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FOOTBALL

One of saddest days of my life’: Tearful Lopetegui on Spain sacking

Julen Lopetegui said Thursday that being sacked as Spain coach was the "saddest day" of his life since the death of his mother and defended his move to Real Madrid, saying it was done in an "absolutely honest way".

One of saddest days of my life': Tearful Lopetegui on Spain sacking
Julen Lopetegui wipes away a tear during the presentation at the Bernabeu stadium. Photo: AFP

Spain's World Cup preparations were thrown into turmoil on Wednesday as the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) sacked Lopetegui after Real Madrid confirmed he would take over at the Bernabeu for the next three seasons.   

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Spain players reportedly resisted his sacking, which came as Spain are due to face European champions Portugal in Sochi on Friday before taking on Iran and Morocco in Group B at the World Cup.

Lopetegui said he wished federation chief Luis Rubiales “had handled things in another way” as he was officially unveiled as Real's new coach at the club's Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

“Yesterday was the saddest day of my life since the death of my mother. But today is the happiest day of my life,” Lopetegui said as he fought back tears.   

“We are convinced that we acted in an absolutely honest and clear way.”   

Rubiales said the federation was informed of Lopetegui's move just “five minutes” before Real released its press statement announcing his arrival.

'Misplaced pride'

But Real Madrid president Florentino Perez called the Spanish football federation's reaction to the club's signing of Lopetegui “disproportionate, unfair and without precedent in the world of football in similar cases”.

Perez also lashed out at what he called “an absurd reaction of misplaced pride” on the part of Rubiales, and said the club had issued the press statement as an “act of transparence” and to avoid the news from leaking out.   

The federation named Fernando Hierro, 50, as an emergency replacement at the World Cup despite having only one season's managerial experience in the Spanish second division with Real Oviedo. 

He was popular among the players as the federation's sporting director between 2007 and 2011, and returned to that role in November of last year.   

There were fears Lopetegui's appointment by the European champions could open up old divisions between the Real Madrid and Barcelona factions in the Spain World Cup squad.

'Delicate moment'

But Spain captain Sergio Ramos said there were no divisions following the decision to let go of Lopetegui, under whom the 2010 World Cup winners had been unbeaten in two years.

“There are no cracks. We are all individuals and we all think differently, but the collective idea is the same — we are here to go for the World Cup,” said Ramos, who will play under Lopetegui at club level next season.

“For me, personally, it was a more delicate moment but I can assure you that these problems provide an opportunity to grow.”   

Ramos also urged Spain to put the drama of the past 48 hours behind them as they look to focus on their World Cup opener against Portugal in Sochi on Friday.

“You could not start a World Cup in a worse way,” wrote sports daily Marca.   

Top-selling daily newspaper El Pais called Lopetegui's dismissal “the biggest absurdity in the history of Spanish football” in an article accompanied with a photo of the sacked coach, wearing sunglasses, as he left 
Russia.   

“Vaudeville at the World Cup,” wrote rival daily El Mundo, adding Wednesday was “the darkest day in the history of the Spanish national team”.   

Hierro, himself a former Real captain, said the national team did not have time to “feel sorry” for itself.

“The objective is to fight for a World Cup. The players have been working towards this for two years. I've told the players that we have a wonderful, exciting challenge and we can't let this be an excuse to distract us from our dream,” he added.

By AFP's Adrien Vicente 

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

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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