What Julen Lopetegui's shock Real Madrid appointment means for the European champions
Real Madrid declared Julen Lopetegui the successor to Zinedine Zidane on Tuesday, appointing the Spain boss on a three-year deal starting after the World Cup.
Zidane stepped down after winning three consecutive Champions League titles, leaving huge shoes to fill at the Santiago Bernabeu.
It seemed nobody wanted the job but Lopetegui has leapt in to take the reins from next season onwards.
Mirror Football looks at the move and what it means for Real Madrid as a club, as well as players like Gareth Bale.
In the modern era, the media usually has an idea about what clubs are planning, but Madrid’s strike for Lopetegui came out of nowhere.
“No, our account has not been hacked,” clarified Spanish newspaper Marca on Twitter shortly after publishing the news.
And if Marca, who are close to Madrid president Florentino Perez, had no idea about the appointment, then nobody could.
Lopetegui renewed his Spain contract until after Euro 2020 as recently as May 22, meaning this move has blindsided the Spanish FA too.
Coming on the eve of the World Cup, this could upset 2010 world champions Spain’s bid to lift the trophy again.
The focus will shift from the players to the coach and the atmosphere in the camp will be one of confusion.
Lopetegui, who in the 2008-09 season coached Real Madrid’s B team, has been on the radar before, while coaching Porto.
After a 3-1 win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals in 2015 the links arose, but the Germans hammered their opponents 6-1 in the second leg and everything went quiet again.
Lopetegui has worked with Spain U19, U20 and U21s, so Madrid will hope he can bring some younger players through. Lopetegui won the U19 Euros in 2012 and then the U21 Euros in 2013.
With Spain’s first team, after being appointed in 2016, he cleared out some of the deadwood in the squad, filling it with young, hungry talent.
Lopetegui has shown he doesn’t care for status and instead prefers players with desire. For example, leaving out Chelsea's Alvaro Morata from the Spain squad in favour of Valencia’s Rodrigo.
Curiously Lopetegui has overseen a shift from a Barcelona-led Spain squad to a Madrid-led unit, which means he will likely be happy with a big core of players already with the European champions.
Spain coach Lopetegui played with Pep Guardiola at Barcelona in the 1990s and although his style of play is not the same as the inimitable Catalan’s, he will offer a more unified, tactically adroit approach than Zidane did.
Lopetegui’s Spain have proven capable of playing some majestic football, with big wins over Italy (3-0) and Argentina (6-1) particularly noteworthy.
Spain hit 36 goals in 10 World Cup qualifying games and played exciting football, something demanded at Madrid.
That’s not to say they are all about attack, with Lopetegui’s Spain not losing once in 19 games since he took over.
A bit more security in defence would be very welcome at Madrid, who despite their success have been leaking goals.
Lopetegui likes a 4-3-3 formation which can also look like a 4-5-1 when Spain are defending.
Good news for…
Lopetegui’s appointment is clearly good news for some players. Perhaps the biggest beneficiary is playmaker Isco.
The former Malaga man has been in and out of the team at Madrid to his immense frustration, but spoke recently of how playing for the national team, under Lopetegui, ‘gives me life’.
Lopetegui has a great relationship with a lot of young Spanish players and some of those in their prime, given his former role in charge of the youth teams.
Marco Asensio is another who can expect increased playing time under the coach, who included him in the World Cup squad for the first time.
Bad news for…
Gareth Bale may not enjoy playing under Lopetegui. The coach has shown he likes players with strong football intelligence and technical skills over those with more physical prowess.
That’s not to say the Welsh winger could not succeed under Lopetegui and if he stays at the Bernabeu he might find himself used in a centre-forward role.
It’s also potentially bad news for the core of veterans like Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcelo, Luka Modric and so on, because Lopetegui has shown he is willing to replace players like that f necessary — not that any of those three need replacing right now.
Karim Benzema, with his big advocate Zidane gone, may be on the way out, although his quality on the ball is something Lopetegui will appreciate.
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