By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
So many setbacks. Spain's side in 2006 was a troubled team scarred by decades of disillusion, disappointment and despair. But one man changed all that.
Luis Aragones assembled a strong side ahead of the World Cup in 2006 and, as so often before, la Roja were among the favourites to claim football's greatest prize. But when it came to the crunch, Spain lost out in the second round to France. "We don't know how to compete," said Raul. And he was right. When it mattered most, Spain were found wanting.
Aragones was a wanted man. "Listen when I tell you," he had said a month before the competition. "I will win the World Cup." And the former Mallorca and Atletico Madrid coach had gone even further, claiming he would quit the post if Spain were not successful in Germany.
But as the seeds of doubt were sewn that night in Hannover, Aragones began to look ahead to a new Spain - a triumphant team to conquer the world. "It's a failure," he said. "Anything other than getting to the final is a failure - no doubt about that - and I am the one responsible."
The career of Luis Aragones
|5||Luis won five trophies as a player with Atletico Madrid in the 1960s & 70s.|
|9||Aragones coached nine different clubs and won nine titles, including the Copa del Rey at Barcelona.|
|11||He made 11 appearances as a player for Spain, scoring two goals.|
|54||Took charge of 54 Spain games, winning 38. More importantly, he led la Roja to Euro 2008 success.|
|537||He coached the club he loved most, Atletico, in 537 games across four spells, winning 252 of those.|
|1,048||Total games as coach, with a return of 486 wins, 254 draws and 308 defeats.|
Backed by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and confident he could turn things around, Aragones stayed on. But before things got better, they got worse. Defeat to Sweden and then Northern Ireland in Euro 2008 qualifying left Luis on the brink and brought renewed reflection. Something had to change.
It did. Aragones' club sides had been known for their ability to do damage on the break and the coach had even been dubbed "the king of the counter-attack". But that didn't suit Spain. It was time to play to their strengths: passing and possession.
"After the game against Northern Ireland, I opted for a change of direction," Aragones admitted. That meant technical football - and the birth of Tiki Taka. Out went players like Joaquin, Miguel Angel Angulo, David Albelda, Antonio Lopez and, most controversially of all, Raul. "I considered that [Fernando] Torres and [David] Villa were better and I told him that. He struggled to understand and accept it, but I was the boss," Aragones explained.
Just over a year later, the veteran coach exploded when confronted by a set of supporters pushing for Raul’s reinstatement. "Do you know how many World Cups Raul has been to?” Aragones answered, in earshot of a television camera. "Three. How many European Championships? Two. And how many World Cups have we won with Raul? None."
It was not the first time he had courted controversy. Previously under pressure from a race row, when he was allegedly overheard describing France’s Thierry Henry as a 'black piece of s***', Aragones endured a rocky relationship with the Spanish media. But the RFEF remained behind him - and so did the players.
On the pitch, Spain's style changed - and so did the results. Brazilian-born midfielder Marcos Senna brought strength to the centre of the park to complement the ball-playing abilties of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, David Silva et al, while the Torres-Villa partnership prospered with four goals for the latter en route to the final of Euro 2008 and the winner for Fernando in the showpiece against Germany.
From the brink of the abyss in September 2006, suddenly Spain were on the crest of a wave - their players praised and their football lauded. In the space of two years, Aragones had turned la Roja from also-rans to champions of Europe - but that was only the beginning.
|Luis Aragones changed the history of Spanish football"
- Iker Casillas
The RFEF hoped Aragones would continue, but he had given everything. Instead, he stood down and was replaced by Vicente del Bosque. In his absence, however, the team kept winning: a World Cup followed in 2010, then the Euro was retained in 2012. But it all started with Luis.
"Luis has been a key figure in Spanish sport," Del Bosque said on Saturday. "He marked the road to this successful era." Tributes from former players and coaches also poured in. "Thank you for everything you did for me," Torres added, while Iker Casillas remembered: "Luis Aragones changed the history of Spanish football."
Just over a week ago, the Spain skipper had said winning Euro 2008 had meant more than any other trophy. "That was the most special moment," he stated. "Even more than the World Cup." Because that was when Spain's story changed - and it was all thanks to Luis Aragones.
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