The sequence of events surrounding the Spanish national team in the few days before the beginning of the World Cup deserves to be remembered as the pinnacle of Spanish sports weirdness, and that is quite a feat.
Decisions made and actions taken by every participant can indeed be justified: Real Madrid / Florentino’s ego needed a top-level coach; Julen Lopetegui felt that Real Madrid never calls twice, although a certain Fabio Capello may differ; and Mr Rubiales, the president of the Spanish FA, surely thought that Lopetegui’s behavior was disloyal to such an extent that the Basque coach could be trusted no longer.
But the fact that all three parties can argue their respective cases does not mean that they’re right. In fact, and from my extremely humble perspective, they are all closer to idiocy than to rational, sensitive behavior.
Let’s start with Mr Perez, who had spent the best part of Angel Villar’s tenure as FA president trying to get him out of his seat. The consequences of that attitude for Real Madrid are debatable; what isn’t is the fact that, for the good of the club, you should try to get along with the person who manages not only the referees, but other very relevant levers for any Primera División club. Once Villar fell, the opportunity to improve Real Madrid’s relationship with the biggest authority in Spanish football was evident, taking advantage of the fact that newcomer Rubiales would want to appear as different from Villar as possible.
And with all this context, tito Floren’s first decision in relation to the Spanish FA is to steal their coach. I’ve discussed this at length with some fellow Madridistas, and no one has been able to change my mind: this is a MAJOR clusterfuck for the club. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the extra bonus of Perez organizing a press conference to introduce Lopetegui as Real Madrid’s new coach and devoting a few minutes of it to criticize the short-tempered Rubiales.
I know that, before getting to Lopetegui, Perez had tried to convince at least Low and Allegri. I understand that Perez was desperate to find a manager as soon as possible to plan the new season and make tough, urgent personnel decisions. But do those short-term needs justify such a predictable, huge fight with the Spanish FA for a coach with Lopetegui’s resume? Honestly, I can’t see how. For all we know, Real Madrid could fire the also hot-tempered Lopetegui before Christmas, while the president of the Spanish FA could resist on his chair for another 30 years. Evidence strongly suggests that the incumbent of the FA presidency stays in his job decades longer than any Real Madrid coach. This steal may result in years of domestic frustration for Real Madrid.
Then there’s Lopetegui. I understand that the Real Madrid job is one of the top ones worldwide, and that he didn’t really believe he could lose the bench of the national team but… three weeks after extending his contract with Spain it takes him five minutes speaking with Tito Floren to break it? And how come he does not feel his position could be at risk when he depended on the – again – short fused Rubiales, who was already well known because of his hotheaded decisions? He expected a rational decision from his employer, and he learned the hard way that your employer is not necessarily rational, especially when you piss him off royally.
Finally, we have Rubiales. How his decision leaves the team in a better position than it was under Lopetegui simply escapes me, and that should have been his major consideration when all this happened. Lopetegui had been preparing for this tournament for two years, while Hierro joined the Spanish FA again in late November 2017 after a hiatus of six years and has a coaching resume even weaker than Lopetegui’s.
Honestly, I don’t think any party left better than they were before all this started: Florentino has won an average coach, but has lost whatever support he could expect from the FA. Lopetegui has missed out on the chance to make history with his country’s national team, only to work for a fickle president under which he may very well not last long; and Rubiales has a worse coach than the one he had, and didn’t even get the termination clause money from Real Madrid!
By the way, there’s a match tomorrow, and at least on paper it’s the most difficult in the group stage. While Portugal prepare for the battle, the Spanish squad has been trying to mediate between Rubiales and Lopetegui, has discussed the events of the week until exhaustion, has watched and commented on the bizarre press conference in Madrid… Their focus can hardly be on the match. Line-up? Who knows. Before Hierro took over, my hunch was that Lopetegui would start Koke over Thiago and Aspas over Costa, but now it’s tough to guess what the new coach is thinking.
In any case, it’s impossible to imagine what to expect from this squad after all this mess. Hierro is not a tactician by any stretch of the imagination, but he knows a thing or two about motivation and could very well find the right buttons to create a siege mentality and unify the team behind him.
However, this scribe is pessimistic. This horror show can’t possibly help the team, and the limitations of a less qualified coach can indeed be the difference between a fantastic tournament and a disappointing one.