Spain sack their coach

Man­ager is sacked two days be­fore Por­tu­gal clash af­ter se­cretly ac­cept­ing Madrid job

Daily Mail - - Sports - PETE JENSON re­ports from Madrid

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)

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