Ever since Spanish legend Emilio Butragueño hung up his boots and turned to the administrative side of the game, he has waited and waited for the team he graced with such aplomb to fulfil the expectations of a nation. He is still waiting.
Professional sport, according to modern thinking, is mostly in the head. That is the only possible explanation, according to the man they nicknamed 'The Vulture' in his playing days, for why they have never truly achieved the success their talent seems to merit.
On paper, Spain should have a realistic chance of winning UEFA EURO 2004™ next summer: familiar climate, close to home and plenty of support. Yet Butragueño, now working for Real Madrid CF, knows such factors alone do not guarantee success.
Apart from the UEFA European Championship of 1964, when Spain beat the Soviet Union 2-1 in the final, their trophy cabinet has been worryingly bare. While Spain's club sides continue to earn honours, defeat by France in the 1984 European Championship final, with Butragueño in the squad, is the best the national team can show for their efforts since 1964.
Hardly surprising, then, that Butragueño, the first player to score four goals in a FIFA World Cup match when Spain beat Denmark in 1986 before going out to Belgium, is not overconfident about his country's hopes of success next summer following a draw which has pitted them against Portugal, Russia and Greece.
Butragueño told uefa.com: "The draw was not the best for us. Russia have shown how dangerous they can be and we had a tough time in the qualifying competition against Greece." Indeed, Greece pipped Spain to first place in Group 6 thanks to a 1-0 win in Zaragoza, forcing Iñaki Sáez's side to overcome Norway in a play-off.
Problems for Spain
Like so many others, he simply cannot explain why Spain have always flattered to deceive when it matters most, not least in losing to the Korean Republic in the 2002 World Cup quarter-finals. "Something always seems to happen," Butragueño said. "In Korea, we lost in a penalty shoot-out which was a pity because we deserved to win.
"Maybe this time will be different but the longer you go without winning, the more it preys on your mind. Another problem is the length of season. Spain have very talented players but the European Championship takes place right at the end of the season and will be very demanding because the schedule is so tight.
It is hard to be optimistic about our chances."
He also took the time to praise David Beckham for his starring role in Madrid's season so far. Butragueño played a major role in prising the England captain away from Manchester United FC but admitted the Spanish champions were surprised how quickly he had buried initial doubts about whether he would even be in the starting lineup after his €35m move.
'Down to earth'
"He's down to earth and has been able to click very soon with the rest of the players. In that way we are a little surprised," said Butragueño. "Even Zinedine Zidane, for instance, needed more time to adapt to the mentality of the club. On and off the field, Beckham is doing very well. He may not yet have learned the language but that has not really mattered because of his personality. He is a fighter and the Real fans love that. He is the exact opposite of a prima donna."
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