más secretos – champions of the world I
Here we go with Más secretos de la Roja… (illustrated with moments from the Confederations Cup jersey photoshoot with Adidas).
Champions of the World.
Vicente del Bosque closed the folder and turned off the light in his office. It was the afternoon of May 18, 2010. Normally, he usually left Las Rozas earlier, many times to attend events. But this day wasn’t like any other one, because he had just made what could be the most important decision since he had taken on the role of national team coach. After a meeting of over two hours with his staff, Del Bosque had chosen the 23 footballers who would represent Spain in the upcoming World Cup.
Until this moment, Del Bosque had used 33 footballers. Ten of them had their debuts with the senior team under Del Bosque: Piqué, Busquets, Navas, Llorente, Mata, Monreal, Negredo, Iraola, Capel and Pablo Hernández. The coach’s primary obsession was to be fair. From the time he took on the position, he had tried to avoid leaks. In the majority of the cases, he was successful, and the most important call-up was no exception. Five days before, the federation had made public the preliminary list of 30 footballers required by FIFA. Del Bosque had included five goalkeepers (Casillas, Reina, Valdés, Diego López, David de Gea), and had chosen three players who had never been called up before for the senior team: Azpilicueta, Javi Martínez and Pedro.
The definitive list would be made public on May 20. On that day, Del Bosque met again with his staff to finalize the details. Before the decision was announced, Fernando Hierro called four people on the phone: Marcos Senna, Cazorla, Güiza and Diego López. Of that day, he says, “if I had been a player, I would have liked for someone to give me a heads up before the press found out. I believed calling them was my responsibility and Vicente thought that was a good idea. I knew that the four of them deserved to be thanked for their commitment and the fantastic way they had been with us. The only one I couldn’t reach was Senna, who was in Brazil. I got a hold of him a few days later. Güiza was really affected by the decision…”
Following that, Del Bosque read out the list of 23 players from memory, pausing between each name. Eight footballers who had played under Del Bosque were left without the World Cup: Bojan, Capel, Iraola, Juanito, Riera, Pablo Hernández, Monreal and Negredo.
That afternoon, Víctor Valdés had gone to the pediatrician with his wife and son Dylan. During the appointment, he turned off his phone. When he left, he turned it back on and found that he had received hundreds of messages. One of the first ones was from his friend Andrés Iniesta, who congratulated him for the call-up.
Being named on the list forced some of the footballers to change their vacation plans. Javi Martínez received the news while in Ibiza, as he and several of his Athletic teammates were celebrating Joseba Etxeberría’s retirement. Javi had to cancel a road trip along the west coast of the U.S. that he had planned with four childhood friends. Pedro had been sitting in front of the television in Abades, along with his parents. He jumped up from the sofa when he heard Del Bosque say his name. He also had to cancel a trip.
Three days before the list was made official, Torres and Cesc had undergone medical tests in Madrid to determine whether they had recovered from their respective injuries. Iniesta had already recovered from his and was set to play in the last match of the Liga. The month of April had been especially hard for the team. On April 13, Iniesta had his third muscle injury of the season, a tear to the femoral biceps of his right leg, the exact same injury he had suffered two weeks before. One day before that, Torres fell badly during a game and he hurt his knee. Despite that, he finished the game and scored two goals. The next day, the knee had swollen up and the pain had increased. Fernando had had surgery on that right knee in January, and he had been out for a month. This time it was confirmed that his meniscus was broken. He had surgery, and the estimated time out was six weeks. Torres traveled to Galicia for the rehabilitation work, first in Vigo and then Santiago. He said after the World Cup, “I wanted to play in the World Cup. If I had to have half or all of the meniscus removed and my playing career would be shortened by three to four years, I didn’t care. I knew that Spain could win the World Cup and I wanted to be there.” Cesc, in a game against Barcelona in the Champions League, was taken down by Puyol and a penalty was called. He made the penalty, but felt a pain in his leg. That night, he returned home on crutches and the next day a small crack was found in his right fibula. The time out was estimated at six weeks. Cesc said, “if I got an operation, I wouldn’t arrive in time, so the doctor decided I should strengthen my fibula by taking walks in the mountains. I went to Barcelona to do the rehab work and it was tough. The compensation came later, since for lunch we would have butifarras con pan con tomate that felt better than massages.”
