Julen Lopetegui was sacked as Spain's national team coach "on the eve of the World Cup," one day after agreeing to take over at Real Madrid, according to Dermot Corrigan of ESPN.com. Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) President Luis Rubiales said at a press conference on Wednesday that "Lopetegui's fate was sealed just two days ahead of the team's World Cup opening game," as Rubiales "could not accept" an RFEF employee "having negotiated a move to Real Madrid after the tournament without informing his employers." The RFEF announced national team sporting director Fernando Hierro "will assume the role of coach for the tournament." Rubiales, who was elected as RFEF president last month, was in Moscow for the vote on the World Cup 2026 host country, "but he flew back to Krasnodar on Tuesday for an emergency meeting with Lopetegui." Rubiales: "The Federation cannot be left outside the negotiation of one of its employees, and find out just five minutes before a public announcement. If anybody wants to talk to one of our employees, they have to speak to us, too. That is basic, as this is the team of all Spaniards. The national team is the most important we have; the World Cup is the biggest of all. ... We had to react, I know that whatever I do, I will be criticized. I accept that. But the values of the Federation come first" (ESPN.com, 6/13). In Barcelona, Edu Polo reported Real Madrid will not have to pay Lopetegui's €2M ($2.35M) release clause after he was sacked by the RFEF. Rubiales said, "Although the economic situation for the Federation is not ideal and €2 million is a significant amount, right now this is not important; the most important thing is the national team" (MUNDO DEPORTIVO, 6/13). ESPN.com's Adriana Garcia reported Michel and former Barcelona Manager Luis Enrique are reportedly the "leading candidates" to replace Lopetegui after the World Cup. Marca reported Michel, who was sacked by Málaga in January, "was the front-runner" (ESPN.com, 6/13).
Spain captain Sergio Ramos tweeted, "We are the national team, we represent a logo, colors, a fanbase, a country. The responsibility and commitment are with you all and for you all. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, together: #VamosEspaña." Gerard Piqué referred to the '88-89 Michigan Wolverines basketball team in a tweet. Michigan won the national championship that year after dismissing head coach Bill Frieder -- who was replaced by assistant Steve Fisher -- before the NCAA Tournament. Piqué: "It wouldn't be the first time that it happens. All together, now more than ever."
Somos la Selección, representamos un escudo, unos colores, una aficion, un país. La responsabilidad y el compromiso son con vosotros y por vosotros. Ayer, hoy y mañana, juntos: #VamosEspaña pic.twitter.com/rzy5D5lF8F— Sergio Ramos (@SergioRamos) June 13, 2018
Universidad de Michigan. Baloncesto. 1989. Campeón de la NCAA. No sería la primera vez que ocurre. Todos unidos, ahora más que nunca.— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) June 13, 2018
CRISIS MODE: ESPN.com's Corrigan & Martín wrote the "most dramatic and potentially destructive 24 hours in Spanish football history has left the national team reeling" ahead of its World Cup opener against Portugal on Friday. A "chaotic, era-defining back-and-forth took place" on Tuesday after Lopetegui announced his move to Real Madrid, setting in place a chain of events that "blew Spanish football apart." Sources said that Lopetegui called Rubiales to "tell him he was to become the next Real Madrid coach." The pair spoke for half an hour "and soon tensions flared and Rubiales hung up." Rubiales then called back "but Lopetegui did not answer the phone," leading the RFEF boss to fly to Krasnodar, the site of Spain's World Cup training base. Sources said that there were meetings early Wednesday morning that "involved players, officials and coaching staff." Players, through captain Sergio Ramos, "tried to convince Rubiales not to fire Lopetegui up until late Wednesday morning." Nobody "comes out of this mess looking good," and a Spanish team that had been among the tournament favorites "now has to deal with something" it could not have seen coming. Lopetegui took over La Roja following Euro 2016 and "guided them flawlessly through World Cup 2018 qualifying, with nine wins and one draw from their 10 games" (ESPN.com, 6/13).
EMBRACING THE CHALLENGE: In Madrid, Javier G. Matallanas reported Hierro said, "It is a nice, thrilling challenge. The circumstances are what they are and I accept this responsibility with courage. We have a good group and the excitement is big. I couldn't disappoint." Regarding possible tactical changes, he said, "We have to be intelligent and coherent and from here until the Portugal game we do not have much capacity for changes. The good thing is that I have been present at all the practices" (AS, 6/13).
INT'L REACTION: In Madrid, Edu Herrero reported the sacking of Lopetegui "has shocked the world of football" and the news echoed throughout the int'l press. Italy's Il Corriere dello Sport wrote, "Earthquake in Spain; Lopetegui, fired." The BBC wrote, "Spain, without a coach." The London Daily Mail wrote, "Civil War in Spain." Bild wrote, "Earthquake in Spain. The big favorite for the World Cup is without its coach" (AS, 6/13).