FIFA World Cup

Spain coach Julen Lopetegui faces sack after taking Real Madrid job: Reports

Lopetegui was announced as Zinedine Zidane’s successor at the Santiago Bernabeu in a shock announcement on Tuesday.

Julen Lopetegui’s position as Spain boss was called into serious question just 48 hours ahead of La Roja’s World Cup opener against Portugal, according to furious Spanish press reports on Wednesday, after he was named the new Real Madrid coach.

Lopetegui was announced as Zinedine Zidane’s successor at the Santiago Bernabeu in a shock announcement on Tuesday that has rocked one of the pre-tournament favourites’ preparations. Spanish federation chief Luis Rubiales is reportedly furious at Lopetegui’s decision to take the job, having signed a contract extension until 2020 just last month.

“The future of Julen Lopetegui as Spanish national team manager hangs by a thread,” said Madrid-based sports daily Marca. “Rubiales feels betrayed and his anger has only increased as the hours have passed.”

A planned press conference with Rubiales and Lopetegui at Spain’s World Cup base in Krasnodar was delayed an hour to 0930 GMT on Wednesday. “It is not the moment to talk, but we will take the decision that is best for the national team,” Rubiales told reporters.

There was widespread anger among Spanish media and fans at the timing of the announcement on the eve of the tournament, with hopes high that a revitalised side could reach the heights of three consecutive major tournament wins between 2008 and 2012, including the country’s only World Cup win in 2010.

“The news hit me like a bullet,” wrote Alfredo Relano, editor of sports daily AS. “Not because Lopetegui will be the coach of Madrid for the next three years, which seems like a good and respectable choice. But the day and way (it was announced) seemed horrible.”

Spain are unbeaten in all of Lopetegui’s 20 games in charge as Spain boss. However, there are fears his appointment could open up old divisions between the Real Madrid and Barcelona factions in the Spain squad.

For the first time since 2006, there are more players from Madrid in a Spanish squad for a major tournament, with a six-strong Real contingent and just Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets from Barca.

“The announcement has not gone down well in the Spanish dressing room, apart from the Real players who have welcomed his arrival at the Bernabeu,” said Barcelona-based newspaper Sport. Lopetegui had a short playing career at both Madrid and Barcelona as a reserve goalkeeper.

However, his coaching career had been far from distinguished before being handed the role as Spain coach after a last-16 exit at Euro 2016 brought Vicente del Bosque’s eight-year reign to an end. After short spells at Rayo Vallecano and with Madrid’s youth team Real Madrid Castilla, Lopetegui enjoyed a successful time with Spain’s under-19s and under-21s. He then spent 18 months in charge of Porto but was sacked after exiting the Champions League at the group stage in his second season.

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