Spain Fires Coach Julen Lopetegui on Eve of World Cup
MOSCOW — Spain, one of the favorites to win the planet Cup, found itself in disarray just two days before its first game of the competition, after the country’s soccer federation fired Coach Julen Lopetegui on Wednesday, despite fervent protests coming from his players.
Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish soccer federation, the R.F.E.F, said at a news conference that will he had no choice yet to remove Lopetegui, 51, after the idea emerged a day earlier that will he might replace Zinedine Zidane as coach of Real Madrid after the planet Cup.
Fernando Hierro, the national team’s technical director, will replace Lopetegui for the duration of the tournament.
The Spanish federation agreed a few weeks ago to extend Lopetegui’s contract until 2020, yet Rubiales said that will he was forced to renege because the coach had negotiated his move — not unusual in itself — without informing his employer.
“The negotiation occurred without the federation having any information,” Rubiales said coming from the team’s training facility in Krasnodar, in southern Russia, suggesting he had been informed of the news just several minutes before the news was made public. “We have a way of behaving that will needs to be adhered to.”
Reports in Spain suggested that will Lopetegui’s agent, Carlos Bucero, had reached an agreement with Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Perez, late last week. Several members of the Spanish squad were made aware of the appointment, news reports said, forcing Lopetegui in addition to also Real to make an announcement on Tuesday.
The move caught Rubiales by surprise, in addition to also he immediately flew coming from Moscow — where he was anticipated to cast Spain’s vote to determine who might host the 2026 World Cup — to Krasnodar, to meet with Lopetegui in addition to also Hierro. In his absence, Spain did not cast a vote.
On Wednesday morning, a delegation of senior players coming from the Spanish squad, including Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta in addition to also David Silva, met with Rubiales.
They, too, had been taken by surprise. The team, which has several players coming from Real Madrid as well as coming from its fierce rival within the Spanish league, Barcelona, had officially been told about Lopetegui only before a training session on Tuesday.
The players urged Rubiales to “swallow his pride” in addition to also let Lopetegui remain as coach, to avoid disrupting the team’s preparations, according to reports.
Rubiales, however, was unmoved. At noon in Krasnodar, he appeared in front of journalists in addition to also announced that will Lopetegui had been dismissed. He insisted that will he did not feel “betrayed” by the coach, yet said the talks had not been handled professionally.
“The federation cannot be kept outside the negotiations for one of its employees,” he said. “You cannot do things like that will, just several minutes before the announcement will be made.”
He did not blame Lopetegui for the turmoil, describing him as a “very not bad coach, a man of professional integrity who has done an excellent job,” in addition to also was not drawn into a discussion about Real Madrid’s conduct: One Spanish sports newspaper on Wednesday morning described the timing of the announcement as a “missile” to the national team.
Real Madrid — winner of Europe’s most prestigious club competition, the Champions League, for the last three years — will pay the Spanish soccer federation 2 million euros, or about $2.35 million, in compensation.
“I know there will be criticism, whatever I do,” Rubiales said. “the idea will be a very difficult situation. The Spain team will be the team of all Spaniards. You cannot do things This particular way, two or three days before the planet Cup. We have been obliged to make This particular decision.”
Lopetegui — who did not lose any of the 20 games he oversaw as Spanish coach, in addition to also won 14 of them — has spent time as both a player in addition to also a coach at Real Madrid, first as a goalkeeper in addition to also later in charge of Castilla, its B team.
He has spent much of his managerial career working for the Spanish federation, rising to prominence for his work with Spain’s youth squads. His only previous top-level experience as a club coach came with F.C. Porto of Portugal, where he lasted less than two years. He failed to win the league title, in addition to also was fired.
Hierro, his emergency replacement, has an equally thin coaching résumé, though his playing career was significantly more stellar: He won three Champions League trophies in addition to also several Spanish championships in more than a decade as a player at Real Madrid. His only managerial experience, though, came at Real Oviedo, in Spain’s second tier.
Rubiales had said he wanted to create as little disruption as possible to Spain’s preparations; the idea plays Portugal on Friday in Sochi. Hierro’s familiarity with the squad, in addition to also the fact he has been involved within the buildup to the tournament, worked in his favor.
Raphael Minder contributed reporting coming from Madrid, in addition to also Andrew Das in addition to also Tariq Panja coming from Moscow.