Del Bosque convinced everything will be all right on the night for champions

Spain's astute coach can calm any frayed nerves as his tired team seeks to make history

Gdansk

In a nation where Pep Guardiola prowled the touchline in bespoke suits and Jose Mourinho once saw his Armani overcoat sell for £22,000, the national team is led by a man whose walrus moustache and comfortable frame give him the look of Grandpa Potts in Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang.

Vicente del Bosque's name translates as Vince Woods, a name that fits him better than his suits as Spain prepare to go where no other nation, not even Brazil, have travelled and win three major tournaments on the trot. In Belgrade in 1976, West Germany came within a penalty shoot-out of doing it, the only time they have ever lost a game from 12 yards out.

"I remember that match," said Del Bosque. "And it only goes to show that good teams, even very good teams, can lose." The European Championship has never successfully been defended, and even the world and European champions face pitfalls.

Two of the great props of their victorious campaign in South Africa, Carles Puyol and David Villa, are missing, although Cesc Fabregas, David Silva and Juan Mata are older and better.

Theirs is not a group of death but it contains Italy and Croatia, who can inflict savage wounds and, with Barcelona's season ending with the Copa del Rey on 25 May, there has been little time for preparation. Warm-ups against Portugal and Argentina have been lost by a collective scoreline of 8-1. The 1-0 victory over China in Seville that finished their preparations was, Del Bosque said, "sluggish".

Yet Del Bosque is famously adept at calming frayed nerves. A man associated with Madrid for 33 years won the World Cup with a core of Barcelona players. When Steve McManaman joined Real Madrid in 1999, Raul said that the home dressing room was "a cesspit of lies, treachery and whispers". Within a year, Del Bosque had turned them into champions of Europe.

The methods he used were the same as those he employed in South Africa. At the Spanish base in Potchefstroom, he encouraged card schools, pool tournaments and shopping trips, the kind of strategy Kevin Keegan had been vilified for during Euro 2000 but which bonded those from Real and Barça.

In an interview with the Munich newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, he said he understood that: "Your players are the same as your sons; they will not understand if you just scream at them. You have to persuade them through the force of your argument."

Del Bosque is 61 and there is something of Sir Alex Ferguson about the way he reminisces about days when "dressing rooms were utterly still, like inside a cathedral". Now, he laments, they are given over to music and loud voices, though there is no hairdryer.

Del Bosque has always understood the art of compromise. He grew up at a Real Madrid that was caricatured as the plaything of General Franco. His father loathed the dictatorship and would turn off the television whenever the Spanish national anthem began.

Del Bosque was 13 when Franco came to the Bernabeu to see Spain win their first European Championship, overcoming the great enemy, the Soviet Union, and 19 when he made his debut in the same stadium.

It was this ability to head for the middle ground that enabled him to soothe egos and take Real to a summit they have never scaled since. Having told McManaman he would never play for Madrid again, he was persuaded to turn him into the pivotal figure that saw him win two European Cups.

It was the time of the galacticos that doomed Del Bosque; when the club president, Florentino Perez, would turn Real Madrid into the most marketable, if not necessarily the most successful, club on the planet. Del Bosque was characterised as a genial old buffer who was insufficiently glamorous for the new order which David Beckham was about to join.

His squad had just celebrated their latest La Liga title when Del Bosque was sacked. His captain, Fernando Hierro, was so outraged that he, too, was fired. Perez announced the club required a manager who "placed more emphasis on tactics, strategy and physical preparation". His successor was Carlos Queiroz. He now manages Iran.

For six long years, the man who had made Real Madrid his life never set foot in the Bernabeu. When Spain won the World Cup, the procession culminated not there, but at the Vicente Calderon, the home of Real's rivals, Atletico. It was a revenge of sorts.

There were honours, too. The World Cup meant he is no longer Vicente Del Bosque, no longer Vince Woods, but the First Marquis, the Duke of Del Bosque. As a title, it beats "Sir Alf".

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