Spanish coach, Julen Lopetegui, is having quite the 2018 and faces the possibility of being sacked by both Spain and Real Madrid in just five months
Julen Lopetegui has probably been one of the happiest managers on the international break for one single reason: there hasn’t been a Real Madrid game where the team could mess up. Again.
Maybe the assessment is too harsh on him, but the truth is that his current job is on the line. He is, simply put, walking the tightrope. Reports suggested that he could have been sacked after the 95th minute defeat against Alavés, but Real Madrid’s board – in other words Florentino Pérez – didn’t budge.
Not yet. Not until La Liga is back and Lopetegui can prove to his boss that he’s capable of steering the Madrid ship and course-correct a disappointing start to the season.
It’s tough not to feel at least a pinch of sympathy for the man, in a twisted, Mr. Bean-esque kind of way. Because, if we look at cold, hard facts, whatever happens to him in the immediate future will be something that Julen brought upon himself. Period.
Sacked by Spain after Real Madrid admission
Let’s quickly recap: with only a handful of days to go before Spain had their debut in the World Cup, and after receiving quite a few turn-downs from other international-level managers (Pochettino, Klopp, Allegri, Conte, Nagelsmann…), Florentino Pérez called Lopetegui and offered him the Bernabeu’s home bench.
But the coach had to choose quickly. And Lopetegui, for unknown reasons, said ‘yes’ straight away, hoping that the Spanish Federation would comply and allow him to be Spain’s manager at the World Cup before moving on to Los Blancos.
He was wrong.
In the 48 hours that followed, Lopetegui was unceremoniously sacked and his public image was ravaged, as a vast majority of fans in the country considered his move to be a betrayal towards the national squad, especially after signing a new extended contract with Spain only weeks earlier.
Who knows what would’ve happened in the tournament hosted by Russia. There was no guarantee of success for the team, but the general consensus says that Lopetegui would have been a more qualified individual than Fernando Hierro for crucial games and moments. Moments such as the game against the hosts in the Last 16 round, which ultimately forced ‘La Roja’ to pack their bags and go home.
Life without Cristiano Ronaldo
With everything said and done, the Basque manager had a challenging season ahead which he eagerly wanted to tackle with all of his expertise. But, several weeks in after his appointment as Real’s new boss, another blow to his project: Cristiano Ronaldo was leaving for Juventus. Whatever opinion Portuguese generates amongst pundits, his stats and his relevance to the team make that decision a manager’s worst nightmare.
A Cristiano-less Real added a few young names to their ranks (Odriozola, Vinicius…) and old Florentino fan-favourites (the arrival of Thibaut Courtois can be credited to the president almost exclusively), but no reliable ‘number 9’ came in to provide Ronaldo’s goals. And with such a huge handicap, Lopetegui began his run as Madrid’s ship captain by incredibly crashing down against Atlético de Madrid in the European Super Cup.
Sure, early La Liga games against weak opposition might have buried the problem for a while (some of Real Madrid’s most loyal press even dared to call the team ‘better than Guardiola’s Barça’), but it soon resurfaced in spectacular fashion. It’s 409 minutes without scoring a single goal in all competitions. Losses and draws have begun piling up. And Florentino’s patience seems to be wearing thin.
After the break, Real host Levante in a Santiago Bernabeu which will be expecting the best of their men. But the fixture is a dangerous one: should Paco López’s ‘Granotas’ keep the improving form of the last two match days, the game won’t be easy for the home team. Can you imagine another stumble for Real? Can you imagine what the president’s reaction would be in such a high-demanding environment ?