With less than a day to go until the World Cup, Spain parted ways with their manager after he took a job at Real Madrid
Spain have sacked their national team manager just short of 24 hours before the start of the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia, sending seismic ripples through the footballing world. Julen Lopetegui was manager of the Spanish National team until this morning, when the Spanish FA took the shock decision to send him packing.
Lopetegui had just accepted the managerial vacancy left by Frenchman Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid and was expected to take up the position after his World Cup outing with Spain. It’s not the first time an international manager has accepted a new club role on the eve of a World Cup finals. Back in 2014, Louis Van Gaal agreed to become Manchester United manager less than a month before the start of the World Cup in Brazil, in which he took the Netherlands to the semis.
Van Gaal’s performance at the World Cup clearly didn’t seem to be affected by taking the Manchester United job before the tournament, so what’s different here and did the Spanish FA make the right decision?
As far as World Cup controversies go, this is right up there with the rest of them. The sacking of a national manager mere hours before the start of the tournament has never happened before and will likely never happen again.
The Spanish squad reportedly pleaded with the FA to reconsider and let Lopetegui stay, but to no avail. Despite having one of the strongest teams at the tournament, the Spanish squad have been knocked wildly off course before they’ve even embarked on their World Cup voyage.
Since the announcement this afternoon, Spain have already appointed its director of football Fernando Hierro as Lopetegui’s replacement. Hierro’s only managerial experience to date is a season long spell at Spanish second division side Real Oviedo, in which he failed to reach the playoffs and subsequently left by “mutual consent“.
Tipped as one of the favourites going into the tournament, Spain may now be up against it as they kick off their World Cup campaign against Portugal on Friday amid chaos. Is Fernando the ‘Hierro’ Spain need to guide them through stormy seas to the shores of World Cup Glory?
The Hierro Spain deserve
The fact that the transfer window is very much active in the weeks leading up to, and even during, major international tournaments, is largely regarded as an unnecessary distraction for players competing at competitions. Equally, a manager committing to Real Madrid before the tournament has begun could potentially create rifts in the squad.
Picture, for a moment, Gerard Pique taking orders from who he now knows to be the Real Madrid coach in just a few month’s time. The defender has been extremely vocal in his criticism of the club. “I don’t like the values Real Madrid transmit” he said last year.
“What I don’t like about Real Madrid is how those in the box seats pull the strings. The person who accused Messi and Neymar and who has a different treatment for Cristiano Ronaldo is in those box seats” he added.
Ultimately, the president of the Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, felt that his hand was “forced” to sack Lopetegui on matters of principle. Just last month, Lopetegui signed a new contract with Spain, committing his services to the national team until 2022. Undermining this agreement behind the back of the FA was a step too far for Rubiales who felt that he had no choice but to dismiss the former goalkeeper. Spain may have just self-sabotaged before a single ball has been kicked.