There’s that old saying in life that timing is everything, and you’d have to argue that’s a lesson that Spain, Real Madrid and Julen Lopetegui are going to learn the hard way.
What on earth were they all thinking? Why did Real Madrid and Lopetegui announce he had agreed to become the club’s new manager a matter of days ahead of the World Cup?
But perhaps more pertinently, why did Spain sack him roughly 48 hours ahead of the tournament, when really he could have continued in his role with no problems?
“We have decided to fire the national coach. What we have achieved in getting here is due in great part to him, and we must thank him and wish him luck. The Spanish national team is the team of all the Spaniards,” said Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales, in a statement hastily reconfigured in English by what appears to be Google Translate.
“We only found out just five minutes before the announcement that he was leaving for Madrid. There is a way that you must act. Julen has worked in a great way with the team, but we cannot accept how he has acted in this case.”
Rubiales more formal English version sheds some more light on the matter. “I know there’s going to be criticism whatever I do. I’m sure this will, in time, make us stronger. I admire Julen very much, I respect him very much. He seems a top trainer and that makes it harder to make the decision,” he said.
“You can’t do things this way, two or three days before the World Cup. We have been compelled to make this decision.”
The statements confirm that Lopetegui’s sacking wasn’t for footballing reasons but for denting Spanish football’s pride, and a number of players are thought to be angry at the decision. The Guardian’s article reads that ‘….to compound matters, it sounds like the players were strongly against the move’, while the BBC writes that ‘….it has been claimed senior players – including captain Sergio Ramos – fought for Lopetegui to remain in charge for the duration of the World Cup.’ All of which is less than ideal with their opener against Portugal as soon as Friday evening.
Fernando Hierro moves across from his position as sporting director, but he lacks in managerial experience and you wonder if he will command the respect of a dressing room likely to be rather befuddled by the events of the past 24 hours, and especially if reports of support for Lopetegui from within the squad is true.
So, Should I Tear Up My Betting Slip?
Not quite yet, hombre. This has been a colossal fudge up, absolutely, and there’s no doubt that the preparations of the players will be hampered in the coming days.
We have plenty of sympathy for those canny ante-post backers who got on Spain to win the whole darn thing at 5/1, many of whom will be suspecting the worst from a side who are no strangers to dismal performances on the world stage – their 1-5 defeat to Holland at World Cup ’14 will still be fresh in the memories of some.
But their odds of lifting the trophy have lengthened to 7/1, and really we have to ask the question of whether that is now extremely good value?
If the players don’t rally and get behind Hierro, then no of course it isn’t.
But if they do, those odds could look very generous indeed come the business end of the tournament.
Lopetegui, Hierro….let’s face it; a group containing Portugal, Morocco and Iran hasn’t suddenly become super-difficult.
And this is a squad of players with almost incomparable experience of winning silverware; either at club level with Barcelona and Real Madrid, or internationally from those halcyon days when the Spaniards won the World Cup and European Championships of 2010 and 2012.
They won’t suddenly become a bad team overnight, either. De Gea in the sticks, Ramos and Pique at the back, Isco, David Silva and Andres Iniesta in midfield, Diego Costa leading the line….it’s a spine that is the envy of any other team in the competition, and even accounting for the occasional off-field rumbling we have to conclude that Spain, on their day, are definite contenders for the crown.