Real Madrid will hire current Spanish national team manager Julen Lopetegui as its new boss at the conclusion of the 2018 World Cup.
The club made the announcement just two days before the tournament kicks off, and three days before Spain opens its World Cup campaign against Portugal.
The Real managerial job has been vacant since Zinedine Zidane abruptly resigned on May 31. Zidane left after winning three Champions League titles in just two-and-a-half years on the job.
Who is Lopetegui?
Lopetegui, 51, took over the Spanish national team after Euro 2016 and has not lost a game since. He replaced Vicente Del Bosque after La Roja‘s unprecedented run of success had screeched to a halt, and appears to have them back on track heading to Russia.
Prior to taking the Spain job, Lopetegui – a former goalkeeper who spent time as a reserve at both Real Madrid and Barcelona – spent four years with Spain’s U-19, U-20 and U-21 teams. He then took the head job at Porto before moving back to Spain to take charge of the full national team.
Prior to his work with Spain’s youth teams, Lopetegui had also managed Real Madrid’s B team – one of several connections he has to the club.
Lopetegui’s familiarity with Real Madrid players
On top of the B-team experience, and on top of his time at Real as a player – a year with the B-team, two years (and just one La Liga appearance) as a first-team backup – Loptegui also has extensive experience working with many of Real Madrid’s Spanish players at international level.
He called six of them – Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal, Nacho, Isco, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vazquez – into his 23-man squad for the World Cup. And he has worked with many Real Madrid youngsters at youth levels as well.
Lopetegui, though, will find himself under immediate pressure. Zidane’s European achievements were remarkable. Lopetegui won’t match them no matter how well he does, but some Real Madrid fans will unfairly expect him to.
The Spaniard will also have to deal with transfer rumors bubbling around Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. He’ll have to use and eventually transform an aging squad that, despite the third consecutive Champions League title, is clearly on the downswing.
Lopetegui has signed a three-year contract. We’ll see if he lasts that long.
Why did this get announced now?
Two days before the World Cup doesn’t seem like an ideal time for this announcement. It could seemingly become an unwelcome distraction throughout the tournament. But there’s apparently a reason Real Madrid rushed to make it official …
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