Who is Julen Lopetegui? Everything you need to know about Real Madrid's new manager
If it came as something of a surprise it is because this information was not yet ready for public consumption.
Real Madrid had spent the last week or so finalising the hire of Julen Lopetegui as their new coach but were very wary of how they would announce it bearing in mind the 51-year-old former goalkeeper should be completely focused on Spain’s World Cup campaign.
The six representatives from the Bernabeu club that are among Lopetegui’s squad in Krasnodar were all aware that their international coach was set to become their club boss too and that was fine, but when a player from a rival club - and it is hard to know which, considering there are four Barcelona players and three from Atletico - heard the news, Lopetegui moved quickly to inform Real Madrid of the potential for a leak and they in turn dropped the news in an unexpected statement.
On the surface, Lopetegui seems a good fit for Real Madrid because he is an understated coach who does his best work on the training ground. While this hire is a surprise given he signed a new contract with the Spanish FA less than a month ago, his good relationship with a number of key Madrid players and experience of getting the best out of them with both Spain and, previously, the Under-21s is obviously a huge advantage.
The knock on Lopetegui would be that he has not experienced any success at club level despite an impressive track record with the Spanish youth teams. His stint with Real Madrid B was far from outstanding (though the same could be said of Zinedine Zidane) and then when he got his first big job, at FC Porto, things went drastically wrong.
His experience in Portugal is something that Lopetegui will no doubt learn from, as people should from their failures, but it is also unlikely to be hugely relevant to how he will fare at Real Madrid. Given the reins to everything at the Dragão, including transfers, the Spaniard made a few mistakes in his recruitment but those would have been forgiven had he won the league. He didn’t, though, and that is unacceptable at a club like Porto.
Those lofty expectations are something he will have to cope with at the Bernabeu, too, but recruitment will be taken out of his hands, which feels like a far better fit for Lopetegui’s skill set. He can instead focus on two things he has shown himself to be adept at: training-ground work and bringing younger players into the team.
Given the Spain job as Vicente Del Bosque’s successor, Lopetegui has transitioned some of the country’s best talent from the youth teams into the senior side and Real Madrid face a similar sort of rebuild this summer and beyond. The likes of Isco and Marco Asensio, who have long been favourites of their new club coach, can now reasonably be expected to become the central figures at Real Madrid.
What that means for the futures of Cristiano Ronaldo, who continues to flirt with PSG, or Gareth Bale is anyone’s guess. Bale’s entourage have been waiting to see who replaced Zidane in order to find out more about his future but with Lopetegui at the World Cup that situation may drag even longer.
The greatest thing on Lopetegui’s side as he takes over at Real Madrid, however, will be that he has the respect of key senior players. Rafael Benitez’s reign was undermined by players who wouldn’t take technical instruction from someone whose opinion they did not respect, openly mocking him on the training ground in a complete contrast with the aura of authority that Zidane brought to the role afterwards.
Lopetegui has played a significant part in the development of many of Spain’s best players, he already has a close relationship with Sergio Ramos, the captain of Real Madrid, and they all know just how strong a coach he is on the training ground.
There is little doubt that any disappointments at this World Cup will be blamed on the untimely announcement and the perceived distraction caused, but fundamentally Lopetegui represents a surprisingly level-headed hire from Real Madrid, a respected coach who won’t rock the boat but who will help them transition from a fading, glorious generation to what they hope will be a younger but similarly gilded one.
Independent News Service