The only one that did not make it in time was Santi Cazorla, who had been operated at the beginning of February for a slipped disc. He played in the last five Liga matchdays, but didn’t manage to convince Del Bosque, who later on said it hurt to leave him out.
On May 24, the concentración began at the Ciudad de Fútbol. The next day, the players chose their shirt numbers. All of those who had played in the 2008 Eurocopa chose the same numbers, with the exception of Albiol and Arbeloa. El Chori chose the “18” that he wore with Real Madrid, giving up the “2.” Arbeloa, who had worn the “18” in the Eurocopa and the “19” in the Confederations Cup, was able to choose his preferred number: “I was born on Jan. 17. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always liked that number. On day, someone tweeted me that there were 17 letters in my name and last names. Coincidences…”
Xavi and Iniesta continued their tradition of switching numbers. Xavi explained, “I don’t really care about the number. On the U-21 team, I wore the “2.” During my first years with the senior team, Albelda chose that, so in the 2004 Eurocopa I wore the “20.” The “8” belonged to Baraja, but since he stopped being called up before David was, I took the “8.” Things started going well and I didn’t want to change it. In Barcelona, I wore the “6,” the “16,” the “26.” I’m not superstitious at all. The only thing is that I like even numbers.”
Andrés says, “I debuted with Spain in the 2006 World Cup wearing the “13.” Then I wore the “16” and from the time that Albelda stopped coming, the “6” which is the one I like the most on the national team. In Barça, I debuted with the “34,” then I wore the “24” and finally the “8.” Xavi and I didn’t switch numbers for the simple fact that he had debuted before me. That’s why he could choose before me and I chose from what was left.”
Busquets, Piqué, Mata and Llorente chose the numbers they had worn for the Confederations Cup. Mata stayed with the “13” that had brought him good luck with the team, Piqué chose the “3” that he also wore with Barça, Llorente continued to put a one in front of the nine that he wore in Athletic, since the “9” belonged to Torres, and Busi was happy to get his beloved “16”: “I like that number. It’s a part of my life. I was born on July 16, I signed for Barça at the age of 16 and I wear it for my team. Of course I have affection for it.”
Navas picked the “22” and the three new players decided that Víctor Valdés should wear the “12.” That left Pedro and Javi Martínez to choose between the “2” and “20.” They drew lots and Javi won. He chose the “20.” Pedro was upset at being left with the “2,” but since he was new, he didn’t want to go around asking his new teammates to exchange numbers with him. Fernando Torres stepped in, as they share an agent and have a good relationship. He proposed that Albiol change his “18” for the “2” that he had worn in the Eurocopa. Albiol agreed.
After a week of training at Las Rozas, the team traveled to Schruns. They played two friendlies in Innsbruck. Javi Martínez and Pedro debuted against Saudi Arabia on May 29, while Valdés debuted against South Korea on June 3. The team then stopped in Madrid before traveling to Murcia for the last friendly on June 8. The team won 6-0, and Iniesta was taken out before the half after feeling some pain. He was diagnosed with edema in his thigh and it wasn’t clear whether he would recover in time to play against Switzerland. On June 10, the team traveled to South Africa. The team set up camp in Potchefstroom, where they were welcomed with a tswana dance.
Music continued to have an important role on the team. Sergio continued as the team’s deejay. By now, the speakers had become part of the equipment handled by the equipment managers, much like the boots and jerseys, so he had less responsibility. Sergio said, “even though everyone has their own music now, some of my teammates asked me to continue with the tradition.” For the Eurocopa, Sergio had gone in with a list of prepared songs. For the World Cup, he didn’t finalize the list until the team got to South Africa, so that he could incorporate suggestions from this teammates and include new songs. One of the favorites was Elvis Crespo’s “Píntame.” Shakira’s “Waka Waka” was another, as was Alejandro Sanz and Alicia Keys’ “Looking for Paradise” and songs by Bisbal and Antonio Carmona. Sergio says, “this time, there was much more variety. There wasn’t a star song, like “Se parece más a ti” during the Eurocopa. It’s very gratifying for me that one of my hobbies has become a custom that practically everyone participates in. Music is a refuge for me and it motivates me before games.”
The team watched many of the first games in the tournament. They usually sat together in front of the televisions. Javi Miñano observed, “once the competition started, I could see from their gestures that they had changed. Their faces became more hard-set and less expressive. The jovial atmosphere of the first few days had been transformed to concentration. You could see that the moment of truth was near.”