There was no lull in the mud-slinging between the Spanish national team and Real Madrid as the club’s president Florentino Perez labelled the decision to sack Julen Lopetegui ‘absurd’.
Spain kick-off their World Cup on Friday against Portugal but there was no amnesty, with Perez defending his club’s decision to poach the national team boss on the eve of the finals.
He said: ‘
Real Madrid had reached an agreement with Lopetegui for him to take over after the World Cup, respecting his contract, and it needed to be made public for it to be transparent and to avoid rumour and leaks that could affect the team.
‘We were prepared to pay the release clause and it was all perfectly normal but there was an absurd reaction from the president of the Spanish Football Federation.’
Lopetegui was in tears as he took the stage at the Santiago Bernabeu. He said:
‘Yesterday was the saddest day of my life since the death of my mother.’
There was applause from assembled Madrid directors, dignitaries, and Lopetegui’s friends and family members and he continued: ‘But today is the happiest day of my life.’
Perez blasted Spain’s Football Federation chief Luis Rubiales saying:
‘We wanted to do this after the World Cup after another Spain success but circumstances have dictated that we are here now’. Addressing his new coach he said: ‘Your record with Spain was impeccable without a single defeat in 20 games.
‘We knew you had two dreams that were perfectly compatible – take Spain to the World Cup finals and then coach your beloved Real Madrid.’
Lopetegui said the Spain players had no problem with him staying in the job until the end of the World Cup. ‘When the players knew the news we had the best training session of the week so they had no problem at all with it. I only wish that Rubiales had acted in a different way.’
Lopetegui soon had his ‘Real Madrid head’ on, declaring:
‘Ronaldo is a player I always want to have by my side. The best player in the world is at Real Madrid without any doubt.’
In the past he has gone on record as calling Lionel Messi the all-time No 1, and one Spanish journalist tweeted: ‘From the makers of “Leo Messi is the best in history” comes “the best in the world is at Real Madrid”.
Lopetegui said he would be watching Spain play Portugal tonight.
‘I will get behind the team like any other Spaniard,’ he said. ‘I’m sure we are going to have a great World Cup despite everything.’
Defending his own behaviour Lopetegui said: ‘When there was something to say the first to know about it was him [Rubiales]. Then there were congratulations from Real Madrid and from Spain and I wanted to do a press conference, and from there what happened happened.
‘We didn’t want things to be hidden. There are plenty of precedents for this. I don’t feel humiliated. I am content about the way I behaved.’
Perez declared the reaction to Lopetegui’s sacking as proof of an Anti-Real Madrid feeling and he went on:
‘There is no precedent for a manager agreeing to become a manager of a team after a competition and that agreement being interpreted as disloyal. That is not how we do things in modern Spain.
‘We wanted to make things transparent. This agreement seemed normal, and we then thought there would be a press conference between the federation and Lopetegui, but there was a reaction of pride from the president which has disrespected Real Madrid.
‘There have been cases in the past such as Antonio Conte and Louis van Gaal where coaches have agreed to move on from national teams before or during competition.
‘Real Madrid are proud to have been able to help the success of the national team, and it is important that we remain the most respected club in the world and work against those who seek to destroy our image. I do not want to play the victim, but we must combat this anti-Madrid feeling during one of the best moments in our history.
‘We are hugely surprised and cannot understand how this agreement could affect the players who are committed to being world champions again.
‘These are professional players, this agreement would not hurt them. There is nothing that does not justify Lopetegui being in charge against Portugal. We are sorry he could not fight to make Spain world champions, but have the satisfaction of having a great manager to make history again.’