Far from ideal

Lopetegui was presented as Real Madrid manager on Thursday.
Lopetegui was presented as Real Madrid manager on Thursday. / EFE
  • opinion

  • Lopetegui may have been Spain's best chance of success in Russia, but Rubiales has shown he's no pushover and Hierro offers a safe pair of hands

Whenever asked who I'm tipping for the World Cup my answer has always been always the same: "Spain, as long as they don't do anything crazy to implode."

But forget imploding, this was a gigantic explosion on the eve of the World Cup Finals; an incredible run of events that would be beyond belief even for a Spanish soap opera. Julen Lopetegui couldn't keep his mistress secret, not when she's this glamorous and wealthy.

He wanted the best of both worlds but that was impossible. You only get offered the Real Madrid job once. He couldn't say no and although he tried, he couldn't keep the affair secret.

If he'd stayed loyal to Spain it may have just been a summer love that ended in tears and he'd be regretting turning down Real just as he did Wolves two years ago. (OK, maybe not!) He made the right decision then and he may well have made the right decision now. Professionally and financially, if not ethically.

Once the romance with Real Madrid became public knowledge the new president of the Spanish FA, Luis Rubiales, had an impossible decision to make. Though Lopetegui would have given Spain the best chance of succeeding in the tournament -after all, this is a man who hadn't lost a single game as coach, a run extending into his time in charge of the under 21s- Rubiales had to think straight and long-term.

The only way sticking with Lopetegui would be vindicated would be if Spain won the World Cup - anything less and it would be a mistake. I do wonder if he considered calling Zinedine Zidane just to get his own back on Real Madrid!

Fernando Hierro was the sensible option bearing in mind that he was already a senior member of the party, national team hero and laudable cool head. He's footballing royalty and he'll be assisted by a prince in waiting, Albert Celades, the under-21 coach.

In truth, I doubt very much whether Spain's chances of success at the World Cup Finals have been affected by the change of manager. It's hardly a revolution; the team contains so many leaders and it just about selects itself. Lopetgui could merely hand over a tactics board with ten of the names already marked up and leave his successors with only one call to make - who do you start up front?

The beauty of the Spain set-up is that nobody is indispensable; there's a top-class alternative in every department and Rubiales is hoping this also proves to be the case at coaching level.

What this saga shows most of all, though, is that Rubiales is the man running Spanish football and not the circus master back in Madrid. Florentino Pérez, Real's president, is the only man who really emerges from the whole saga with little credit at all. He negotiated in secret with the representatives of Lopetgui and sprung the news on the world with the most inopportune timing.

In conclusion, Lopetegui gets his dream job and is financially secure for life. The new Spanish ruler looks strong and shows he won't be bullied. The team should be self-disciplined and Hierro is a sensible appointment.

Not for the first time in recent weeks Real Madrid leave their opponents feeling rather concussed and bruised by a series of strong challenges.