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Emotional Lopetegui at Real introduction: Spain firing ‘saddest day’

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It’d be fair to assume Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would sympathize with anyone changing managers in a fit of emotion, but the 71-year-old is enraged on behalf of his new coach Julen Lopetegui.

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Madrid introduced Lopetegui on Thursday. The Spanish coach is taking the reins from resigned boss Zinedine Zidane one day after the Spanish national team fired Lopetegui for taking the Real job without informing them.

Yes, the same Spanish team who enters this month’s World Cup as one of the favorites.

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Perez lambasted the Spanish federation, which claimed both Lopetegui and his new club “betrayed” the country, citing Chelsea and Manchester United hiring Antonio Conte and Louis Van Gaal on the eve of major tournaments for their national teams.

And Lopetegui claimed his players reacted well to his telling them he’d leave the national team set-up after the World Cup.

At one point, Lopetegui became emotional in discussing the last 24-48 hours.

From Real Madrid’s web site:

“I believe I’m ready for this adventure and to take the wonderful squad of players we have under my wing. Real Madrid aspires to win everything and I feel part of the family at this club. Yesterday was the saddest day of my life since the death of my mother, but today is the happiest.”

We get it, Julen, and there’s no reason for him to feel shamed. We supposed he could’ve told Real to wait until after the World Cup to speak, but then could miss out on a dream job.

The 51-year-old coached Real Madrid B from 2008-09 before moving onto Spain’s youth set-up, then Porto, then Spain’s senior team.

How much will Spain’s managerial turmoil hurt their World Cup chances?

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Spanish Federation president Luis Rubiales appears to have nuked Spain’s chances at the 2018 World Cup just 24 hours before the opening of the big dance.

Rubiales pulled the power play of all power plays by sacking manager Julen Lopetegui for going behind the federation’s back to negotiate a deal to become Real Madrid’s new boss following the conclusion of the World Cup. After the deal leaked and Los Blancos confirmed the appointment, Rubiales heard the players and Director of Football Fernando Hierro all plead for support of Lopetegui, and then canned him anyways and put the woefully underqualified Hierro in charge.

So how much does this truly affect Spain’s ability to perform at a high level on the biggest soccer stage?

A backroom overhaul at the eve of the World Cup is nothing to scoff at. There can be no greater upheaval to a squad’s preparation than to have its leader undercut on the doorstep. However, the Spanish squad is full of tactically adept veterans such as Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, and many more. It’s unlikely that their tactical makeup will change much – if at all – and with so little time to make any form of sweeping tactical changes, there will likely be close to no major shuffles to the deck.

There was plenty of talk about how Lopetegui was less a tactical puppeteer and more of a mental facilitator during his time in charge of Spain. In fact, in his only club position prior to taking the national team job, he failed in monumental fashion at Porto, unable to finish out his second season with the team in third in the Primera Liga and booted following a massive 6-1 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich. Understanding Lopetegui’s shaky managerial past is critical in deducing that his success with the national team could be as much or more down to his ability to balance his squad’s egos and mental states than a tactical prowess. Thus, the squad may be able to continue on the field without Lopetegui’s guidance and minimize the damage suffered by his sudden departure.

Despite Lopetegui’s success after minimal club experience, looking past Hierro’s monumentally thin managerial resume is still very challenging. He has almost no experience leading a squad, and while he has spent the last year or so as Director of Football under Lopetegui, that’s not nearly enough to instill massive confidence in his ability to lead the national team tactically and emotionally. His only job saw Real Oviedo miss out on the Segunda B divison promotion playoffs on the final match of the season in 2017, leaving the club after just the one season.

So will Lopetegui’s sudden upheaval throw the Spain squad into irreperable chaos, or will Hierro be able to right the ship? Will the squad leadership be enough to see it through the maelstrom, or will the ship be swallowed beneath the stormy waters? It’s unlikely the managerial change will have any major impact on their Group B finish, but with a potential quarterfinal matchup against Argentina looming on the horizon, Spain could be headed for a second disappointing finish in a major tournament in the last two years, a result that fans are unlikely to take in stride.

Spain fire Lopetegui in huge shock on eve of World Cup

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The story of the 2018 World Cup may have just occurred.

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Spain have fired their head coach Julen Lopetegui a day after it was announced he would become the new manager of Real Madrid following the World Cup.

On the eve of the tournament and just over 48 hours before their opening game of Group B play against rivals Portugal on Friday, the Spanish national team are in chaos.

