Why This Has Been A 12 Months To Forget For Julen Lopetegui
What were you doing this time last year?
If you were a football fan you may have been getting giddy with excitement about the World Cup which was just about to kick off in Russia.
But for Julien Lopetegui, it was the start of 12 months he’s unlikely to forget no matter how hard he tries.
As manager of Spain, one of the countries widely expected to perform well at the World Cup, he was sensationally sacked after the Spanish Football Federation learned that he’d already signed a deal to replace Zinedine Zidane as the manager of Real Madrid.
It was a discovery viewed in the dimmest possible terms by his superiors and despite the biggest international tournament if football being hours away, he was shown the door. Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rabiales accused Real and Lopetegui of acting dishonourably by not informing them of the talks though Real president Florentino Perez accused them of over-reacting.
Former Real Madrid player Fernando Hierro was swiftly appointed as his replacement but it was a role he neither wanted nor felt comfortable in. Spain failed to recover from this off-field drama and their campaign never got off the ground which was a great shame given the amount of talent in their ranks.
While not a fall from grace - after all he was about to take charge of one of the biggest clubs in the world - it was an episode which left an extremely bad taste. Lopetegui had taken an admirable career path as a young coach, working with Spain’s youth teams and also the under 19 and under 21 sides. He had been coach of the senior team for two years before his controversial exit having replaced the retiring Vicente del Bosque.
Lopetegui’s three-year contract at Real Madrid, of course, failed to even make it to one year. It was always going to be a near impossible task to follow Zidane who had just guided the club to yet another Champions League but he made a bad start and got worse. In his first competitive game in charge, Atletico Madrid beat Real 4-2 in the UEFA Super Cup and a run of poor results in the league meant he was under intense pressure from the get-go. So it was no surprise when, after a 5-1 defeat against hated rivals Barcelona at Camp Nou, Lopetegui was sacked. In 14 games in charge, he achieved only six wins - a stark contrast to his 20 game reign at Spain where he didn’t experience a single defeat.
His replacement was Santiago Solari who assumed the role of permanent manager after a spell as caretaker and despite a marked improvement in Real’s results and performances, he was sacked after 32 games - 22 of which had been wins.
Lopetegui is now planning for the new season as manager of Sevilla - his third managerial role in under 12 months - but one still can’t help wonder what he could have achieved with Spain at a World Cup packed with upsets.