Tuesday 22 January 2019

Revealed: The inside story on Julen Lopetegui's remarkable sacking as Spain coach

Julen Lopetegui (C) poses with Spain's defender Sergio Ramos (L) and Spain's midfielder Andres Iniesta
Julen Lopetegui (C) poses with Spain's defender Sergio Ramos (L) and Spain's midfielder Andres Iniesta
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Spain have hastily appointed Fernando Hierro as their head coach for the World Cup finals in Russia after the sacking of Julen Lopetegui was sacked on the eve of the tournament amid a day of confusion for the 2010 world champions.

Former Real Madrid star Hierro has been working in the Spanish national team set-up since his appointment as sporting director last November, with the move to appoint him as Lopetegui’s replacement designed to dilute the confusion around the squad.

Hierro, who had a spell in charge of Real Oviedo in the 2016/17 season, steps in after a day of high drama in the Spanish squad, with Lopetegui and senior players all staging meetings with Spanish FA chief Luis Rubiales.

The surprise news of Lopetegui’s appointment as Zinedine Zidane’s successor at Real Madrid took the Spanish FA by surprise on Tuesday, as they were unaware that their head coach was staging talks with Bernabeu chiefs.

Rubiales was furious with Lopetegui for talking to Real Madrid before the World Cup and then by the announcement from the reigning European champions that they had appointed the former Porto boss as their new coach.

The move will see Lopetegui return to a club he is familiar with, as he worked with the club’s junior set up a decade ago, yet the timing of the move has cost him the chance to lead his nation into the World Cup finals after a morning of unprecedented scenes in the La Roja camp.

Lopetegui and Rubiales were locked in talks amid rumours that the Spanish FA chief has decided to sack the coach who has guided Spain to the World Cup in Russia, with senior players then believed to have become embroiled in the debate over what should happen next.

With Lopetegui signing a new deal to continue as Spain boss last month, Rubiales was shocked to receive a call from Real Madrid chief Florentino Perez on Tuesday confirming he had hired the coach for next season, just a few minutes before the official announcement of his appointment at the Bernabeu was made.

Rubiales then held meetings with Lopetegui to ascertain how negotiations between his agent and Real Madrid had reached such an advanced stage without the permission of the Spanish FA.

Now it has been confirmed that Lopetegui has been sacked from his post, with his replacement yet to be decided upon with Spain’s first game of the World Cup coming up on Friday against local rivals Portugal.

“I feel very close to the players and to Julen,” declared Rubiales. ”I have spoken to them and I can assure you that the players and the the new coaching staff will do everything possible to lead the team as far as possible [in Russia], but it’s a complicated situation.

“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.

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

“We have been forced to do without Lopetegui. I have spoken with the players, and I can guarantee that they will do everything they can with the new coaching staff, we are in a very difficult situation.

“I do not feel betrayed because Julen has done a relentless job, but we are forced to move on this because of how things have been done.

“He is a professional, but this is not correct and we can’t look the other way. You can’t do things like that, five minutes before it’s official.

“I came from Moscow because this issue is more important, and we had to react.

“I saw it in the press, it had already happened, and because of my responsibility, I know that whatever I do, there will be criticism.

“Julen would have liked things to have been done differently. I don’t have to judge Real Madrid, the one who brought the matter to him is responsible because things can’t be done that way.”

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