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'Yesterday, after the death of my mother, was the saddest of my life. But today is the happiest day of my life'

Real Madrid present new coach Julen Lopetegui
Real Madrid present new coach Julen Lopetegui

Real Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui has revealed that being sacked as Spain coach on the eve of the start of the World Cup was the saddest day of his life since the death of his mother.

Lopetegui was dismissed by Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales on Wednesday after agreeing to succeed Zinedine Zidane as Madrid boss without first notifying his employers, with Spain sporting director Fernando Hierro drafted in to take his place for the duration of the tournament.

In a press conference to present him as the new Madrid boss at Santiago Bernabeu on Thursday, Lopetegui insisted he had not tried to hide anything from Rubiales and admitted that his sudden sacking had taken its toll.

"Yesterday, after the death of my mother, was the saddest of my life," he said. "But today is the happiest day of my life."

Rubiales claimed on Wednesday that Madrid president Florentino Perez had called to notify him of Lopetegui's appointment only five minutes before the club announced the decision to the world with a statement on their official website, but Lopetegui hit back at the assertion that he had left the Spanish federation in the dark.

"When there was something to know, he was the first person to know," Lopetegui added of Rubiales. "I wanted to give the press conference that same day but he was far away so I had to wait for him. Then what happened during those hours, I don't know. We just wanted to be honest with everyone, to make the agreement public. Hiding it would have been bad.

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"The players took it absolutely fine. They trained well. And I've nothing else to say. I'll be cheering on that magnificent group of players. I'm sure they'll make us world champions."

Lopetegui also denied that he had been humiliated by the episode. "Humiliation doesn't depend on the person, it depends on you," he insisted. "I'm calm. We're all quite calm. We acted honestly and professionally. If the president wants to act in a certain way, then I don't know. We've acted professionally, honestly above all. There was no effect on the players."

Perez accused Rubiales of an "absurd reaction of misunderstanding and pride" in sacking Lopetegui one day before the start of the World Cup.

"We wanted to make it clear and transparent to prevent leaks that would damage the national team," the Madrid president said. "I told the president of the federation, and all parties agreed. We had the legitimate agreements - it seemed all normal - and we then thought there would be a press conference between the president and Julen Lopetegui.

"Then it turned out to be about pride for the president, who has disrespected Real Madrid. There have been other cases – [Antonio] Conte, [Louis] Van Gaal - dozens of others who have agreed before or during a competition.

"It was an absurd reaction of misunderstanding and pride, aimed at hitting the prestige of Real Madrid.

"But Real Madrid are proud to contribute to the success of the Spanish national team, and it's important to be unified, to be able to grow, as the most respected and loved club in the world."

Independent News Service

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