Jose Antonio Camacho’s decision to stand down as coach of theSpanish national side has surprised his players, several of whom expected him to continue in his position until 2004.

“He seemed happy in the job when we were at the World Cup,” said the Real Betis winger Joaquin.

“He gave no indication even though we failed to get past the quarter-finals.”

Camacho surprisingly announced his departure yesetrday even though he was under no pressure to resign.

“It’s a shame that he has gone because he was a very hard-working coach with a lot of enthusiasm,” Joaquin added.

“I do not believe that he has taken this decision because of the criticism he received because that kind of thing never really affected him.”

Deportivo La Coruna midfielder Juan Valeron was another taken aback by Camacho’s decision to quit.

“Nobody expected him to resign because in the last few years he has proven what a great coach he is,” Valeron said.

“He always kept me in his thoughts and I shall always be grateful that he gave me the chance to play in a World Cup finals.”

The president of the Spanish Football Association, Angel Maria Villar, paid generous tribute to Camacho.

“I want to thank Camacho for all the work he did with the national side because he took over the team at a difficult time and took them to a very high level,” he explained. “I first heard the news that he wanted to leave the job on Monday when I returned from Japan.

“My relationship has always been more than a professional thing and I love him very much. For now Inaki Saez (current boss of the under-21 team) will take charge of the team as he has worked with the federation since 1996.

“One thing I do know is that the next coach will be Spanish. The idea of a foreign coach has never entered my head and I can also speak for the entire committee on this.”