Lopetegui: Spain fir­ing ‘sad­dest day’ since mother's death

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Julen Lopetegui said be­ing fired as Spain coach two days be­fore its open­ing match at the World Cup was pos­si­bly "the sad­dest day of my life" since his mother died, and join­ing Real Madrid as its new coach was "the hap­pi­est day of my life."

The 51-year-old Lopetegui made the emo­tional re­marks when he was of­fi­cially in­tro­duced by Madrid yes­ter­day at San­ti­ago Bern­abeu Sta­dium.

It has been a tumultuous three days for Lopetegui, and Spain's na­tional team.

Lopetegui was fired by Span­ish foot­ball fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Luis Ru­biales on Wednesday — a day af­ter Madrid made the un­ex­pected an­nounce­ment that Lopetegui had agreed to leave for Eu­ro­pean cham­pion Madrid af­ter the World Cup in Rus­sia.

Ru­biales said he felt "com­pelled" to fire Lopetegui be­cause the coach and Madrid had kept him in the dark un­til five min­utes be­fore the club made the deal pub­lic.

Madrid pres­i­dent Florentino Perez de­nied his club had acted im­prop­erly and slammed Ru­biales for fir­ing Lopetegui.

"It was a dis­pro­por­tion­ate and un­just re­sponse that is with­out prece­dent," said Perez. "Some peo­ple will do any­thing to hurt the im­age of Real Madrid."

Perez said that Madrid in­formed Ru­biales as soon as the deal was done.

"Those who say we hid some­thing are wrong," Perez said. "We reached a deal ... and wanted to make it pub­lic so as to avoid leaks that could dis­rupt the work of the na­tional team."

Madrid's hir­ing of Lopetegui as Spain was fi­nal­iz­ing its prepa­ra­tions for the most im­por­tant tour­na­ment in global soc­cer drew wide­spread crit­i­cism in Spain.

But his dis­missal has di­vided fans and the sports me­dia. Some feel Lopetegui would have had a con­flict of in­ter­est with six Madrid play­ers in Spain's squad; oth­ers ar­gue forc­ing his exit only cre­ates more chaos.

Fernando Hierro, a for­mer Spain player who had been act­ing as the team's sports di­rec­tor in Rus­sia, re­places Lopetegui for the tour­na­ment.

Lopetegui said that Spain's play­ers re­ceived the news he had taken the Madrid job left va­cant by Zine­dine Zi­dane "fan­tas­ti­cally."

"The prac­tice ses­sion we had af­ter I told them was the best of the week," Lopetegui claimed. "They had ab­so­lutely no prob­lem with it."

Spain's play­ers have not com­mented di­rectly on Lopetegui's exit.

Vet­er­ans Ser­gio Ramos and Ger­ard Pique is­sued calls for unity via Twit­ter, and Ramos said yes­ter­day that "we need to turn the page as soon as pos­si­ble" to fo­cus on to­day's game against Por­tu­gal in Sochi.

Lopetegui said he will watch Spain's open­ing match and "cheer just like any other Spa­niard."

Lopetegui signed a three-year con­tact with Madrid. He takes the place of Zi­dane, who stunned Madrid two weeks ago by say­ing he was leav­ing af­ter win­ning an un­prece­dented three straight Eu­ro­pean Cups.

He also in­her­its the doubts sur­round­ing star for­wards Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Gareth Bale, both of whom put their fu­tures at the club in doubt af­ter Madrid's vic­tory over Liver­pool in the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal last month.

Lopetegui kept Spain un­beaten through 20 matches in charge and guided it to a first-place fin­ish in a qual­i­fy­ing group that in­cluded Italy for the 2018 World Cup.

He won Eu­ro­pean cham­pi­onships with Spain's un­der-19 and un­der-21 teams in the early 2010s, but had a lack­lus­ter stint with Por­tuguese team Porto in his only job with a ma­jor club. He was fired af­ter fail­ing to win a ti­tle dur­ing al­most two years in Por­tu­gal.

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