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Modest De la Fuente shares the credit

Modest De la Fuente shares the credit
Spain coach Luis de la Fuente with the trophy ©EPO

Modest De la Fuente shares the credit

While his players were still jumping around the podium in the main stand, Luis de la Fuente was already back out on the pitch with his team-behind-the-team. And when Jesús Vallejo lifted the trophy, he raised both arms, with index fingers pointing into the Greek heavens. He was a happy man. Understandably so. Although his work, his demeanour and his approach to the job had been given unanimous praise by players and colleagues, this sort of success had somehow eluded him.

One of the endorsements he would doubtless appreciate greatly comes from Ginés Meléndez, coordinator of Spain's youth development teams, head of coach education and, as a coach, a serial winner of UEFA age-limit competitions. "We invited Luis to join us on account of his ability as a coach," he said. "But I would also pick out his leadership and man-management qualities. All his decisions are positive in terms of the unity of the group. His attitude and his relationships with opponents during this tournament illustrated that he has Fair Play principles at heart."


Spain's 'insatiable' players lift the trophy

After the victory over Russia in Katerini, De la Fuente was quick to pass credit to others: to the "insatiable" players who had "played very well because they really wanted to win that cup"; and to "the work that the various provinces are doing in uncovering talents and bringing them to us in the federation". He praised "the development work being done by the clubs, which is getting better and better. We are producing players with great potential who are, at this level, one step away from the elite."

Unlike Russia coach Dmitri Khomukha, his opponent in two of the five matches, De la Fuente had not enjoyed the luxury of working for five years with the same age-group. In fact, after 16 year of coaching at youth and lower-division levels, the former Athletic Club, Sevilla and Deportivo Alavés defender did not join the Spanish federation's coaching team until 2013.

Squad selection was, however, a meticulous process based on monitoring, data-gathering, analysis, follow-up and consultation with club coaches. "We looked at personal qualities and behaviour as well as footballing abilities,"  he explained. "Then, during our monthly get-togethers, we gathered information to help us understand which players were best placed to compete in the finals."


Luis de la Fuente celebrates a goal against Germany

In Greece, while the players were treading pre-season paths towards fitness, he focused on tactical tuning rather than physical work. "We also spent time on attacking and defending set plays, as players in this age group are not always aware of how important they can be in changing the course of a game."

Apart from preparing and motivating his team to win games, De la Fuente tried to ensure that the tournament was enriching. "Experience in these UEFA tournaments is unique," he said. "At their clubs, they can learn from men – the senior players. But it is enriching to be a member of a group where everyone is at the same age, at the same stage of development.

"Fortunately, the clubs in Spain recognise that competing internationally gives added-value in so many respects, and also showcases the clubs and the work they are doing in their academies. I also firmly believe that the players, when they went back to their clubs, did so as better players."

They also went home with gold medals and a seventh U19 title for their country. They also responded to leadership and guidance by turning Luis de la Fuente into a happy man.