At 7.10pm on Thursday evening, Julen Lopetegui, the newly sacked manager of Spain’s national soccer team, appeared in the Presidential Box in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium. The appearance came just an hour after his replacement at the head of ‘La Roja,’ Fernando Hierro, gave a press conference of his own ahead of Spain’s opening match against Portugal in the Russia 2018 World Cup.
“[Wednesday] was possibly the saddest day of my life since the death of my mother,” said Lopetegui. “But today is the happiest day of my life.”
The fact that the RFEF sacked Lopetegui means that Real Madrid will not have to pay the €2 million clause to break his contract
The soccer coach was fired from his position two days ago, just a day after news of his signing with Real Madrid for next season was announced by the club itself. Lopetegui has signed with the team for the next three seasons.
At his presentation on Thursday, Lopetegui stated that he “knows what loyalty is” – and that it is something he learned with Real Madrid, where he started to play at the age of 18.
It’s been a whirlwind week for the manager. On Tuesday morning he was in Krasnodar, running the Spain team’s training session ahead of its first game against Portugal, which will take place this evening. By the afternoon, his signing with Real Madrid had been announced. By Wednesday morning he had been sacked by the head of the Spanish Royal Football Federation (RFEF), Luis Rubiales.
Lopetegui arrived in Madrid on Thursday morning, and by the evening he was in the Bernabéu, wearing a smart suit and accompanied by his wife and children, as well as the club’s chairman, Florentino Pérez. “This is an event that we wanted to hold after the end of the World Cup, and after a new triumph for the national team,” Pérez told the press last night. “But a series of circumstances have meant that we are here today.”
The chairman stated that Real Madrid had put “transparency” first, and that as soon as the club had reached a deal with Lopetegui, Rubiales was informed. “Those who confuse this agreement with alleged acts of disloyalty clearly have a patrimonial view of people and institutions – an attitude that has fortunately been overcome in 21st-century Spain. It was an absurd reaction of misunderstood pride,” he said of the widespread criticism aimed at Lopetegui in the wake of his decision to join the Madrid club.
Until Thursday, only Rubiales’ version of events had been made public, the RFEF president making it clear that he felt betrayed by the fact that the deal had been done without informing the federation. But last night Lopetegui had the chance to give his side of events.
This is an event that we wanted to hold after the end of the World Cup, and after a new triumph for the national team
Florentino Pérez, Real Madrid chairman
“Loyalty is telling the truth, and when there was something to say, the first person to know about it was [Rubiales], and the scene was one of congratulations, from Madrid and from the RFEF,” Lopetegui explained. “There was a press conference planned and Rubiales asked me to wait to hold it, given that he wasn’t in Krasnodar. I waited for him even though I wanted to speak the same day. What happened next I have no idea. But I had no doubt that the only way to approach the situation was to be honest with everyone, because hiding things is bad and I didn’t want to do that. The players understood it perfectly, and what’s more, that was the day that we trained the best.”
Lopetegui went on to say that the day he was sacked was “surreal.” “One of the nice things is that the respect and affection from the players is something that is not given away – they showed it to me because we have earned it with the work,” he said. “At the last minute they have left us out of that dream.”
Asked how he viewed the way that Rubiales handled the situation, Lopetegui admitted that he “would have liked to have seen him do things differently.”
The fact that the RFEF sacked Lopetegui means that Real Madrid will not have to pay the €2 million clause to break his contract, as had been agreed. Lopetegui, who was due to stay in the role of Spain manager until 2020, will technically have to be paid for the remaining years on his contract with the Spain team. The situation has changed so quickly that on Tuesday there was talk about Lopetegui missing out on a summer vacation: had he stayed on and Spain got to the final, which takes place on July 15, he would have had to be back in Madrid for the team to start its pre-season training on July 16. But as it turned out, just 48 hours after the news of his appointment broke, on Thursday night he found himself in his new home.