Real Madrid announced Julen Lopetegui as their new manager today, just two weeks after Zinedine Zidane resigned abruptly from the job after winning the Champions League title. Lopetegui is currently manager of Spain’s national team and won’t take over at Real Madrid until after the World Cup.
The delayed start probably isn’t much to worry about, though the pro-Messi position Lopetegui has staked out in the Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo debate could pose a potential problem, depending on how magnanimous Ronaldo might be feeling. (As he’s reportedly pissed about not getting a pay raise out of Real Madrid after leading the club to its third straight Champions League title, and is strongly hinting at an exit, it’s likely he won’t be disposed to feel generously towards his new manager’s old takes.)
In November of 2016, Lopetegui said he voted for Messi to win the Ballon d’Or over Ronaldo. “I’ve never met a player like Leo Messi. I don’t like to compare eras,” he said at the time. “I’ve never seen and nor do I think I will ever see someone with Messi’s consistency.”
Then in 2017, Lopetegui was quoted by Argentine sports website TyC Sports, saying, “Messi is the best player in history. He has extraordinary players and a coach who has given him a plus.”
While certainly a reasonable and in fact correct position, Lopetegui’s words stand in stark contrast to what Zidane said about Ronaldo last December, after the striker won his fifth Ballon d’Or, tying Messi’s haul.
“The stats speak for themselves. He’s the best player in the history of football,” Zidane said. “Cristiano Ronaldo is better than me by far, but I’m not bothered because I had a good career.”
“He’ll always be up here for me. Many things have been said about him, and what he does out on the field every match is phenomenal.”
Despite the praise, Ronaldo was reportedly contemplating leaving Real Madrid even before Zidane stepped down.