In 2008, Villarreal had more members of the Spanish national team selected for the Euros than Real Madrid. Marcos Senna, Santi Cazorla, and Joan Capdevila were all part of that roster that began what is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable four year runs any national team has ever had, winning two Euros and a World Cup. Speaking to Dermot Corrigan of The Athletic, Senna shares his thoughts on that team and what he thinks of the coach that was willing to play players from small provincial clubs if they happened to be the best at their position.
It is very difficult for a Spain coach coming off a pretty bad qualification phase to have the personality to put me into the team, even though I was playing well for Villarreal, I always remember I was never mentioned when the main papers and TV shows did their preview XIs. Before the first game of the tournament against Russia, I was not there.
They put Xabi Alonso. It happened again for the second game. I don’t know about other countries but here in Spain, if the coach does not have the personality to make big decisions, players who should be in the team are left out.
This kind of ‘personality’ has been absent from the managerial seat in Spain for a while. Often, being a bench player at Real Madrid or Barcelona is enough to warrant inclusion in the squad, and while Pau Torres is undoubtedly the best young CB the country has to offer, I don’t foresee him getting actual minutes soon as players ten years his senior cling to places they probably no longer deserve.
This personality showed itself not only in team selection but also in how he man managed his players. A star being taken off and being angry about it is a common sight in today’s game, but as Senna explains, it is not something Aragones tolerated:
The first game against Russia, Luis substituted Fernando Torres, And Torres came off showing he was angry. After the game, he didn’t say anything. But before training started the following day, he called us all over and told us, ‘Here, something has happened that I don’t want to happen again. I took El Nino — he called him El Nino — I took El Nino out of the game and he got angry. OK, that can happen. But he should get angry very far away from me. I don’t want to see that behaviour ever again’. And, of course, Fernando didn’t do it again.
As Senna tells it, current captain Sergio Ramos also had his issues that were swiftly dealt with:
Against Sweden, Luis asked Sergio Ramos not to attack, as he was playing at right-back and he wanted him to keep his position more. But Sergio Ramos attacked and attacked and attacked. The following day, the same — ‘Look, Sergio, when I tell you not to go up the pitch, you don’t go up the pitch. Because the next time, I will not say it again. You will be out’.
Ramos currently plays at the club level for a three time Champions League winning manager, and yet often imposes himself on other elite players for the prerogative of taking direct free kicks and penalties. It seems in some ways Zinedine Zidane could learn a thing or two from Aragones about ‘personality’ in the dugout.
Senna does, of course, recognize that some of his midfield mates with that Spanish national side had unbelievable quality, and how could he not with Andres Iniesta and Xavi roaming the pitch? He said that to a different level than what he was able to do at his club, he could take risks and play balls into tightly marked players with no fear of turning it over. Quite a compliment considering Villarreal’s at the time was certainly not short on quality
Aragones, of course, was not present for the rest of Spain’s peak years, as Vincente Del Bosque took over for World Cup 2010. It must be said that this was mismanagement on the part of Spain’s FA. They did not renew Aragones’ contract before the tournament and the coach was sniped away before it ended. But when you can sign a Champions winning manager to replace him and you still have the most talented national team roster on earth, things can work out.
That said, Senna believes that he never would have been able to share in 2008’s glory if Del Bosque had been the coach. Lacking the ‘personality’ of Aragones, Del Bosque practiced what many of us have come to expect from Spain managers in recent years, and Senna was dropped from the squad for both the Confederations Cup of 2009 (where Spain when out to the United States Men’s National Team) and World Cup 2010.
For Senna, their 2008 squad was better than the one which won the World Cup. He thinks Del Bosque’s more conservative approach held them back. I can understand why he feels this way, but World Cups are different animals to Euros, and I don’t think you can approach them as aggressively. Del Bosque’s 2012 Euro Final against Italy remains the greatest display of passing football I think I’ve ever seen, and so I’m inclined to give the former Real Madrid manager the benefit of the doubt tactically even if I think he shied away from the tough decisions in squad selection. Fortunately for Spain, their player pool was so deep at the time there were as many as forty different names that could have gone to tournaments and Spain still be the most talented team there.
As we all know, the magic fell apart after that 2012 final and the national team has never been quite the same sense. As we wait on all football, we have seen Euro 2020 moved to 2021, which may push it too far for some of our hometown names like Albiol and Cazorla to be included in the squad. That said, I firmly believe Pau Torres, Gerard Moreno, and Paco Alcacer should all be included in the tournament next summer, and it remains to be seen whether Luis Enrique has the ‘personality’ to make the tough calls in the face of RREF politics.