Pour one out for Julen Lopetegui, who has had just about the worst possible year a soccer manager can have. Real Madrid fired Lopetegui this afternoon, one day after an embarrassing 5-1 ass-kicking by Messi-less Barcelona, thus ending a nightmare of a year.
As of just four months ago, the poor dude had the Spanish national team rolling into the World Cup on tremendous form. Spain had never lost under Lopetegui’s guidance, going 14-6-0 with a +48 goal difference during his two years in charge. But then, just one day before the World Cup started in Russia, Lopetegui was unceremoniously and inexplicably shit-canned by the Spanish federation in a bizarre display of frat-boy “alpha” posturing because the federation president was mad Lopetegui committed the mortal sin of, uh, not telling the federation soon enough that he was going to take another job after the World Cup. Predictably, Spain completely collapsed once the tournament started, found themselves unable to pass the ball forward, and crashed out in the round of 16 against a Russia team that was definitely not doping.
But still, even without Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid are the biggest and best soccer club in the world. Every manager dreams of reaching a pinnacle like that, even if said pinnacle club is also a hilarious snake pit whose three-time Champions League winning coach called it quits because he didn’t want to deal with the bullshit. Lopetegui made it through exactly 14 games before getting the axe. His team’s only victory in the last month came against something called Viktoria Plzen, and Madrid have been outscored 9-3 in three games this season against their archrivals, Atlético Madrid and Barcelona. Things have gotten to the point that Lopetegui’s father had to give a caterwauling interview where he blamed the club for sabotaging his boy’s dream gig by selling Ronaldo and failing to buy a replacement. It’s been an absolute disaster, and Madrid are currently ninth in the league with a goal differential of zero.
Lopetegui may have been set up to fail, taking over for the overachieving manager of a fatigued squad that just lost their best player, but he did precisely nothing with all of Madrid’s talent. Not only that, but it appears his firing is at least in part because he lacked the confidence of his convictions and went back on the hard-working, highly effective playing style he successfully implemented early in the season—a style that might have rubbed certain big-time Madridistas the wrong way when it involved benching them in favor of more stylistically-fitting younger players—and instead more or less let the big boys bully him into playing the way they preferred. Lopetegui’s failure for club and country was so spectacular this year that he probably won’t ever get another big job again. He was good enough with Spain that, under normal circumstances, they might take him back, but that bridge has been burnt. The highest level of global soccer is as unforgiving as anything in sports.