KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Spain have sacked Julen Lopetegui as national coach two days before they open their 2018 World Cup campaign against Portugal in Russia.
Lopetegui’s sin was to have accepted a three-year contract to take over at Real Madrid in succession to Zinedine Zidane. Fernando Hierro, Spain’s sporting director and a former Real Madrid captain, is taking over
Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales was supposed to have attended FIFA Congress in Moscow but, instead, flew to Spain’s training base late on Tuesday night to deal with the matter.
Rubiales said: “We have been forced to dispense with the national coach. We wish him the greatest of luck.
“The negotiations 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 respected.”
Madrid, the world and European champions, had been under pressure to make a speedy appointment after Zidane resigned a fortnight ago within days of the third successive continental triumph over Liverpool in Kiev.
Lopetegui, who last month signed a new contract through to 2020 with Spain, spent three years with Real as a player, making a solitary first team appearance in 1990.
The Spanish football federation said in a statement that it would receive “the full buy-out clause so the current national team boss can sign for Real Madrid”.
It added, hopefully: “The RFEF asks for maximum respect in order that normality is kept in the national team’s training camp just ahead of our first game at the World Cup against Portugal.”
The 51-year-old took over as Spain coach in 2016 after the retirement of Vicente Del Bosque who led his country to victory in the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship.
Spain, unbeaten in 20 games under Lopetegui, play neighbours Portugal on Friday in their opening World Cup Group B match in Sochi, Russia before facing Iran and Morocco.
Former goalkeeper Lopetegui spent a season as coach of Real’s B-team Castilla from 2008-09 before taking over as Spain Under-19 manager in 2010.
He enjoyed success with the country’s youth sides, winning the 2012 Under-19 European Championship before repeating the feat as Under-21 boss 12 months later.
Lopetegui’s forays into club management have been less successful. He was sacked from a brief spell in charge of Rayo Vallecano in Spain’s second division in 2003 and left Portuguese club Porto after failing to win any silverware from 2014-16.