MADRID — Julen Lopetegui’s presentation as Real Madrid coach at the Bernabeu on Thursday evening was just the latest dramatic and startling event in one of the most dramatic and startling weeks in Spanish football history.
Both the new Madrid coach and club president Florentino Perez offered a strong defence of their actions this week — blaming federation president Luis Rubiales for having completely overreacted to Lopetegui having agreed to take this new job once this summer’s World Cup was over.
After Lopetegui had signed his new three-year Madrid contract, the Basque and his family posed for photos with club chief Perez in front of the Bernabeu museum’s impressive array of 13 European Cup trophies.
It was clear from the beginning that the club were trying to control the event as closely as possible, and that they had no intention of offering anything like an apology for how this week’s events had rolled out, or to make any attempt at trying to rebuild a broken relationship with the country’s national federation.
Considering all the drama of his previous 48 hours — and having just arrived back in the Spanish capital from Russia at 4:40 local time that morning — Lopetegui was quite composed during the 30-minute event.
There were some moving moments, particularly as he said that being fired from a dream job as national-team coach on the eve of the World Cup had been the hardest blow he had received since the death of his mother.
But the main emotions on show were pride and defiance, as Lopetegui said he was fully happy with how he had behaved throughout all that had happened and that both he and Madrid had acted with full transparency and openness, while making a few clear barbs at both Rubiales and the federation.
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What he said
Lopetegui spent around 15 minutes answering questions from the media, with the vast majority of what he said focused back on his exit as Spain coach, not forward to his future with Madrid.
He made it very clear that he had seen no problem with first guiding Spain to success at the World Cup and then coming back to take the Madrid job. He made sure to point out he wished the national-team players all the best in the tournament in Russia and that he thought they had an excellent chance of winning the trophy.
What was not said was just as important, perhaps. Lopetegui did not make any mention of having signed a new contract up until 2020 with the national team just last month, nor of his failure to inform Rubiales of negotiations with Madrid until they were fully completed.
There was also very little about his ideas for his new team — transfer matters, tactics, preseason preparation plans, etc. He did say he would be starting work Friday morning at the club’s Valdebebas training ground, and meeting with Perez and chief executive Jose Angel Sanchez to see what came next. He added that coaching Real Madrid was his “other” dream job, and that a Champions League or La Liga trophy win with the club would be equal to winning the World Cup with Spain.
How the media were handled
The presentation took place in the Bernabeu’s executive suite and was organised in a very different way to a typical new-manager news conference. All the available seating was reserved for Lopetegui’s family and friends and a collection of senior club figures and their associates, including former players Raul Gonzalez and Alvaro Arbeloa. The media were given standing room only off to the side of the room, with reporters having to approach one by one to the microphone.
The atmosphere was closer to that of a political rally than a typical football news conference. Lopetegui’s answers were often applauded, and there were regular cheers and laughs — especially when he took a couple of opportunities to stick it to Rubiales, who is now clearly public enemy No. 1 at the Bernabeu.
There were even whistles for one brave reporter who reminded Lopetegui that just a few weeks ago he called Barcelona talisman Lionel Messi the world’s best player.
Lopetegui drew more cheers by making clear that his opinion now was that Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo was clearly the greatest, with the Portugal captain’s regular threats to leave due to a contract standoff with Perez conveniently forgotten for now.
“Yesterday was the saddest day of my life, since the death of my mother,” Lopetegui said during his opening remarks. He then had to pause and blink back tears, while the crowd offered supportive applause. “But this is the happiest day,” he then continued to more cheers.
Verdict — 6 out of 10
The presentation event is unlikely to have changed anybody’s view about the rights and wrongs of what had already gone down. Madrid’s hardcore fans will be rallied by a defence of the club’s values and honour — and attack on its supposed enemies — in which Lopetegui was happy to follow the example set by Perez.
Critics who thought in advance that Madrid had shown a lack of respect by inducing the Spain national-team boss to break his contract three days before a World Cup started are unlikely to think any differently now, either.
Those in the middle are probably just further bemused by the constant drama that seems to surround everything that happens at the Bernabeu, with everyone from Perez down apparently most comfortable when in the eye of the storm.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan