Spain sack their coach
Manager is sacked two days before Portugal clash after secretly accepting Madrid job
SPAIN were plunged into World Cup crisis yesterday when they sacked their head coach Julen Lopetegui, who had been named as the new manager of Real Madrid a day earlier. Lopetegui was axed by a furious Spanish FA only 48 hours before their opener against Portugal. Spain’s sporting director Fernando Hierro takes over and said: ‘We have no time to mourn.’
HoMe before the postcards is one thing. Home before the tournament even starts is another thing entirely — especially when you are the manager.
Julen Lopetegui was sacked by Spain yesterday, punishment for accepting the Real Madrid job on the eve of the tournament.
The 51-year-old coach and his entire staff were driven out of the team’s Krasnodar World Cup headquarters last night and taken to the airport for their flight back to Madrid via Moscow. ‘I’m very upset but I just hope we can have a good World Cup,’ Lopetegui told reporters as he passed his regulation Spain luggage — complete with stitched-on name and national badge — through control.
‘We have a great team and I hope we can win the tournament,’ he added. Just as the former Spain manager was leaving Russia, his replacement Fernando Hierro was being presented by the head of Spain’s football federation, Luis Rubiales.
Lopetegui’s decision to accept the Madrid job on Tuesday had been seen by Rubiales as a show of disrespect and he took revenge in less than 24 hours by sacking him.
The Spanish federation lost €2m (£1.76m) in compensation in the process because Real Madrid will now avoid paying Lopetegui’s release clause. ‘There are more important things than the money,’ said Rubiales, still fuming from the betrayal.
Hierro’s assistants — Julian Calero, Juan Carlos Martinez and former Spain international Carlos Marchena — will arrive today and their lastminute addition will only add to the sense of chaos around the team, 24 hours before they face Portugal.
‘We feel we had no choice but to dismiss the coach,’ said Rubiales in a tense morning press conference.
‘We cannot ignore the fact that negotiations (between Lopetegui and Real Madrid) occurred without the Spanish federation being informed. We were told five minutes before his decision to leave was made public.’
Rubiales was furious, in part, because he has only been in the job a month and his first act as president was to give Lopetegui a two-year contract extension last month.
The Spain players had been stunned on Tuesday afternoon when they found out Lopetegui was leaving after the World Cup.
Some of the Real Madrid players knew before their team-mates from other clubs and that further soured the atmosphere in the camp.
Despite the coach’s move to Madrid, the majority of the players believed the best thing for the team was for him to stay until the end of the tournament.
Sergio Ramos, who will play for Lopetegui at the Bernabeu, made a vociferous plea for him to see out the job.
But other players were less enthusiastic about defending him and would only say they would respect Rubiales’ decision, whatever it was.
Without a united group urging him not to fire Lopetegui, the Spanish federation chief informed the coach he was sacked.
A video doing the rounds on social media yesterday showed Lopetegui jokingly rollicking a reporter who had dared to ask a club-related question in a national team press conference recently. ‘This is the World Cup!’ said Lopetegui.
Ultimately he had been undone by breaking his own golden rule and not respecting the importance of Spain’s campaign in Russia.
He had put club before country, or at least that is the way Rubiales had read the situation — and he was not alone.
Former Spain international Xavi backed the move to sack the coach saying: ‘Lopetegui’s decision was badly timed. It was a surprise for everyone but Rubiales has reacted in the right way. He has looked out for the national team, which ought to be above the interests of any one individual.’
New man Hierro has barely a day to prepare for Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. ‘ They have left us all the videos,’ he said of the departing coaching staff. ‘It’s true that I only have one year’s experience as a first-team coach but I have 30 years experience of football.’
Hierro refused to answer a question about how he believed Real Madrid had behaved in the two- day farce. They are clearly unrepentant and hope to present Lopetegui as their new coach today, although he may decide against that.
When it was suggested to Hierro that he could emulate Zinedine Zidane as someone parachuted in to cover a sacking who then wins trophies, he said: ‘I would sign for that now.’
It was a smiling end to a remarkable day of heated meetings, delayed press conferences and unheeded pleas from players.
When asked about the way forward, Hierro said: ‘The key is to keep going on in the same way.’
Presumably he was referring to Spain’s 20-game unbeaten run that has led to these finals, not the fiasco of the past 24 hours.
Hair today, gone tomorrow: Lopetegui was sacked weeks after being awarded a contract extension to 2020 by Rubiales (inset left, with Hierro right)