Julen Lopetegui Agote is the new head coach of Spain, as confirmed by the Spanish Football Association (RFEF) this Thursday 21 July 2016 via an official statement on their website. He was unveiled this evening at the Ciudad del Fútbol de Las Rozas (Madrid).
Lopetegui, who is shortly to turn 50, belonged to a list of possible candidates that had been circulating since Vicente del Bosque’s time as La Selección supremo ended on 4 July. A Basque-born former goalkeeper, Lopetegui will be stepping into familiar surroundings when he takes the Spain reins, having previously worked as the country’s U-19 and U-20 boss between 2010 and 2012, and U-21 coach between 2012 and 2014.
Silverware and wish for continuity
When at the helm of Spain’s youth sides, Lopetegui certainly hit the heights, such as when guiding La Roja to victory at the UEFA European U-19 Championship 2012 and European U-21 Championship 2013 – the likes of Alvaro Morata (top scorer) and Thiago Alcantara (player of the tournament) starring at the latter competition.
“Spain played nice football. It was a very good generation of players,” said Lopetegui, speaking just a year ago in an interview with the RFEF’s magazine, in reference to a squad he had helped nurture on the way towards U-21 glory. In fact, five of those players went on to be selected for EURO 2016 in France: David de Gea, Marc Bartra, Koke, Thiago and Morata.
What is more, Spain’s new senior head coach tasted global tournament action when leading his charges at the FIFA U-20 World Cups in Colombia and Turkey, in 2011 and 2013 respectively. On Cafetero soil, he took La Roja to the quarter-finals, where their hopes were ended on penalties by a Brazil team featuring Oscar and Philippe Coutinho.
Two years later they again fell to a South American side in the last eight, this time Uruguay emerging on top after extra time. “I think that we played good football,” said Lopetegui, in an interview with FIFA.com after that encounter.
Taking the initiative
Lopetegui represented only Spanish clubs over the course of his 19-year playing career, coming particularly to the fore at Logrones and Rayo Vallecano. He also had a three-season sojourn at Barcelona, though he only made eight appearances, and won one senior cap for Spain. Javier Clemente took him to the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™ as the squad’s third-choice goalkeeper.
After hanging up his gloves at Rayo, in 2003 he had a brief spell in the club’s hotseat, and several years later was handed an opportunity by Real Madrid Castilla. It was in 2010 that he was brought in by the RFEF, to work at the youth national team level.
A sentence that has often gone hand-in-hand with Lopetegui since then has been a desire for his sides to “take the initiative” in each and every game. It was this philosophy that helped earn him the role of FC Porto coach in 2014, being tasked with assembling one of the most gifted young squads in the history of Os Dragões.
To achieve that, Lopetegui swiftly looked to bring in several Spanish players who shared his ideology and with whom he had worked at youth international level, such as Oliver Torres, Adrian Lopez and Cristian Tello. Though not exempt from the fierce demands that come at one of Portugal’s 'big three', Lopetegui was able to gradually introduce his favoured style of aggressive pressing, possession and quick combinations, aiming to threaten the opposing goal as often as possible.
His first season at Porto, 2014/15, included a runners-up spot in the league and reaching the last eight of the UEFA Champions League, where they exited at the hands of Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, despite an impressive 3-1 first-leg win. Lopetugui was sacked by Porto in January 2016, with the club lying third in the league and having failed to reach the Champions League knockout stages.
So, following his two campaigns in Portugal, Lopetegui now becomes the 51st coach of La Selección. His mission? To continue the squad’s ongoing generational overhaul while playing winning football, particularly come the start of European Zone qualifying for the 2018 World Cup Russia.
— Spain’s Selección (@SeFutbol) 21 July 2016