And a man that has won one of them, AND a couple of Champions Leagues is one of a kind. (Actually, two of a kind; thanks a lot Marcello Lippi for spoiling my point.)
I've been led to believe, being an England fan, that there is no easy international fixtures. To a certain degree this statement is true, although David Silva playing in the not too familiar position of lone striker would maybe disagree after a night up against Gary Caldwell and Christophe Berra...ok let's throw Bardsley and Hutton in as well. That game was easy and it was easy because Vicente del Bosque makes it easy. Renowned as a 'lovely man' he appears to have no ego. Its all about the players with del Bosque and certainly not about him. He has moulded the Spanish players into a carefully tuned unit and more importantly into world beaters.
Deciding not to tinker with the tactics that Aragones had introduced, he simply embraced them. He does it the easy way, he picks what is working and sticks by it. Del Bosque has a extremely laid back managerial mentality, and is rarely animated when on the sideline of a Spain match no matter what the occasion. A style heavily criticised by British press when trying to figure out what the exact problem with Fabio Capello is. Bosque lets his players do the talking and if they need a Fabregas for a Xavi swap or a Llorente for a Torres he will gracefully oblige and put the wheels in motion. Surely you and I could do that? Easiest job in the world, right? Wrong.
No-one else can really do it. Try telling Diego Maradona it's easy. There are superstars Kun Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Javier Pastore for your attack and you can have arguably the best holding midfielders in the world, Cambiasso and Mascherano as your midfield duo, oh and finally there’s the best footballer that's ever lived to get you some goals.( I haven't even mentioned Carlos Tevez, although he'll probably think the last sentence was about him.) But it didn't work out like that. Egos got in the way, Maradona wouldn't play Higuain, or even select Cambiasso, favouring the ever aging Juan Seba Veron. Weird.
Few other names from that last World Cup; Henry, Ribery, Evra, Nasri, Gourcuff...Domenech. I won't go on.
Del Bosque calmly goes about his business and demonstates the same disciplines as Guardiola enforces at Barca. Again this is perceived again as a simple job. It’s not. The task of trying to emulate a La Masia born Catalan hero was quite a handful in itself, but one he has achieved. It's almost like Guardiola is the father and Del Bosque the step-father which, let's be honest, is never an easy relationship. But for Del Bosque it has. Xavi failing to emulate his club performances for his country is unheard of; Silva and Cazorla carry on their club form, trying to impress Del Bosque by shining when given starts; and Fernando Torres plays rubbish for both... This can't be a coincidence. Has there been even the slightest whimper of a dressing room upset, a player-walking-straight-down-the-tunnel moment, a silly red card? These things don't happen under Del Bosque.
You could argue that Guardiola doesn't have much bother with his boys either, but bust-ups with Ibrahimovic, Samuel Eto'o and Yaya Toure suggest that it’s not always rosy at the Camp Nou. I would put the sale of Samuel Eto'o as possibly the worst transfer in history and one which cost Pep the achievement of back to back Champions League honours, something that has never been achieved before. To put it simply, you don't sell the best striker in the world in his prime, ever. Not ever. Not even for 6ft 5's worth of Zlatan (especially if you don't want to use a target man formation) This is by no means having a dig at Guardiola. He is the master. He is possibly God. But he has a more carefully crafted selection process, and the people who he doesn't get on with, he ships off to Milan-based sides. Pep has a vision of the type of player he wants. There were never going to be any problems with signing Cesc were there?
Del Bosque is stuck with players like them or not - you can't exactly drop Iniesta if he's getting a bit to cocky for the dressing room atmosphere. The fans would revolt and you can't just sign Alexis Sanchez to cheer them up.
Del Bosque built up a run of one defeat in 49 games prior to the World Cup. Ignoring that little Gelson Fernandes moment, they stormed the World Cup untouched. This sparked immediate admiration for the players and lifted the likes of Busquets, Pique and Ramos into world class footballers (actual world class that is, not Steven Gerrard world class). It also reiterated just how good Xavi, Iniesta and Villa are and gave Iker Casillas the best moment of his career when lifting the Fifa World Cup Trophy. Del Bosque on the other hand had got what he's always wanted; the talk was all about the players. I'm not going to let him off that easily.
