The grey cloud that descended over Krasnodar yesterday has a silver lining in the form of Fernando Hierro, who is intelligent, meticulous and well prepared to take charge. He comes in to replace a head coach who had the team very much in his hands, with a 20-game unbeaten run and an impressive qualifying campaign.
When we came to Krasnodar, nobody expected that Lopetegui would be on the plane home just two days before Spain’s opening game. But that’s where we are. Obligated to keep the dignity of the Spanish Football Federation intact, president Luis Rubiales felt Lopetegui and Real Madrid had gone behind his back, and it seemed only appropriate to sack him for his disloyalty.
The decision comes at a cost for the Federation: they will now lose out on the two-million-euro release clause, and I imagine that they will have to give Lopetegui and his staff their due pay out, unless they refuse to pay it. But Rubiales understands the words of a famous old Spanish navy commander, who said, “It’s better to have honor without a fleet, than a fleet without honor”, and nobody could fully argue that he has done the wrong thing.
Fortunately, Hierro was at hand. He has been part of the national setup for a long time; and I know that back in 2010, after Spain had lost their World Cup opening game against Switzerland, Hierro contributed a lot to lifting the players’ spirits. And this was the team that went onto lift the World Cup, despite losing on the first day.
But in the end of the day, football is about the footballers. And in Russia we have 23 high-quality and hard-working players – the majority of whom have come from Madrid, Barcelona or the English Premier League. They have seen it all – crises, glory, fallouts and reconciliation. Ultimately they are the ones who have to win the games, starting with Portugal tomorrow. Eleven men on the pitch – that’s football. What matters most now is that they rise above this crisis, to keep the sacred fire burning.