Óscar Washington Tabárez was appointed coach of the Uruguayan national team on March 6, 2006. That means that he will have been 10 years at the helm when Uruguay takes on Brazil in the third round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. He took over for Ferrin and became Uruguay’s fifth coach in four years. Under Tabárez, Uruguay “sneaked” into the 2010 World Cup through the inter-continental playoffs and had an amazing 2010 World Cup, finishing fourth. Uruguay then followed that with the 2011 Copa America title, their first since 1995! But in the last few years, the team’s success has been fleeting. The only highlights during the 2014 World Cup were wins against two European “giants”, Italy and England before bowing out to Colombia in the Round of 16. And forget any talk about success at the 2015 Copa America.
For some of la Celeste’s supporters, Tabárez is untouchable, the most successful Uruguayan coach of all time, the man that pulled Uruguay out of the Dark Ages. While for others, he is a frustrating figure whose team plays a defensive, uncreative, bland football, a coach whose blind faith in aging veterans compromises the continued success and evolution of Uruguayan soccer, a coach who is wasting the talents of a new generation of Uruguayan stars such as De Arrascaeta, Vecino, etc. These people look around at other footballing nations and see how they have re-defined themselves and are asking for Uruguayan football to evolve. But just how long does it take to transform or revolutionize a country’s football tradition?
Today, Spanish football is seen as probably the most technical, eye-pleasing style in the world. The nickname “Furia Roja”, or Red Fury, was coined by a foreign journalist to describe the type of football that Spain played back in 1920 as it won a silver medal at the Olympics. It was a direct, aggressive style inherited from Athletic Bilbao who were heavily influenced by the English game. Over the years, Spain developed a more technical style influenced by the influx of great foreign coaches like Cruyff, Menotti, etc.
The story of the “Furia Roja” was, prior to Euro 2008, the story about perennial under-achievers. After the 1920 Olympic silver medal, Spain’s next crown came forty-four years later with the Euro 1964 crown on home turf. Every tournament, there was always the renewed hope that the “Furia Roja” would finally break the jinx.
Aragonés, el Sabio de Hortaleza, started the football revolution when he took over after Euro 2004 and one of his first actions was to purge the dressing room; the 2006 squad carried only six players – Casillas, Puyol, Xavi, Joaquin, Arbeloa and Raul – from the 2002 team. He would continue to shed egos from the national team after losses in the Euro 2008 qualifiers to Ireland and Sweden. The exclusion of famed Real Madrid striker Raul sparked national debate. Slowly, Aragonés was forming his own version of the “equipo de memoria”. Slowly, a coach accustomed to fielding seasoned veteran teams on his club teams was beginning to depend on the youth – Xavi, Iniesta, Ramos, Silva, Fabregas, Torres and Cazorla.
And Aragonés began forging an identity for the Spanish team, he intentionally stopped reference to the team as the “seleccion nacional” since it caused issues with the autonomous regions; he dropped the “furia” and referred to the team as “La Roja”. He introduced a game based on possession and constant and fast touches on the ball, coupled with intense, high pressing. Initially taking the shape of 4-1-4-1, Aragonés placed special attention to the midfield where he placed “ball handling” players like Xavi and Iniesta. Many would suggest that he was copying the Barcelona model. But this team was not entirely a “tiki-taka” team; in fact, none of Spain’s first six goals in Euro 2008 came from “tiki-taka”: five came from direct breaks and one from a set play. This possession game even marked a change in Aragonés’ personal philosophy, he had been known as the master of the counter-attack, first as a player and then as a coach at Malaga and Atletico Madrid.
Everybody will point out that he was fortunate to have high calibre players produced by the club “canteras”. The concept of “cantera” had been around since the early days of Athletic Bilbao who adopted a Basque-only policy in its inception. But it became more wide-spread with the creation of academies in other clubs during the 70’s such as Lezama (Athletic Bilbao) in 1971, Mareo (Sporting de Gijón) in 1978 and world-renown La Masia (Barcelona) in 1979. Real Madrid was actually a pioneer in this area when they created the Ciudad Deportiva in 1963, which was subsequently replaced by Valdebebas in 2003. The Spanish federation also created their own La Ciudad del Fútbol de Las Rozas in 2003. Aragonés made the decision to put his trust in “los bajitos” like Xavi, Iniesta and Silva. He was able to appreciate Xavi’s talent at a time back in 2005 when Xavi was not even a consistent starter in Rijkaard’s Barcelona squad and was playing a deeper (more defensive) role, he was slotted in the same position Guardiola had played years earlier. He gave Xavi the “batuta” or conductor’s baton and Spain won their first title in 44 years at Euro 2008. Aragonés resigned after Euro 2008 and del Bosque took over but maintained the same style (albeit with a 4-3-3) which saw Spain win the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
End of Part 1.
- España: de la furia a la excelencia en cuatro años mágicos
- Sabio de Contra y Miel
- “Si usted tiene el balón nadie se lo quitará”
- España: La actual potencia futbolística europea