Spain manager Julen Lopetegui has been dismissed, the Spanish Football Federation announced Wednesday, with sporting director Fernando Hierro now set to lead the team in Russia.
“Fernando Hierro will assume the position of national coach in the World Championship of Russia and will appear before the media accompanied by the president of the RFEF, Luis Rubiales,” a short statement on the federation’s website read, less than three hours after Lopetegui was sensationally sacked following a bitter fallout after his appointment as Real Madrid manager.
“Next, he will direct his first training and on Friday he will debut in Sochi at the match of Spain against Portugal.”
The news comes less than 24 hours after the announcement that Lopetegui would take over as Real Madrid manager following Spain’s involvement at the World Cup in Russia, which starts today, sparking outrage among the federation and Spanish fans at the timing of the announcement.
RFEF president Luis Rubiales scheduled a news conference yesterday morning at the team’s base in Krasnodar that was severely delayed, leading many to speculate on social media as to Lopetegui’s fate just two days before Spain’s opening Group B game against Iberian neighbours Portugal.
Rubiales was said to be “furious” by the news and timing of the announcement that Lopetegui will join the European champions just 21 days after extending his contract with the Spanish federation until 2020.
Rubiales inferred he felt Lopetegui’s decision to join Madrid so close to the start of the tournament “obliged” him to take drastic action.
“We have to decided to fire the national coach,” said Rubiales, who was supposed to be at Fifa’s Congress in Moscow yesterday. However, he flew to Spain’s training base late on Tuesday night to deal with the matter. “What we have achieved in getting here is due in great part to him, and we must thank him and wish him luck.
“The negotiations [with Madrid] have occurred without any information to the Spanish FA and we were informed just five minutes before the press release.
“There’s a way to act that needs to be fulfilled. Julen has worked in a great way with the team, but we cannot accept how he has acted in this case.
“There has to be a message to all RFEF employees and there are ways of behaving that you need to abide by.”
Real Madrid announced Tuesday that Lopetegui would take over as their manager next season, replacing Zinedine Zidane, who stepped down just days after guiding the club to a third successive Uefa Champions League title.
Lopetegui, a former goalkeeper who represented both Madrid and Barcelona during his playing days, has signed a three-year deal with the Spanish club.
Before news of Hierro’s promotion, Rubiales said: “We are going to touch as little as possible. We are working on it. When we know we will tell you.
“I have spoken with the players and I can guarantee they will do everything, along with the new coach, to take the team as far as possible,” Rubiales added. “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.”
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Hierro, a stylish goal-scoring defender who won 89 caps for Spain, spent most of illustrious playing career at Real Madrid, helping them win five Primera Liga titles, one Copa del Rey and three Uefa Champions League titles. He is a relative novice as a coach, however, with the 50 year old’s only previous experience was a single season in charge of second division Spanish outfit Real Oviedo.
Lopetegui, 51, was appointed Spain’s coach in July 2016 and never tasted defeat in the job, leading the team through 20 unbeaten games ahead of the World Cup.
La Roja were among the favourites to lift the trophy this summer but this astonishing upheaval, so close to the tournament, will surely affect the players.
There were 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.
However, according to reports in the Spanish media, the players tried to intervene at the last minute to prevent Rubiales sacking Lopetegui.