In a frank interview, Julen Lopetegui has opened up for the first time about two of the most difficult moments of his career: his sackings from Real Madrid and Spain.
Not many top coaches have had to face two high-profile dismissals in the space of four-and-a-half months. But one man that knows all about how that feels is Julen Lopetegui, whose dismissal from Spain in June on the eve of the World Cup and later removal from the Real Madrid job in October, were two of the biggest headlines in world football in 2018 – and they came just four months and 16 days apart.
Now, in a frank interview with BBC and AS correspondent Guillem Balague for BBC Radio’s Football Daily podcast, the ex-Spain and -Madrid coach has opened up about two of the most difficult moments of his career.
Just three months into his tenure at Real Madrid, Lopetegui was sacked after having overseen one of the club’s worst-ever starts to a season. The day before his dismissal, he had to watch in dismay as Barcelona tore Madrid apart to win 5-1 at Camp Nou, which marked his side’s fifth defeat in seven matches.
It was then, with his head in his hands in the Camp Nou visitors’ dugout, that Lopetegui knew that his time was up. However, the former Porto coach still feels that he was not given ample time by Madrid president Florentino Perez to put things right.
"We had a good start, the team was playing well but then we had three very bad weeks," he told Balague.
"You just hope you have time to find a solution because these things can balance out over a season. We were sure this situation was going to pass. I didn't have time; that is the best way I can explain it."
From Sochi to Madrid: a whirlwind few days in June
Less than five months earlier on June 12, Real Madrid announced that Lopetegui, who was in Russia busily preparing Spain for their opening World Cup game against Portugal, would replace Zinedine Zidane as head coach for the upcoming season.
The announcement left a bitter taste in the mouth of Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales, who, on the following day on June 13, sacked Lopetegui for his supposed treachery – leaving Spain without a head coach just two days before the Portugal game in Sochi.
A day later, the man that had led Spain on a 20-game unbeaten run since he had taken over in September 2016 was on a flight from Russia back to Madrid. Four days later, he was shaking hands and getting to work with his some of his new players at Real Madrid’s Valdebebas training ground. A whirlwind few days, to say the least, that no doubt took their toll.
“I didn't sleep; I didn't know where I was. One day I was in Russia training for the World Cup, the next I was in the Santiago Bernabeu with a new team," he recalled in the BBC interview.
“It was very fast, difficult to take in and the emotions were high. It was hard to be told to leave the World Cup. It was a dream that I hard-worked so hard for and with all this emotion. I am human, so sometimes you can't control it.”
No grudges, only best wishes for Solari and Madrid
Eight months to the day since he took that difficult and surprisingly early return flight home from Russia, Luis Enrique has replaced him as head of the Spanish setup; while Santiago Solari sits on his seat on the Bernabéu bench.
But Lopetegui holds no grudges and wishes only the best for the Madrid players, who supported him until the end, and the former head coach of the club’s reserve team, who has overseen a relatively better period since he took over after the embarrassing Barcelona defeat in October.
"I have all respect for the new coach [Solari], his new staff. And the players - I love them, they had a fantastic attitude with me,” said Lopetegui.
"I would never say a bad word about Real Madrid. To manage the club is a fantastic experience for any coach. I hoped I could have more time but I have to look to the future."