When Barcelona win it's about the unit, the family, Guardiola included, If Spain win, it's about how well Barcelona's players played and the 'easiest job in the world' line rises to the lips of many. The tactics and spirit that Del Bosque has retained for his three years in charge is persistently unrecognised. The fact is, Del Bosque is not just a good man. He's a very good coach. The perception that he just picks his superstars and stand back while they Tiki-Taka their way to goal seems rather far fetched.
His track record proves that he isn't shy of a tactical experiment or player rotation. He will take a gamble when neccessary. The Spain job wouldn't have phased Del Bosque too much. His stint at Madrid gave him vast experience of dealing with big names, big egos and Steve McManaman. People seem unwilling to recall his days at Madrid, in which he captured their 8th European cup. Yes he had Zidane, Figo and Ronaldo but again he kept them grounded, happy and playing as a group and not individuals. Ask Capello, Schuster, Ramos, and Pellegrini how hard that is. He instigated the three centre backs and two wing backs formation in that team, using Roberto Carlos and Michel Salgado as high pressuring full-backs designed to give more freedom for the attacking midfielders.
He gambled with the Spain World Cup team. He picked Sergio Busquets who was probably cleaning Puyols boots during the European Championships whilst playing in the third division. In the World Cup Busquets played every single game and was fantastic. Remember when Sven made the Walcott selection? Imagine the exact opposite impact. Del Bosque also selected Llorente, Navas, Pedro and Martinez. The latter two had never played for Spain before. He set up a criticised 4-2-2-2 attacking formation playing Busquets and Alonso extremely deep, something Manchester City are starting to get results with now. The formation also showed faith in Torres who was simply not scoring goals. Villa was, though. Playing Torres allowed Villa more space and the ability to cut in from wider areas, leading to an array of right footed curlers into the opponent goal’s top corner. Every single player appeared at some point in that World Cup, proving that you can't just select Xavi, Villa and Puyol and win the World Cup. The inclusions of Pedro, Navas, Silva, Llorente and Cesc were all picked to perfection and normally against the odds. Could you have dropped Torres against a German outfit who fields Per Mertersacker? Del Bosque did, and went with Pedro and 4-3-2-1 for the first time in the tournament. Pedro's flair and movement was key in the 1-0 win. In The Final, the introduction of Fabregas in extra time led to one touch, lovely through ball, Iniesta, goal. Job done.
You have to remember that he does all this without Leo Messi.
When you think Barca you think Messi. Barcelona's talisman, hero and possibly greatest ever player. He has put La Liga on the map. But he is Argentinian. He plays in Blue and White, not Red, on the international stage. He gives any 2-3-1 formation backbone and poise because he can move around anywhere across the front, he allows Pedro, Villa, and Alexis to roam freely. This differentiates the Spanish National Team from Barcelona as they tend to play a more traditional two up front. Torres is not Messi, which indicates further that just because Barcelona are dominating Spain it doesn't automatically mean Spain will cruise the Euros and World Cup again. Barcelona's hype has dampened Del Bosque's credentials and cast a shadow over his work. This should not be the case.
Barcelona have always been successful and although Guardiola has turned them into a superteam, they had previous successes. This is not to be said about Spain. It's not like they have never had talent. Players such as Raul, Hierro, Valeron, Joaqium, Vicente, Morientes, Cassillas, Xavi, Puyol, Helguera used to be the players getting knocked out of major competitions and people throwing away their betting slips after thinking for the third time 'this will be Spains year' became a cliche. If Real Madrid has won nine European Champions' titles, three Intercontinental Cups and two UEFA Cups wouldn't it be logical for the national team to have been European champions three or four times and World champions at least once? But it never was the case.
Del Bosque added the final touch to a fantastic five years of Spanish Football. He didn't crumble like so many people have before. He used quiet authority and tactical ruthlessness to make the World Cup look effortless. This is a testament to just how good he is. He manages the egos of the top players from the best teams in world without breaking sweat. Guardiola is indulged by his La Masia proteges and his Barcelona family, Del Bosque keeps the nation in check, no doubt a task Guardiola will face at some stage in his career.
Del Bosque will always be the man who brought Spain there first World Cup ever and this achievement should not be overlooked; the fact that he has two European Cup medals shouldn't be either. Yes he's done it with the best, but the best can sometimes be the worst. He had no bother with Madrid or Spain, a lot of others certainly have.
"They say I don't talk much," Del Bosque says. "It's not about how much or how little you say, it's about saying the right amount."
At a time where Barcelona can do no wrong, dare I say he's better than Pep?