Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales sacked Julen Lopetegui as head coach of the national team after learning on Tuesday that the 51-year-old had accepted Real Madrid’s offer to succeed Zinedine Zidane without seeking permission from Spain first. Rubiales insists he was left in the dark about the decision until five minutes before the official announcement was made.
Fernando Hierro will take caretaker charge of Spain for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. A statement from the Spanish Football Federation read: “Fernando Hierro will assume the position of national coach in the World Championship of Russia and will appear before the media accompanied by the president RFEF, Luis Rubiales. Next, he will direct his first training and on Friday he will debut in Sochi at the match of Spain against Portugal.”
Spain could hardly have wished for a bigger distraction to their World Cup preparations, but Rubiales wasn’t pleased with how Real and Lopetegui conducted business behind the Federation’s back. Hierro will be under immense pressure to get the squad focused for their difficult opening game against European Champions Portugal.
World Cup Group B
Spain’s Group B fixtures
- 15/6/18 (Group B) Portugal v Spain
- 20/6/18 (Group B) Iran v Spain
- 25/6/18 (Group B) Spain v Morocco
Brazil and Germany are pre-tournament favourites, but Spain were expected to do well under Lopetegui. The 51-year-old has been active since 2008 and has enjoyed successful stints in charge with every side he’s managed.
- 2008-2009 (Real Madrid B) 38 games, 18 wins, nine draws, 11 defeats (47% win ratio)
- 2010-2013 (Spain U19) 11 games, eight wins, three draws, 0 defeats (72.7% win ratio)
- 2010-2013 (Spain U20) 10 games, seven wins, two draws, 1 defeat (70% win ratio)
- 2012-2014 (Spain U21) 11 games, 11 wins, 0 draws, 0 defeats (100%)
- 2014-2016 (FC Porto) 77 games, 53 wins, 15 draws, nine defeats (68.8% win ratio)
- 2016-2018 (Spain) 20 games, 14 wins, six draws, 0 defeats (70% win ratio)
Spanish football expert Guillem Balague believes Hierro can steady the ship in Lopetegui’s absence. He said: “Fernando Hierro was absolutely crucial at the 2010 World Cup when Spain lost to Switzerland in their first game. He was director of football at the federation and was the calm force of that camp.
“He has the respect of everybody and he was there as part of the talk with Rubiales and Sergio Ramos and Lopetegui. You won’t see many changes in terms of the style. I don’t think in the short term (Hierro replacing Lopetegui) will have too much of an effect.”
Now, Lopetegui will turn his attentions to Real Madrid and can get started earlier than he expected this summer. Los Blancos finished in La Liga last season, behind champions Barcelona and runners-up Atletico Madrid, while bowing out of the Copa Del Rey to Leganes at the quarter-final stage.
Real sealed their third consecutive Champions League trophy in May which helped to gloss over a lot of failures from last season, but the 51-year-old has a task on his hands to turn things around quickly at the Santiago Bernabéu.