VICENTE del Bosque: a managerial grandee. Calm, unflappable, secure, with an impenetrable mask that never slips.
Until Wednesday night at the Maracana on a seminal evening for Spain, who suffered the ignominy of becoming the first team to exit the World Cup. No ordinary team this – the holders, trail-blazers, a team which revolutionised football.
A telling moment arrived towards the end of a first half in which Spain were made to look old and worn by a vibrant Chile.
Del Bosque’s guard slipped when when he cursed a poorly-delivered free-kick from the usually immaculate Xavi Alonso. His reaction told you then that the game was up for La Roja.
Many are now gorging on the carcass of a footballing king, dethroned and laid bare.
The hard-hitting Madrid-based daily sports paper Marca had a stark message on its front page following the 2-0 loss to the Chileans. It simply said: The End.
‘Tika-taxi’ was the stand-out headline offered by British tabloids, suggesting that Spain’s exit represents not just an end of an era for arguably the greatest national side – along with Brazil’s vintage of 1970 – but the death knell for a footballing brand, tika-taka.
That looks a simplistic argument and an incorrect one.
Ball retention, lightning-fast passing and overloading the midfield areas, as perfected by Spain, are at the heart of every successful and aspiring national and club side.
Unfortunately, time stands still for no man and the effects of long domestic seasons at the sharp end of tournaments for many years for the likes of Casillas, Ramos, Alonso and Busquets have finally caught up with many members of the Spain establishment, who looked exhausted.
They also lacked a defensive enforcer in the mould of Carles Puyol and were bereft up front.
Diego Costa was devoid of sharpness and sophistication, and his supporting cast in Fernando Torres and David Villa have also clearly seen better days.
In mitigation, they had the misfortune to play against a super-charged, express-paced Chilean side who look like they pump iron in their sleep.
With no disrespect to Australia, how Spain could have done with playing the Socceroos, big of heart but with blunter footballing weapons than Chile, in their second game.
But Spain are out and deservedly so. But as for tika-taka being consigned to a footballing grave? Not quite.
At its best, tika-tika is more than just art for art’s sake and has a purpose. Its premise is incessant pressing and energetic retrieval as soon as the ball is lost – plus the ability to strike in the final third like a viper.
Spain’s dynasty may be over and the likes of Del Bosque, Torres, Villa and Xavi may now be put out to international grass.
But others will come in, given time.
Look at the strength of Spain’s bench in Rio and the players who didn’t even make their squad, Jesus Navas, Alvara Negredo and Fernando Llorente to name but three, with La Roja also missing the injured Thiago Alcantara.
But evolution will be necessary for the Spanish, who have conceded more goals in two games in Brazil than they did in the previous three tournaments combined.
Great teams recover. And Spain will.