Lopetegui rides his emotions

New Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui with tears welling up in his eyes while speaking at the Santiago Bernabeu on Thursday.
New Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui with tears welling up in his eyes while speaking at the Santiago Bernabeu on Thursday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Real coach weeps at unveiling, then he and president blast Spain over manner of sacking

MADRID • Julen Lopetegui cried on stage during his first public appearance as Real Madrid manager, when he described being sacked by Spain as one of his saddest days.

Lopetegui and Real Madrid president Florentino Perez hit back at the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) with venom on Thursday, during the former goalkeeper's unveiling as head coach of the European champions at the Bernabeu.

Perez said that RFEF president Luis Rubiales had acted "absurdly" by sacking Lopetegui as Spain's head coach on the eve of the World Cup, after the club announced on Tuesday that he would take over at Real after the tournament.

After Perez had finished a fiery six-minute monologue defending Real's actions, Lopetegui took to the stage to reflect on his sacking and the fact that he could not be in the dugout for Spain's first Group B game against Portugal in Sochi yesterday.

"Since the death of my mother, yesterday was the saddest day of my life," Lopetegui said with tears in his eyes.

The 51-year-old paused for 30 seconds to gain control of his emotions. Those in the packed auditorium clapped while Rosa, his wife, dabbed her tears with a handkerchief. After calming himself down, Lopetegui added: "Now this is the happiest day of my life."

His emotions soon turned into anger. During a press conference after his unveiling, he hit back at Rubiales' claim that he went behind the federation's back to join Real.

LOW POINT

Since the death of my mother, yesterday was the saddest day of my life.

JULEN LOPETEGUI, Real Madrid manager, on his dismissal by the Spanish football federation after his club appointment.

"We have acted in a professional and honest way," he said.

"We had to close the deal before and not during the World Cup. We wanted to be transparent, I didn't want to hide anything as a coach.

"The players knew about it, there was no problem and they trained magnificently that day."

He also knocked back Rubiales' suggestion that RFEF was given only five minutes' notice before the news of the pre-contract agreement was published on Real's website on Tuesday.

"When there was something to say, he was the first person to know," Lopetegui said.

"I wanted to give a press conference that day, but could not. The only reason to announce it that way was to be honest and transparent."

Perez's condemnation of Rubiales was even stronger. He derided the idea that he and his club had undermined Spain's chances of winning the World Cup.

"It was an absurd reaction," Perez said. "Some people will try to use any situation to disparage Real Madrid. It was a disproportionate, unjust and unprecedented response. Real Madrid have always been proud to have contributed to the successes of the national team.

"We came to an agreement and we decided to make it public before the World Cup in order to not harm the national team.

"There was not one argument for you not being on the bench with Spain. You were dreaming of winning the World Cup and then returning to your beloved Real Madrid. Your two dreams were compatible."

Lopetegui, who signed a three-year contract, now faces the daunting task in succeeding Zinedine Zidane. The Frenchman quit Real after winning three successive Champions League titles and a La Liga crown in 21/2 years.

Lopetegui's only experience in charge of a top club was a trophyless 18-month spell with Porto in Portugal, which led to him being sacked.

THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2018, with the headline 'Lopetegui rides his emotions'. Print Edition | Subscribe