Game on in Rus­sia

Pre­view as foot­ball fever kicks in

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARK MANN-BRYANS

Fer­nando Hierro will lead Spain at the World Cup af­ter head coach Julen Lopetegui was dra­mat­i­cally sacked on the eve of the tour­na­ment.

Span­ish prepa­ra­tions were thrown into tur­moil as Lopetegui lost his job fol­low­ing Tues­day’s an­nounce­ment he would leave to take over at Real Madrid af­ter the fi­nals in Rus­sia.

Span­ish Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Luis Ru­biales re­moved Lopetegui from the post just two days be­fore the na­tional team’s Group B opener against Por­tu­gal.

Ru­biales had been riled by be­ing told of Lopetegui’s de­ci­sion to take the Real job just five min­utes be­fore it was made pub­lic.

For­mer Spain and Real Madrid cap­tain Hierro, who moves from his role as the team’s direc­tor of foot­ball, was set to be pre­sented to the press at the Krasnodar Sta­dium later yes­ter­day be­fore get­ting to work in his new post.

Hierro also had a spell with Bolton in the Premier League at the end of his play­ing career.

“Fer­nando will as­sume the po­si­tion of na­tional coach dur­ing the World Cup and will ap­pear be­fore the me­dia ac­com­pa­nied by the pres­i­dent of the RFEF, Luis Ru­biales,” read a short state­ment on the fed­er­a­tion’s web­site.

“Next, he will direct his first train­ing and, on Fri­day, he will debut in Sochi at the match of Spain against Por­tu­gal.”

Ear­lier in the day, Spain de­layed a press con­fer­ence at the same venue by over an hour be­fore Ru­biales an­nounced he had dis­missed Lopetegui – point­ing the fin­ger of blame at Real Madrid, rather than the out­go­ing coach.

“We have been forced to dis­pense with the na­tional coach. We wish him the best of luck,” he said.

“I don’t want to get into how Real Madrid should go about things. The Span­ish team is the team of all Spain.

“If it had been up to Julen it wouldn’t have hap­pened in this way and I wouldn’t have found out five min­utes be­fore­hand.

“The ne­go­ti­a­tion oc­curred with­out the RFEF hav­ing any in­for­ma­tion. (We were told) just five min­utes be­fore the press re­lease.

“We have a way of be­hav­ing that needs to be ad­hered to.

“Ob­vi­ously there was some sort of prob­lem with com­mu­ni­ca­tion but we can’t be ex­pected to find out about some­thing like this five min­utes (be­fore the an­nounce­ment) and not take the nec­es­sary de­ci­sions.”

Sam Al­lardyce, who man­aged Hierro dur­ing his time at Bolton, thinks his for­mer player could be well suited to the role as na­tional team boss.

Al­lardyce said: “As a per­son, as a man, he was a top, top guy. Around the dress­ing room and on the field he com­manded so much re­spect, not just for his tal­ent as a foot­baller but for what a per­son he was.

“I don’t think he’ll have any prob­lem in­te­grat­ing into the team as their coach. His pas­sion for foot­ball is un­ques­tion­able and he’ll hope­fully pass that over to his play­ers and it won’t be too big a loss los­ing their coach to Real Madrid.”

A lead­ing psy­chol­o­gist claims the de­ci­sion to sack Lopetegui on the eve

of the tour­na­ment will harm Spain’s chances.

Sir Cary Cooper, pro­fes­sor of or­gan­i­sa­tional psy­chol­ogy at Manch­ester Univer­sity, said: “I can­not un­der­stand it. Hierro step­ping in to coach the play­ers gives them some con­ti­nu­ity.

“They’re not bring­ing in a new coach at the last minute. But this will have a neg­a­tive im­pact. I can’t imag­ine it be­ing pos­i­tive. Why take this risk when they play on Satur­day?

“Spain may have dam­aged them­selves over some bu­reau­cratic is­sue.

“They should have thought through how the play­ers will re­act.”

Pro­fes­sor Cooper says the RFEF may end up count­ing the cost if the play­ers felt a strong al­le­giance to Lopetegui.

“If the play­ers bonded un­der this coach, if they liked him and he was a re­ally good team builder, then this is a mis­take,” Cooper said. “That’s all there is to it and it will af­fect their per­for­mance.

“It de­pends on how they re­act to it and how they per­ceived Lopetegui in the first place.”

WEL­COME TO RUS­SIA: A pre­sen­ta­tion party car­ries gifts for the Eng­land squad yes­ter­day ahead of the start of the

Fer­nando Hierro

World Cup fi­nals

Nice to be here: From top to bot­tom, Eng­land cap­tain Harry Kane and man­ager Gareth South­gate ac­cept gifts, Kane signs a foot­ball for a young fan be­fore the get­ting to the se­ri­ous busi­ness of a squad train­ing ses­sion

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