Julen Lopetegui will be sacked having seen dreams wrecked with both Spain and Real Madrid in the space of just 20 weeks – so, has a manager ever had a worse five months than this?
- The writing is on the wall for Julen Lopetegui at Real Madrid
- Real suffered humiliation in El Clasico, losing 5-1 to arch-rivals Barcelona
- Lopetegui has taken Real to ninth in La Liga, seven points behind Barca
- He also presided over a club-record goal drought during his 10 league games
- It all comes just months after he left Spain in tatters on the eve of the World Cup
Real Madrid will sack coach Julen Lopetegui on Monday, not yet five months after his decision to join them cost him the Spain job – two dreams wrecked in the space of 20 weeks.
It was on June 13 last summer that Spain sacked him for announcing he was joining Real Madrid after the World Cup. He made his teary goodbyes from the team’s World Cup base in Krasnodar and flew home via Moscow.
On the night before Spain began their World Cup campaign without him, Lopetegui was presented at the Santiago Bernabeu and there were more tears as he described it as the ‘best day’ of his life.
After only 10 league games there will be more tears if, as expected, he clears out his desk at Madrid and says goodbye to his players.
Julen Lopetegui shows the strain of the humiliating 5-1 El Clasico defeat by Barcelona
Real Madrid have picked up just one point from their last five La Liga games – they are ninth with only 14 points and are seven points behind leaders Barcelona. No one expects to last long in this job and there were plenty of commentators suggesting Lopetegui would not make it to the end of the season, but no one foresaw the axe coming down before November.
If Monday evening’s Madrid board meeting ends as everyone expects it to then the Lopetegui reign will be over before Real Madrid have even played their first Copa del Rey game and before he gets to face half the sides in the division.
He replaced Zinedine Zidane in the summer, in part because he was happy to take what was given him and ask no questions. The outgoing French coach was aware of plans to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and a preference for waiting for Neymar as opposed to replacing him this summer. He was aware that the club were planning to continue their recent policy of buying young players and that there were no plans to reinforce defensively beyond keeper Thibaut Courtois and right-back Alvaro Odriozola – two players who played in positions already covered – and he decided to leave the table while he still had a big pile of chips in front of him. Why roll the dice again?
Lopetegui accepted all the conditions that Zidane refused to. The closest he came to complaining about the planning for the new season was when he hinted that the club would need to buy a substitute for Mateo Kovacic who was loaned to Chelsea. The Croatian midfielder would have been very useful this season with Luka Modric looking tired and drained from his World Cup exploits. The midfield reinforcement never came.
Sergio Ramos has struggled badly under the man he so wanted as his boss at Madrid
Gareth Bale’s status as the totem of the team took a knock with his recent injury
Isco (left) and others were given the chance to step up but failed to take the opportunity
Up front Ronaldo’s transfer happened and, apart from a late swoop for Mariano Diaz, who was never going to be able to fill the boots of the club’s all-time top marksman, there were no goalscorers signed in the summer.
Eden Hazard wanted to come and made no secret of the fact. Chelsea would have listened to offers over £100million but, with one eye on the £400m needed for a stadium upgrade and the possibility of signing Neymar for £200m next summer, Florentino Perez opted to keep the money in the safe. There was a football argument put forward too – Hazard’s arrival would block the path of Marco Asensio and Isco who had so often been left frustrated on the bench in the Ronaldo era.
Both Asensio and Isco got their chane to step up but neither did. Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale were also trusted to strike the Ronaldo pose and lead the team. They both started well but as soon as the first muscle fatigue sidelined Bale he went back to being a supporting actor as opposed to the lead role Lopetegui now needed him to be, and Benzema reverted to type. The Frenchman has made a career out of being a provider of chances for a more selfish team-mate. He could not make the transition to goal-hungry No 9.
Lopetegui’s Madrid could not score – they went 481 minutes without a goal – and when the goals finally came they arrived from never-say-die Marcelo galavanting forward and netting through sheer force of will. There was no sign of any moves crafted on the training ground coming good. Madrid also failed to score from a single corner in the league in Lopetegui’s time.
Lopetegui is expected to be sacked on Monday after a meeting of the Real board
At the back Sergio Ramos, who had been so influential in Lopetegui getting the job after Madrid realised they had no chance of luring Jurgen Klopp, Massimiliano Allegri, Joachim Low or Mauricio Pochettino, failed to find his form.
Alongside him Raphael Varane was suffering the same World Cup hangover as Modric and time and again Madrid were picked apart, not just by Barcelona but by humbler opponents such as Levante, Alaves and CSKA Moscow.
‘Lopetegui Seleccion!‘ sang the Barcelona supporters at the Nou Camp on Sunday. ‘Seleccion‘ is the name for the national team in Spain. It was a cruel reminder that last summer Lopetegui was about to take Spain into the World Cup finals in Russia. Do well and he would have had his pick of the top jobs. He accepted the poisoned chalice from Madrid before the tournament and now finds himself facing his second dismissal in the space of five months.
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