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FOOTBALL

Spain’s new coach Lopetegui promises ‘evolution’

Newly named Spain coach Julen Lopetegui, who led Spain's youth teams to international success, vowed on Thursday to build upon the groundwork already laid by outgoing manager Vicente del Bosque as he took over the squad.

Spain's new coach Lopetegui promises 'evolution'
Lopetegui during a press conference on Thursday. Photo: AFP

The Spanish football federation on Thursday named the 49-year-old former goalkeeper as the new coach, just weeks after Del Bosque resigned following Spain's defeat to Italy in the last 16 of Euro 2016.

“We will not be having a revolution, but rather an evolution within our ideas,” Lopetegui told a news conference at the federation's headquarters in Las Rozas de Madrid, northeast of the Spanish capital.

“We will take advantage of all that Spanish football has done right for many years, we are not going to waste that. But we will adapt to each moment, to each rival, football does not stop. Spanish football is proud of its past, but we will look to the future.”

Del Bosque had led Spain to the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 titles, after taking over from Euro 2008-winning coach Luis Aragones.

But the second half of his stint was disappointing, with the 2-0 defeat to Italy following a shock group-stage exit from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and he was criticised for not having given the newer generation a chance.

Lopetegui, who was sacked by Portuguese side FC Porto in January, signed a two-year contract which will see him manage Spain until the next World Cup in 2018 in Russia.

Thanks to his success with Spain's under-19s and under-21s, he has long been a favourite of Spanish FA head Angel Maria Villar, who made the appointment before concentrating on his bid to replace Michel Platini as UEFA chief.

Lopetegui is reported to have overcome stiff competition from veteran former Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao coach Joaquin Caparros for the post.

He confirmed media reports that he had been in talks with English second-division side Wolverhampton Wanderers but said those discussions “took a back seat” when he got the call from the Spanish federation.

Del Bosque wished his successor well.

“He's a man with experience, well trained and with huge enthusiasm and lots of energy,” he told Radio Marca.

“He will know how to manage (the team) like he has done brilliantly in the younger age categories.”

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FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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