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Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019

Spain sack coach Julen Lopetegui ahead of World Cup, appoint Fernando Hierro

Fernando Hierro has been named the Spain football team’s new coach for the duration of the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia after the federation sacked Julen Lopetegui.

football Updated: Jun 13, 2018 21:01 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Moscow
Fernando Hierro was named head coach of the Spain football team for FIFA World Cup 2018.
Fernando Hierro was named head coach of the Spain football team for FIFA World Cup 2018.(Twitter)

Luis Rubiales looked irritated as he addressed a news conference at Spain’s training base in Krasnodar, over 1,300 km from here, on Wednesday. Just weeks after taking over as the president of the Spanish football federation (RFEF), Rubiales was announcing the sacking of national team coach Julen Lopetegui.

The decision, made one day before the World Cup begins, sent shockwaves through the footballing world. The 1998 World Cup had seen three managerial casualties in the form of Henryk Kasperczak, Carlos Alberto Parreira and Cha Bum-kun, then coaches of Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, respectively. But even then, the trio faced the sack after it was confirmed their teams would go no further in the competition.

READ: Julen Lopetegui sacked by Spain on eve of 2018 FIFA World Cup

Former Real Madrid defender Fernando Hierro, Spain’s sporting director since last November, has been appointed as Lopetegui’s replacement. However, it remains to be seen how much damage Lopetegui’s shocking departure, just a couple of days ahead of their high-voltage clash against European champions Portugal in Sochi, has done to the 2010 world champions.

Finger pointed at Real Madrid

Lopetegui’s unceremonious exit resulted from the announcement of his appointment as the next Real Madrid manager on Tuesday.

Rubiales said there was no option other than to sack Lopetegui as he had kept RFEF in the dark while negotiating with Real.

The federation chief said he had been informed of Lopetegui’s appointment as Zinedine Zidane’s replacement in Madrid just five minutes prior to the announcement. A request to delay the announcement was turned down by Real, he said.

“There are decisions that we are obliged to take based on an understanding of how you should behave and on ethics,” Rubiales said.

“Julen has worked phenomenally well; I have nothing at all to complain about there. But the way that this has happened obliged me to take this decision.”

An emergency meeting

Spanish media outlets reported on Wednesday morning that Spain skipper Sergio Ramos led a contingent of senior players to meet Rubiales when the latter arrived in Krasnodar after giving the FIFA Congress a miss.

Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Pepe Reina, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets are reported to have accompanied Ramos to the emergency meeting in a last-ditch attempt at convincing the federation to keep Lopetegui in his position. It didn’t work.

When Diego Maradona was sent home after testing positive for a banned drug during the 1994 World Cup, Argentina never recovered and were knocked out by Romania in the second round. Ditto France after Nicolas Anelka’s forced departure from South Africa.

Lopetegui may not have Maradona’s level of influence but his exit disrupts a chain of command in a team chasing a second World Cup title in three attempts.

With one of the best teams in the world at their disposal, the mess in the Spanish camp will be a welcome development for their Group B foes - Portugal, Iran and Morocco.

First Published: Jun 13, 2018 17:53 IST