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Aragonés: “I’m only talking soccer”

8 February 2008

MADRID – Spain won its friendly match against France 1-0 on Wednesday night in Málaga, but in the post-game press conference the journalists appeared to be more interested in politics than soccer.

"I’m not talking about anything except the game," Aragonés warned. His intention was to pre-empt questions concerning his televised comments on Tuesday accusing the Spanish Soccer Federation (FEF) of trying to force him out before the summer’s European Championship, and suggesting that his bosses fire him before announcing the name of his replacement.

"The best thing would be for them to fire me because I’m not going to quit. You can’t have two coaches," the mister, as he is affectionately called by his players, said. When asked after Wednesday’s win if anything had changed in the previous 24 hours, "no comment" was the coach’s reply.

Aragonés admitted to not meeting with either FEF President Ángel María Villar or the recently appointed national director of soccer, Fernando Hierro, to discuss his future, but the latter on Wednesday did attempt to play down the coach’s challenge, offering what can be seen as a reconciliatory show of good faith: "We are counting on Luis for the European Championship. For our part, we don’t want to change. If Luis wants, of course he will be our coach until his contract ends."

Hierro’s olive-branch offering of sorts comes after the former Spanish captain had suggested early Tuesday that the coach’s successor be named before the summer to avoid the distraction that speculation might cause during the tournament. Hierro’s comments, in turn, came on the back of Villar’s admission that the Federation was running through an array of possible names for Aragonés’ successor to be announced after the tournament. Aragonés has made it more than clear that his bone to pick was not with Hierro, but rather with the FEF president himself. And the metaphor for the strained relations between the two was played out when Aragonés got off the return train from Málaga in Madrid, sliding past Villar without so much as a parting look or handshake.

One thing that Aragonés has proven in his current tenure is that his coaching decisions are extremely resistant to political pressure. For the past half-year, he has not wavered in his refusal to reinstate Real Madrid veteran Raúl to the team, despite being harassed by fans and media alike, insisting the player just doesn’t fit in his new alignment.

Aragonés on Wednesday gave a start to Valencia veteran David Albelda, despite the fact that the midfielder hasn’t seen the field in months for his team. It was a decision criticised by those who think the snubbed player will have no chance of making the team this summer if things at Valencia don’t change, something Aragonés has himself admitted.

In any case, the coach’s stubbornness in sticking to his principles is the reason the "wise man of Hortaleza" insists on talking only about soccer: "I’m happy and am celebrating the win, although it is also clear that we have many things to improve upon."

Aragonés admitted that Spain probably won thanks to a bit of luck – "France could have tied the game easily," said the coach, adding: "They had two clear shots on goal after Joan Capdevila scored ours" (in an 80th-minute rebound). But it has been this luck combined with the coach’s new strategy of a young attacking midfield that may have given the trainer something like job security in a nation desperate for European glory.

Teen sensation desperate for his first national side start, Bojan Krkic, however, was not able to become the youngest ever Spanish international after pre-game dizziness took him off the roster.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / KELLY RAMUNDO 2008]

Subject: Spanish news