Fernando Hierro has been rushed in as the new head coach but the Real Madrid and Spanish national team legend will have his work cut out.

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Speaking at a hastily arranged press conference in Krasnodar, Russia, the president of the Spanish Football Association, Luis Rubiales, detailed the decision to fire Lopetegui, 51.

“It’s the Spanish team. You can’t do things this way,” Rubiales said. “I don’t feel betrayed. Lopetegui, while he’s been with us, has done impeccable work. Another COA is how this has been done, without knowledge of the association. I admire Julen very much, I respect him very much. He seems to me a top trainer and that makes it harder to make the decision.”

Rubiales went on to confirm that he found out about Lopetegui agreeing to join Real Madrid, after the World Cup, just five minutes before the official announcement was made on Tuesday.

The announcement of Lopetegui taking over at Real Madrid is also said to have caused serious problems within the Spanish camp. The timing of the announcement was deemed as being too disruptive with players from Real said to have known he would take over from Zinedine Zidane before their national team teammates from other clubs.

Lopetegui took charge of Spain in 2016 and led them to the World Cup and was unbeaten in his 20 games in charge. He was due to coach in his first major tournament as the Spanish coach but now that has all ended.

Ahead of Spain’s opening World Cup game all of the talk is about this crazy situation as Lopetegui’s decision to sign a deal with Real Madrid without previously speaking to the Spanish federation has cost him the chance to lead his country.

Spain boss Lopetegui to take charge of Real Madrid

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Julen Lopetegui will be the new manager of Real Madrid.

The current Spanish national team coach has signed a three-year deal to take charge of the reigning European champions and he will leave his role at the end of the 2018 World Cup.

Following the departure of Zinedine Zidane in mic-dropping fashion just days after he delivered a third-straight European title, Real had been linked with bringing in Arsene Wenger, Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino as their new boss.

In a brief statement on their website, Real announced they’ve appointed the former FC Porto manager on the eve of the World Cup.

“Julen Lopetegui will be the Real Madrid coach after the celebration of the 2018 World Cup. Real Madrid C. F. announce that Julen Lopetegui will be the coach of the first team during the next three seasons. Julen Lopetegui will join the club after Spain’s participation in the World Cup, after two years leading the national team.”

The 51-year-old has an impressive resume after leading Spain’s youth national teams to glory and then leading the Spanish national team to a waltz through World Cup qualifying after he took over from Vicente del Bosque in 2016.

This is somewhat of a surprise but Lopetegui is among the most promising coaches in the world and he will now return to the club where he began his journey. Lopetegui graduated from Real’s academy but played just once for the first team in a nomadic 17-year career across Spain.

Quite what this announcement means for Spain’s chances of winning the World Cup this summer remain to be seen, but Lopetegui will no doubt be fully focused on guiding his nation to success to begin his reign as Real boss in the best possible fashion.

Lopetegui defends Pique from questions of loyalty to Spain

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Spain coach Julen Lopetegui has defended Gerard Pique from critics who question his loyalty to the national team because of his support for a disputed referendum on Catalan independence.

“Gerard gives it his all each and every time he plays with us,” Lopetegui said Friday. “I judge players’ commitment to the national team by their behavior. That is where I put my focus and in that sense I have no doubts about Pique.”

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Pique posted a message on social media on Thursday calling for people in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia to participate peacefully in Sunday’s vote that police have been ordered by courts to stop.

“From today until Sunday we will express ourselves pacifically,” Pique tweeted. “Don’t give them any excuse (for a crackdown). That’s what they want. And sing loud and clear.”

Pique has been jeered by Spain fans during home matches in recent years both for his jibes at Barcelona club rival Real Madrid and his support of the push for a secession referendum in Catalonia.

Spain captain Sergio Ramos, a Real Madrid defender, said Thursday that “Pique’s tweet isn’t the best thing to do if he doesn’t want people to jeer him.”

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The 30-year-old Pique has made 91 appearances for Spain, helping it win the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship. He and Ramos form its pair of central defenders.

As expected on Friday, Lopetegui included Pique in Spain’s squad for its final two qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup. Spain hosts Albania on Oct. 6 in the southern city of Alicante. It then visits Israel three days later.

Barcelona is the capital of prosperous Catalonia, where a separatist-led regional government vows to hold the vote on independence from the rest of Spain despite its suspension by the Constitutional Court.

Spain’s constitution says that only the nation’s government can call a referendum on sovereignty. Police forces acting on judges’ orders have seized ballots and arrested regional officials, sparking protests in the streets and universities.