Spain's preparations for the football extravaganza in Russia was thrown into disarray following the sacking of first-team coach Julen Lopetegui just 48 hours before their first match against Portugal. The Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales decided to part ways with Lopetegui after La Liga giants Real Madrid announced that the 51-year-old coach was taking over at the Santiago Bernabeu after the World Cup.
It was clear that Rubiales was unhappy to learn about the move just five minutes before the official announcement from Real Madrid. Within hours, former Oviedo coach and Spanish assistant coach Fernando Hierro was handed the task of guiding the star-studded La Roja to Russia. This move created an air of uncertainty over Spain's chances at the World Cup.
In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, former Spain and Barcelona forward Luis Garcia – a football expert for Sony Pictures Network – talks about the Spanish federation's surprise decision to sack Lopetegui, Fernando Hierro's managerial prowess and his experience playing against Cristiano Ronaldo.
Excerpts from the interview:
Did the sacking of coach Lopetuigi come as a surprise?
No one was expecting something like that when Real Madrid announced that they had signed Lopetuegi. People were worried about his role and future with the national team and then the Spanish federation decided to send him back to Spain and appoint assistant coach Fernando Hierro as the manager. Well, it's surprising but the World Cup was really close. There was no time, they had to start working.
Your thoughts on Spanish football federation's decision?
Well, we really don't know the exact situation. You can only tell once you have complete details. If it's the right decision or not? We'll know at the end of the tournament. People will have excuses later, saying that, 'Oh we didn't have a proper manager'. But it depends on how you see it, actually. The decision was quickly made by the federation. They were in the position to decide what's best for the team and we must support the decision and back the new manager.
What impact will this decision have on the players?
No, I don't think so (it will). I know it's difficult, but the players will understand the situation because you are expecting such decision. But the preparation remains the same, the assistant manager will stick to the initial plan. Hierro was with the team and he knows how the team functions. Once the players get on to the pitch, they just forget about what's happening off it. The game against Portugal was a tough one and against Iran game was difficult too because Iran put Spain in a very difficult situation with a lot of players closing down spaces at the back.
Fernando Hierro's credibility as a manager...
He's (Hierro) not like a proper coach but he has been the assistant coach of Real Madrid (2014–2015) and managed La Liga side Oviedo in 2016. I know he's done well earlier and he will calm the situation in the Spanish camp. It is very important to manage the dressing room because the players, they have the quality and know how big the stage is as most of them have played before.
Spain found it difficult against Portugal in the tournament opener. How do you assess their performance?
They had to come back twice from a losing position. Spain had the ball for the major part of the match and the last free-kick by Ronaldo was painful, of course, but if Cristiano Ronaldo steps up, I don't think anything can stop him. The mistakes of De Gea too cost us the game. After watching De Gea in the game after, he showed confidence on the pitch and other players doing well, I think they are doing well.
Having played against Cristiano Ronaldo, can you tell us, in short, how did he turn himself into a goal machine?
Oh, he is a perfectionist! I played against him when he was in Manchester United before he moved to Real Madrid. You can see he is determined, every single day, every single game and even in the training. He's always trying to be himself. That's what sets apart. He wants to stay ahead of everyone and that’s just him being competitive. He knows that his value is going down every season but he has proved everyone wrong.
On the recent struggles of Argentina...
The coach thought that this particular style of play is better suited for the team but at the end of the day, that didn't happen. We know Argentina don't have game-changers apart from Messi. They don't look ready and confident. That's a big concern, I believe. And the way that Lionel Messi played in the two games showed the amount of pressure these players are under. But we are talking about Argentina, they'll see through.
Updated Date: Jun 29, 2018 21:16:11 IST