The Spanish soccer federation (RFEF) announced today that it has fired its national team manager Julen Lopetegui, on the eve of the World Cup, because Lopetegui did not “act the right way.” The infraction? Lopetegui accepted a job managing Real Madrid, which would have started after the World Cup, without prior negotiation with the RFEF. Yes, this is as insane as it sounds.
Lopetegui’s surprising appointment to the Real Madrid job was announced just yesterday. Reports at the time said Lopetegui and Madrid hadn’t planned on announcing the move until after the World Cup, but because they feared news of the appointment had begun to leak, they were forced to make it official yesterday to get ahead of the news. If Lopetegui getting the Madrid job was a shock (none of the previous speculation surrounding who would replace Zinedine Zidane in that post mentioned Lopetegui as a candidate at all), then how the RFEF responded was an even bigger one.
At a press conference today, recently elected RFEF president Luis Rubiales, who must be on some very potent power trip, said:
“We have been obliged to fire the national coach. We wish him the best, he has done an excellent job in getting us to the tournament. But the federation cannot be left outside the negotiation of one of its employees, and find out just five minutes before a public announcement. If anybody wants to talk to one of our employees, they have to speak to us too, that is basic, as this is the team of all Spaniards.”
Rubiales was in Moscow when he heard the news and rushed back to Spain’s training camp in Krasnodar to speak with Lopetegui:
“We had to react, I know that whatever I do I will be criticised, I accept that. But the values of the federation come first. I am sure Julen would have preferred it another way, and we wish him the best. He is a top coach for me, which made the decision very difficult. To win is very important, to have the best coach very important, but above everything is acting in the right way.”
Lopetegui has helped turn Spain around after their dismal performance in the last World Cup and the 2016 Euros. He’s a talented coach who is reportedly popular in the locker room, especially with Spain captain Sergio Ramos. Under Lopetegui, Spain was considered one of the favorites to win the entire tournament. Rubiales, however, was willing to throw all that away because Lopetegui and Real Madrid skipped a step in the hiring process. According to the New York Times, a group of Spain players begged Rubiales to keep Lopetegui “arguing that it would minimize disruption, but their pleas were rejected.” And then Rubiales had the audacity to pull the “think of the team” card.
“We are all affected by this, but we must think about the best for the federation and the team. All this is a big blow, but we are training again this afternoon, will stick together and move forward.”
Going against your players’ wishes and canning a good and popular coach just two days before Spain are set to play their World Cup opener against Portugal seems like a high price to pay to make a statement about decorum!