Just who is the new Spain manager, Julen Lopetegui ?
After Spain's dismal Euro 2016 performance, veteran boss, Vincente del Bosque decided to call it a day and retire as the national team manager. Failure to reach the Quarter Finals in the past two major tournaments resulted in del Bosque and the Spanish football association believing that it was time for someone else to take the helm.
With names as big as Luis Enrique and Ernesto Valverde linked to the vacant position, many in Spain were happy to have one of them as the national team coach after first choice, Pep Guardiola, had already joined Manchester City. So, it came as a surprise that on the 21st of July that ex FC Porto boss Julen Lopetegui was announced as the new national team coach. The appointment has been questioned by many. Lopetegui announced that he had an agreement in place to be taking over at Championship Club Wolves for the upcoming season but to suddenly see him as Spain's new national team manager was a bizarre change of events.
He is known well in Spain but not around the majority of Europe, so, who is Julen Lopetegui?
Lopetegui was born in Asteasu, Spain in August of 1966. He started his career at his local club Real Sociedad where his talent as a goalkeeper began to shine through. However, he struggled to make it in the first team as Sociedad legend Luis Arconada was between the sticks. At 19, he had an offer off Real Madrid and gladly accepted. As soon as he moved to the Spanish capital he was incorporated into their B-team. Over 3 seasons, Lopetegui managed to play 61 games for Madrid's second side but never broke into the first team. His only appearance for the Spanish giants was against their bitter, bitter rivals, Atletico Madrid. Some game to get your debut! His lack of opportunities resulted in him being shipped out to CD Logrones where he helped the side stay in the top division of Spanish football.
His excellent form led him to gain his first and only cap against Croatia in a friendly in 1994. Later that year he was picked in the squad for the World Cup but didn't play any part in the Spanish campaign. After first choice Barcelona keeper, Zubizarreta left for Valencia, Lopetegui joined the Catalan giants. However, once again he struggled to stake a claim for the first team spot and when Portuguese and Porto legend Vitor Baia joined Barcelona, Lopetegui's time was over and he moved to Rayo Vallecano. Between 1997 and 2002, Lopetegui made 112 appearances for the Madrid based club before deciding to hang up his boots for the final time.
It wasn't long before Lopetegui was back at Rayo. After a short stint as Juan Santisteban's assistant for Spain's under 17's, he joined Vallecano as the first team head coach. His time at Los Franjirrojos was over before it really began after he was sacked with the club staring at relegation. After 5 years out of the game he joined his another of his old club's Real Madrid Castilla. His time was relatively successful, but his most successful period in management came during his stint back in the youth teams of Spain. In 2012, Lopetegui won the Under 19 European Championship as head coach and just over a year later he completed the same feat with the under 21's. His success in the Under 21 championships didn't go unnoticed and he managed some of Spain's current first team players, including, David De Gea, Koke, Thiago, Isco and Alvaro Morata.
After his success during his time with the Spanish youth, FC Porto announced the appointment of Lopetegui. In his first season at the club he managed to lead them to the Quarter Finals of the Champions League before they were thumped 6-1 by FC Bayern Munich. The season ended with no silverware and after spending what was the clubs biggest budget ever, the pressure was on. The following season the pressure didn't seem to help. FC Porto started poorly and the title seems to be heading to one of Porto's deadliest rivals, Sporting Lisbon or SL Benfica. After losing 3-1 at home to C.S Maritimo in the Taca da Liga, Lopetegui was relieved of his duties in early January of 2016. Since then he has been out of work, but now, surprisingly he is Spain's national team manager.
It is fair to say that Lopetegui hasn't been the most successful manager during his career and you can see why many of the Spanish press are somewhat sceptical about his appointment. However, with the vast array of talent in the Spanish ranks and the success of Lopetegui when he was manager of Spain's Under 19's and Under 21's, the Spanish FA may see the appointment as the obvious choice. He understands the requirements of working with the national team and has experience of doing so meaning that of course it is possible for him to be a success. At Under 21 level, he managed numerous current first team players which can only be beneficial. He may not be a household name like Luis Enrique, but he does have the potential in his new squad to be. The World Cup in Russia is the next major tournament Spain are more than likely to be involved in and he should be judged after that, not now.