Spain’s Julen Lopetegui leaves as coach ahead of World Cup


Julen Lopetegui has been sacked as Spain national coach on the eve of the World Cup, one day after agreeing to take over at Real Madrid.

Madrid had been looking for a replacement since Zinedine Zidane stepped down last month, just days after winning a third consecutive Champions League trophy.

In a news conference, Spanish FA (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales said it was a complicated situation but one that he felt “compelled” to make.

“I very much admire Julen and respect him greatly,” Rubiales said. “He seems to be a top coach and that has made it more difficult to make this decision.

“To win is very important. To have the best coach very important. But, above everything, is acting in the right way. Maybe this is tough now, but in the end, it will make us stronger.”

After guiding Spain easily through qualification to the World Cup finals, Lopetegui had agreed a new contract up until Euro 2020 in May.

But just three days before Spain’s Group B opener against Portugal in Sochi, Russia, Madrid announced on Tuesday afternoon that they had convinced him to leave that position after the tournament is over to take up a three-year deal with the La Liga giants.

“The federation cannot be left outside the negotiation of one of its employees and find out just five minutes before a public announcement,” Rubiales said. “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. The national team is the most important team we have and the World Cup is the biggest [competition] of all.”

Rubiales and Lopetegui were set to give a news conference from the national team’s camp in Krasnodar early on Wednesday morning. Ex-Spain and Madrid defender Fernando Hierro is also with the team in Russia as sporting director and could step in as coach if Lopetegui were to leave immediately.

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On Tuesday night, RFEF vice-president Rafael del Amo told Radio Marca that he was very disappointed by the timing of Madrid taking the national coach, and predicted further negative fallout should Spain not now win the World Cup.

“I don’t like it, don’t like it at all,” Del Amo said. “This is not the moment, [Lopetegui] will know that. It is a bit offside, he should have been focused on where he is, there is a lot on the line. I believe they should have looked for another moment, but you must have respect too. I [still] believe we will win the tournament, I hope so. If not, you realise how bad this news could be, for some, and for others. For sure it is not the best thing that could have happened.”

Reports say that the former Madrid and Barcelona goalkeeper, whose representative Caros Bucero works closely with Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes, will triple his salary with the move.

Rubiales spoke with Marca on his return to the Krasnodar camp from Moscow, where the national federation president had been expecting to attend Wednesday’s vote to pick the host for the 2026 World Cup.

“This is not the moment to speak, but we will take the best decision for the national team,” said Rubiales, who was only voted RFEF president last month. “We will do things with responsibility.”

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