BARCELONA – Spain coach Luis de la Fuente was a surprise appointment and an early humiliating defeat by Scotland in March put his fledgling project on the ropes no sooner than it had begun.
The Luis Rubiales forced kiss scandal further shook Spanish football and De la Fuente was criticised for his response to it, but he survived the wave of sackings across the Spanish football federation in September.
On the pitch in the interim period, the 62-year-old’s La Roja have been steadily improving and when they face Scotland in Seville on Thursday in Euro 2024 qualifying, they have a chance to prove it.
“I feel very strong, and respected — the important thing is the results,” said De la Fuente in September, ahead of qualifiers against Georgia and Cyprus, which Spain won emphatically.
De la Fuente led Spain to their first piece of silverware since Euro 2012 in June, overcoming Italy and then Croatia in the Nations League final.
In his six matches in charge Spain have secured five victories, with defeat by Scotland in Glasgow the only blemish.
Scott McTominay struck twice for the hosts in that match and Scotland boast a perfect record of five wins from five, leading Group A — they can qualify with a win in Seville, or if Norway fail to beat Cyprus.
Spain and Manchester City midfielder Rodri angrily described Scotland’s style as “a bit rubbish” and “not football”.
Rodri quickly became the cornerstone of De la Fuente’s team, following the international retirement of holding midfield veteran Sergio Busquets.
After being appointed in December to replace Luis Enrique after Spain’s disappointing last-16 exit at the Qatar World Cup, De la Fuente made several other changes to the squad composition.
The coach axed Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea and gave then-Espanyol striker Joselu his first call up among other interesting decisions. Only 11 members of the World Cup 26-man group survived.
Since then, Real Madrid have signed Joselu on loan and he has scored five times in nine appearances for his club, while De Gea is a free agent after leaving the Red Devils.
De la Fuente handed Barcelona starlet Lamine Yamal his debut, with the 16-year-old winger becoming Spain’s youngest ever player and scorer in the 7-1 rout of Georgia.
The coach called up Granada winger Bryan Zaragoza after his brace against Barcelona on Sunday to replace the injured Yeremy Pino, showing he is not afraid to select on the basis of recent good form.
Despite having a limited career in club management — coaching Athletic Bilbao’s reserves and then Alaves for four months — De la Fuente had a good record with Spain’s youth teams.
His time working within the federation since 2013 means he has a good relationship with many of the current squad, and is adapt at handling younger players.
Despite improving results and performances, the “Rubiales case” rumbles on in the background.
De la Fuente has been summoned to appear in court to testify on October 20, with the disgraced former Spanish football federation president being investigated by a Spanish judge over alleged crimes of sexual assault and coercion.
“I will go the day I have been summoned, I will answer the questions they give me and I will leave so happy,” said De la Fuente last week.
The coach has reiterated he prefers to focus only on the football, and in that area, he is happy with the progress made since the Hampden Park defeat.
“We’re not the team from March, nor the one from June, we are a little bit better, we’ve learned our lesson and we will try to be at the maximum level,” added the coach.
“We arrived at those games (in March) with just a couple of training sessions, the advantage now is that we’ve been here a few months.
“The message is sinking in, an idea, we know each other better — now we’ve had a little more time and this will continue to grow.”