Although nothing has yet been made official, Vicente del Bosque’s eight-year reign as Spain coach came to an end as his side lost its Euro 2016 last 16 tie 2-0 to Italy in Paris on Monday evening.
Those eight years have seen Spain win the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championship while setting new standards of excellence with their fluid passing game.
However, the first signs of decline were visible in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup, where poor preparation saw the Spanish fail to get out of the group stage in Brazil, while this summer ends in disappointment after starting so positively with wins against the Czech Republic and Turkey.
Defeat to Croatia in the final group game landed Spain with a game against Italy and a hyper-motivated and well-organized Italy had just one thought in mind: to avenge its 4-0 defeat in the 2012 final.
Del Bosque tried to put on a brave face following the defeat when asked about his future, saying he would speak to Spanish Football Federation president Angel Maria Villar about his decision.
However, the Spanish press are unanimous in what the decision should be and the debate now is not whether the dignified and honorable 65-year-old should stay or go, but who should be his replacement.
Del Bosque’s main strength as a coach has been his lightness of touch to maintain harmony with a group of players and to leave club rivalries (especially from the Real Madrid and FC Barcelona camps) outside the national team dressing room.
That and his philosophy that ‘if it isn’t broken don’t try to fix it’ has worked well when his players were at their best, but the generation which brought glory to Spain is now getting older, Xavi Hernandez has hung up his international boots, Iker Casillas was substitute in this tournament while Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos and even David Silva are now in their 30’s and although he has handed out debuts to youngsters, Del Bosque’s conservatism eventually saw him pick a squad which differed only slightly from that which failed in Brazil.
Players such as Saul Niguez were left at home and the feeling is now is the time for new blood, both on the pitch and in the dugout. Even Gerard Pique admitted after Monday’s defeat that Spain was “not as good as we used to be.”
The problem is: who should be the next man in charge? Spain’s best coaches. Pep Guardiola (whose pro-Catalan independence feelings would make it hard for him to be accepted by many fans), and Ernesto Valverde already have jobs, while Unai Emery looks bound for Paris Saint Germain, considerably reducing the pool of available talents.
That has made former Sevilla, Athletic Club, Granada and Mallorca coach Joaquin Caparros the favorite to replace Del Bosque and Caparros is a man with very different football ideas. His belief in order, workrate and a solid defense, contrasts sharply with Del Bosque’s beliefs in more open play. Thus Del Bosque’s departure will be the end of an era in more ways than one.