Sunday 7 July 2002

Camacho Faces the weight of his own Expectations

The burden of expectation weighs heavy on the former international defender, Jose Antonio Camacho, who manages his national side in this 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea. As a player in the seventies and eighties for Real Madrid, Camacho’s style was uncompromising - all about passion and commitment. His combination of skill, athleticism and sheer grit made him a very special player in a league that was dotted with technique and touch of foreign imports. These were the times of “La Liga’s” first coming, when after the 1974 World Cup stars like Brazilian Mario Marinho; Germans Gunther Netzer and Paul Breitner, Argentineans, Ruben Ayala and Dutchmen, Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens moved to Spain to earn their keep. It was also a time when the dominance of Spanish teams had not been the same as it was in the previous decade, as there was no great successes in the European Cup.

The international side failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup and failed miserably in Argentina in 1978 when they did qualify. During those years Camacho’s star was rising and he was soon to become one of the outstanding domestic players. On match days his role invariably was against those famous imports in a man-to-man marking role. His tussles with Johan Cruyff in the matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona, are legendary in Spain, with the Dutchman rarely the winner. With a career that included 415 games for Real Madrid between 1973 -1989, he won 9 league titles, 3 cups, 1 Supercup and 2 UEFA Cups.

Going into this tournament Camacho was clear that the failures of the past needed to be surmounted and the varying performances of previous tournaments needed improvement. It was his objective that in 2002, Spain would fulfil their potential and at least go home after playing their best and not as in past years, where bizarre goals had seen them eliminated. Let’s not forget that Spain qualified for this tournament without defeat, something that they have managed consistently in the past few tournaments and having played at international level 81 times himself, Camacho was invariably on the receiving end of some of those poor results, and remain ingrained in his memory. As Spain’s the third most capped player, he also played in the world cups of 1982 at home in Spain and in Mexico 1986.

In taking the job as National Manager, Jose Antonio Camacho did so with no clear pedigree at that level of football and having won no major titles in that capacity. As coach of the Madrid side, Rayo Vallecano, some years ago, he did get them promoted to the 1st Division in his first year and then moved to Barcelona, where he got the other team in the city, Espanyol, promoted in his first season in charge. They also qualified for the UEFA Cup under his charge, which was no mean achievement given they were considered the “poorer” side of the Catalan capital. It was this part of his career after Espanyol that was unusually turbulent, as he spent a brief period with Sevilla, before getting the call to manage his “alma mater”, Real Madrid Club de Futbol. What looked like a dream partnership and a homecoming lasted only 22 days and without a game played while he was in charge, Camacho left the club. When the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) lost Javier Clemente after the World Cup of 1998 and he departed under controversy, they looked for youthful alternatives with passion and commitment. The names all lead to one candidate.

In considering Camacho they overlooked his empty trophy cabinet as a manager and trusted his integrity and tenacity as keys to success. His name invoked the memories of his defiant and uncompromising style of play and so the Spanish Federation (RFEF) offered him a contract that covered the Euro 2000 Championships and this World Cup. In doing so, Spain brought a new style of play to the world stage which has been helped by the quality of “La Liga” as we know it, which has again been flooded by world class players. More importantly, there is a crop of current Spanish players that are a class apart; names like Raul, Valeron, Tristan and Luis Enrique come to mind.

For the record, the Spanish manager is no great lover of the Spanish press, who have in their time brought down many a national manager in Spain and never more so than in 1982 when as host nation they failed to ignite the aspirations of the Spanish people. Once the tournament was over the manager. Jose Maria Santamaria, and the players suffered the consequences and in coming to this World Cup, and following their quarterfinal defeat to the eventual winners France in Euro 2000, Spain are very focussed on fulfilling their potential. Their natural 4-4-2 style of the past few seasons contrasts sharply with the style of his predecessors, and so far has yielded positive results, given that they took maximum points out of Group D, having beaten Paraguay, South Africa and Slovenia. As well as the nine points, they have also scored nine goals, three of which have come from Real Madrid hero, Raul Gonzalez.

In approaching the game against Ireland, Camacho and his squad have been largely respectful, claiming that winning their own group was their first objective as it also allows for another day of rest, given the match against Ireland is on Sunday, and Germany play their game on Saturday. As the game approaches though, Jose Antonio Camacho will be looking to his players to deliver to their maximum and if they do Ireland could be under pressure. However, Camacho will also feel the past haunting him when events have often overcome the Spanish team and seen them vanquish themselves in front of lesser opponents.

On this occasion they will not be underestimating Ireland no matter what the papers say, as Camacho knows too well his own weak points. He will direct the game plan as he always has approached big matches like this, uncompromisingly and with a focus on winning. It could be that this side have inherited his “winners” instinct and they could go far in this tournament. On the other hand he also knows himself there are hurdles out there that have yet to be overcome and one of them is Mick McCarthy’s team.

“It is always said that we are candidates to win titles and we never win anything” said Spanish Manager, Jose Antonio Camacho, in a press conference in Spain last month before leaving for Japan and Korea, “The players that come to this tournament need to convince themselves that we are playing for the title”.

Although some of the media have mustered some less complimentary pieces about the technique of Ireland, Camacho recognises that the match against Ireland will not be won with newspapers column inches. “They will be difficult, they are also unbeaten in their group, with a formation that is compact and hard to breakdown. To beat them will not be easy”, said Jose Antonio Camacho.

Real Madrid Manager, Del Bosque wrote in Spanish Daily El Paris
“Ireland will not be easy opponents, they are naturally competitive and have a special spirit… Not only that, they also have quality players; Harte, Kelly, Kinsella and Robbie Keane.”

“The real tournament starts now,” explained Raul to El Pais after the match against South Africa. “We have seen how France and Argentina have gone home. If you are not 100%, it won’t be enough. Ireland have impressed me and I have enjoyed watching their play so far.”