Looking through the mind of Julen Lopetegui, it is tough to imagine that the Spaniard does not regret the decision he made five months ago when two weeks after signing a contract extension with RFEF, he turned his back on the Spanish Federation when the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ came calling.
It is hard to think that Lopetegui made the decision to spite the leadership of Spanish Football, having assembled a team that tore other elite nations apart, La Furia Roja were favourites to win the FIFA World Cup last summer; instead, he was gone the day after Real Madrid made the announcement and 17 days later the team, his team, followed suit.
From June to October, Lopetegui has found himself sacked from the two jobs which he likely always dreamed of having and may never get again.
This Real Madrid side was doomed to struggle since the departure of Zinedine Zidane after Los Blancos won the decimotecera. Lopetegui must have felt slighted at the loss of Cristiano, that was a “guaranteed 50 goals a season” machine exchanged for $135m who wasn’t replaced until a late plunge into the transfer market only to bring back former academy product on transfer deadline day, a panic buy.
Add to that, they let Mateo Kovacic go, further weakening the squad depth without bringing in a replacement. Before Real Madrid played an official game, Lopetegui found himself in charge of a squad that is much worse than it has been in previous years but the requirements were the same and the pressure doubled.
The club also had their doubts in him and in fact, he was not the first choice, or even the second or third or fourth. Mauricio Pochettino, Massimiliano Allegri, Antonio Conte, and even the unknown young German tactician Julian Nagelsmann were contacted before him.
Real Madrid looked devastating in his first 7 games in charge, the highlight of that moment was the 3-0 mauling of AS Roma in the opening game of the UEFA Champions League, since then they have been on a downward spiral. October was so bad that, if league games in the month alone were considered, Real Madrid would be rock bottom on the table with a -6 goal difference too.
In the end, it has taken him 14 games to hand Real Madrid their worst start to a season in over 50 years, but he is not solely responsible for this. There is enough blame to go around: how will Julen Lopetegui have reacted 2-0 down at halftime if James Rodriguez, Alvaro Morata, Mateo Kovacic, Pepe, and Marco Asensio were all seated on the bench; instead he brought on Lucas Vasquez, Mariano Diaz, and Marco Asensio.
The club needed to act, and the thought that “there is a great disproportion between the quality of the staff of Real Madrid, which has eight players nominated for the next Ballon d’Or, something unprecedented in the history of the club” Real Madrid should be doing better than where Lopetegui has left them; ninth in the league closer to relegation than they are to league leaders Barcelona.
However, should Antonio Conte replace the Spaniard as it’s being discussed, then Florentino Perez will have to make those signings during the January transfer window that were overlooked in the summer.
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