DEFENDING CHAMPIONS SPAIN and Ireland may be some distance apart in footballing terms — but tomorrow night’s meeting at Euro 2012 will show they do have something in common.
The Group C rivals are both coached by two highly experienced coaches of the ‘old school’ in Vicente Del Bosque and Giovanni Trapattoni, the septuagenarian Italian doyen of the tournament.
Not for them the more modern, aimed-at-the-media pre-match polemics of a Jose Mourinho. Rather the quiet incarnation of the fostering an attitude of calm in the ranks and stressing the importance of fair play.
An essence — throwbacks to a different age.
And yet, this is their age – not least for Del Bosque, who led Spain to the 2010 World Cup and who is seeking to make Spain the first nation to land three consecutive major tournaments after his predecessor Luis Aragones lifted Euro 2008.
Few can match the experience of the Del Bosque, serial trophy winner with Real Madrid – they endeavoured to sack him despite two Champions League triumphs – and ‘Trap,’ who has landed shoals of honours around Europe, most notably with Juventus and Bayern Munich.
Del Bosque, 61, is 12 years younger than his rival, who took the reins with Ireland in 2008 and is renowned for being able to deal with egos – a most useful quality in the modern game.
The BBC once decribed the “shy, moustachioed man from Salamanca” as being “cool as a cryogenically-frozen cucumber.”
That was a further useful quality as he inured himself, with his sacking at Real, to the vicissitudes of political power-brokering behind the scenes at such a huge institution.
Del Bosque has furthermore become a master of getting the best out of the side despite the enduring ‘cultural’ split on Real Madrid-Barcelona lines. With a World Cup win also on his CV he has strong armour-plating with which to see off those who would criticise him – even if he had a strange reluctance to field any strikers against Italy in the opening game.
He also has the royal seal of approval after King Juan Carlos bestowed the title of 1st Marquis of Del Bosque upon him after masterminding Spain’s first World Cup.
As for 73-year-old Trapattoni, the oldest coach in the history of the tournament, he could be the great-grandfather of Holland’s Jetro Williams, the youngest player at the event having just turned 18.
In practice, the old adage ‘age does not weary them’ applies to the championships given that Otto Rehhagel was 65 when the German lifted the title against all expectations with Greece in 2004 and Aragones was at 69 also of pensionable age when he won with the Spanish four years ago.
Trapattoni adopts an equally sanguine approach – save for one notable tirade in his short spell with Bayern and in any case he was a spring chicken in his 50s in those days.
The Italian has made sure there is no danger of cultivating distance between the generations having explained before the tournament that he always makes sure he avoids using the expression ‘in my day’ to players half a century younger than he. If the Irish will have to go some to cause the one of the biggest upsets in the history of the competition, there is no evidence to suggest that either man in the dugout is past his sell by date.
‘Trap’ showed as much by evoking the spirit of underdogs Chelsea holding on to edge out Bayern in the Champions League final, as they had Barcelona before them, showing he is still an expert player of the footballing mind games so beloved of another septuagenarian, Alex Ferguson.