Lopetegui's most difficult week

Real MadridFlorentino Perez believes there's a war against him

Lopetegui's most difficult week

Real MadridFlorentino Perez believes there's a war against him

19 June 2018 Tuesday 16:11
Lopetegui's most difficult week

One week has passed since Real Madrid's shock announcement that Julen Lopetegui, who was preparing Spain for the World Cup in Russia, would become their replacement for Zinedine Zidane and it did not sit well with Luis Rubiales, the Spanish FA president, who in the space of 19 hours went from congratulating to sacking the 51-year-old coach.

The dismissal came two days before Spain's opening match at the World Cup against Portugal, with national team sporting director and former Madrid legend Fernando Hierro stepping in to take over the reins.

At 4pm on June 12, Los Blancos president Florentino Perez phoned Rubiales to explain that Madrid will pay the 2 million euro clause in Lopetegui's contract to make him the next coach of the 13-time European champions.

An agreement had been reached between Perez, Jose Angel Sanchez and Carlos Bucero, the agent of Lopetegui, earlier that day whereby he would sign a three-year deal, but discussions had begun on June 8, even if the Basque coach wanted to focus on the preparation for the Spain-Portugal game.

This is not the first time that a head coach has agreed a deal with a club side before the tournament, or even during, with the likes of Antonio Conte (Chelsea in 2016), Louis van Gaal (Manchester United in 2014), Luis Aragones (Fenerbahce in 2008) and Luis Felipe Scolari (Chelsea in 2008) all doing so.

Lopetegui leaves Krasnodar

While Rubiales respected the call by Perez, he clearly did not appreciate being told that an announcement would be made five minutes afterwards; he had been left in the dark throughout the negotiations.

Part of the reason behind this was because Perez and Lopetegui had come to the realisation that they could not keep this a secret for the duration of the tournament, plus there were rumours beginning to circulate in the Spain camp about the appointment.

Amongst the players, there was a mix of congratulations, applause and jokes by the Barcelona players for Lopetegui as he announced that he would become Madrid head coach after the World Cup, which he thanked them for and then insisted that they now focus on the matter at hand: the World Cup.

Still, Rubiales was not happy as he began to launch his attack on Lopetegui, although the coach made it clear that the RFEF president was the first to know once an agreement had been reached.

"You have treated us like a nobody," said Rubiales, amongst accusations of treason and disloyalty. "Well, [you should] resign."

Lopetegui responded by refusing to sacrifice his spot as national team head coach.

"I will not resign," he stated. "I have not done anything to warrant my resignation and this is my squad.

"If you don't want me, you can sack me if you want."

Lopetegui and Hierro's tense meeting Telecinco

Rubiales said that he would think about it, and that was followed by some of the heavyweights in the dressing room going to the president to back their coach.

Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Sergio Busquets and Pepe Reina all spoke to Rubiales to try and get him to change his mind, which they mistakenly thought that they had achieved.

At noon, the players learned of Lopetegui's sacking via Twitter, with Thiago Alcantara being the first to announce the news; they stayed calm as they are aware that they are the ones who will be playing in the tournament.

The coach was then able to say goodbye to the players, where he thanked them for his two years in charge and gave them a final piece of advice.

"Do not let this divide you," said Lopetegui. "Let it make you stronger, just like all of the obstacles that we have experienced so far."

Less than 24 hours later, Perez called a press conference at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu to announce Madrid's new head coach and the 71-year-old looked to encourage Lopetegui, aware that he was emotionally devastated after his dismissal.

"There is a war against me, Julen, but you got caught in the middle," said Perez. "I'm sorry about what has happened."

It is a bittersweet feeling for Lopetegui, a former goalkeeper at Madrid who also coached the Castilla side, as he was delighted to be named coach of Los Blancos, but it came at the expense of managing his country at a World Cup.

On Monday morning, he was at his office in Valdebebas at 9:30am, looking ahead to the challenge of sustaining the success of Madrid.

Following Zidane's unprecedented success in the Champions League, where he won three consecutive finals as coach, Lopetegui will have instant pressure applied on him but he will look to thrive under that as he brings great enthusiasm to the role, despite still suffering from the pain after his sacking

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