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Spain coach Lopetegui to take Real Madrid job after World Cup

Real Madrid on Tuesday announced the appointment of Spain's Julen Lopetegui as their coach from next season, stunning the national team ahead of the start of the World Cup.

Spain coach Lopetegui to take Real Madrid job after World Cup
Photo: AFP

“Real Madrid announce that Julen Lopetegui will be the coach of the first team during the next three seasons,” the Champions League winners said in a statement, adding that the 51-year-old “will join the club after Spain's participation in the World Cup”.

Lopetegui will replace Zinedine Zidane as coach at the Santiago Bernabeu, after the Frenchman quit on May 31 in the wake of their Champions League final win over Liverpool in Kiev.

The news comes as a jolt for Spain, just three days before their opening game at the Russian World Cup against Iberian neighbours Portugal in Sochi.   

Lopetegui and the Spain squad are currently at their training base in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar.

The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) confirmed that Madrid will pay compensation to get Lopetegui out of the two years he has remaining on his contract with the national team.

He only signed an extension to his deal until 2020 last month.   

“The RFEF will receive payment of the release clause so that the current national coach can join Real Madrid,” read a statement, adding that Lopetegui would appear alongside federation president Luis Rubiales at a press conference at Spain's Russian training base on Wednesday at 11:30am (0830 GMT).

Spain are among the favourites to win the World Cup after an almost flawless qualifying campaign, and he will be hoping that the announcement does not overly unsettle his squad just before the competition gets under way.   

Lopetegui's national squad includes six Real players in Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Nacho Fernandez, Marco Asensio, Isco and Lucas Vazquez.   

“The RFEF requests the maximum respect in order to maintain normality in the national team camp ahead of our debut in the tournament against Portugal,” added the federation's statement.

Unbeaten record

Lopetegui was appointed as Spain coach in the wake of their poor showing at Euro 2016 in France when they were eliminated in the last 16, losing 2-0 to Italy.

Zidane quit Real after a remarkable two and a half years in charge during which he led the club to three consecutive Champions League titles, as well as one La Liga crown.

However, Real finished third in La Liga in the season just finished, 17 points behind champions Barcelona, and Zidane had admitted that he was unsure of his ability to oversee more success in the future.

His decision to quit as Madrid coach suddenly left the Spanish giants in limbo. Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino had initially emerged as the leading candidate to replace the Frenchman but will now stay in the Premier League.

READ MORE:  France's Zinédine Zidane quits as Real Madrid manager

As a player, Basque-born Lopetegui was a goalkeeper on Real's books early in his career, and he returned for a spell in charge of their second team a decade ago.

He also briefly played for Barcelona and later led Spain's under-21 side to the European Championship title in 2013.   

He went on to coach Porto before succeeding Vicente del Bosque, who had overseen Spain's triumphs at the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 but had also been in charge for the disappointing group-stage exit at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

La Roja cruised through qualifying for this year's World Cup, with nine wins and a draw in 10 games, scoring 36 goals and conceding three.   

Indeed, Spain are still unbeaten under the Basque after 20 matches including friendlies.

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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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