World Cup: new Spain boss Fernando Hierro ready for challenge
Julen Lopetegui’s sacking caused chaos in the Spanish camp but Hierro says squad will give 100% in Russia
If Spanish football has become a soap opera in the space of 24 tumultuous hours, the man charged with producing a Hollywood-style ending was playing it cool when he made his introductions to the press corps.
Fernando Hierro was summoned to replace Julen Lopetegui following his sensational sacking yesterday morning, leaving the 50-year-old newcomer to focus Spanish minds ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Portugal in their World Cup group B game.
In one respect, Hierro has nothing to lose. As a player he touched greatness, appearing in four World Cups and winning Champions League titles with Real Madrid.
But what about his lack of coaching experience? As he admitted to the media: “I have just one year of experience in [second division] Oviedo, and one year as assistant coach [2014-15 at Real].”
Regardless of all that, his message to the squad is a simple one. “I would like my team to play well, to compete very well, with quality, possession play, score two or three goals more than the rivals,” he said. “That would be good.”
A big challenge
Hierro, who wound down his illustrious playing career at Bolton in 2004-05, was asked how the squad has reacted to the dismissal of Lopetegui.
“The players are excited, they want this challenge,” he replied. “It’s a challenge for everyone. We have no time to dwell. I know they’re going to give 100%. In a World Cup nobody gives anything away. We all know what this means and our responsibilities.”
According to the BBC, Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales learned that Lopetegui had agreed a deal with Real five minutes before it was officially announced, and was “incensed”. Following the decision to sack Lopetegui for withholding the news, Rubiales turned immediately to Hierro.
“When the president told me the possibility, I had three choices: to say no, another was to go and the third was to stay - to take a step forward for the Spanish federation and for Spanish football,” explained Hierro. “I couldn’t say no, because I would not forgive myself.”
Ramos led a rebellion
The BBC reports that a group of senior players, led by captain Sergio Ramos, “fought for Lopetegui to remain in charge for the duration of the World Cup”.
Rubiales had made up his mind, however, and brought in Hierro, who since November has been the Spanish federation’s sporting director.
Ramos later posted a message on social media, saying: “We represent the badge, the colours, the country. We are responsible and remain committed. Yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
‘Change the chip’
The new manager wouldn’t be drawn into the rights and wrongs of the sacking, other than to say: “The president has given his judgement on what happened, and we must be positive. Our opinions about what has happened are worth nothing now, we must turn the page, think about what we represent, Spanish football… we must change the chip now, forget what has happened.”
Spanish press report that Hierro’s appointment is a stop-gap measure and that either Michel or Luis Enrique will get the job full-time once the tournament in Russia is over.
In the meantime, Hierro has been left with a mighty challenge - one he is facing with confidence.
“If I was not convinced we could have a good World Cup, I would not be here,” he said. “They are good lads, good sports people, and must take on this reality. It has not been an easy day for anyone but in good faith they will know what they are playing for. Nobody doubts the commitment of these lads, or what they can give.”
Lopetegui has his final say
Meanwhile, axed coach Lopetegui said he was saddened by his departure but wishes the team well in Russia. Quoted by Marca, he said: “I am very sad, but wishing that we have a magnificent World Cup and that we win. We have a magnificent team and I hope that we win the World Cup.”
Spain World Cup group B fixtures
- 15 June: vs. Portugal at Fisht Stadium, Sochi (7pm, BBC)
- 20 June: vs. Iran at Kazan Arena, Kazan (7pm, ITV)
- 25 June: vs. Morocco at Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad (7pm, BBC)