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Lopetegui sacked! He gambled everything and lost the lot

Julen Lopetegui's brief and inglorious reign as Real Madrid coach lasted just 139 days after the club confirmed he had been sacked on Monday

Lopetegui sacked! He gambled everything and lost the lot
Photo: AFP

Lopetegui was dismissed following a meeting of the board of directors, who concluded there had been a “great disproportion between the quality of the staff of Real Madrid…and the results obtained to date”.    

Santiago Solari, the club's B team coach, has been put in temporary charge and is now expected to lead Real for their Copa del Rey game against minnows Melilla on Wednesday.  

The Argentinian could also remain in post for Saturday's La Liga match at home to Real Valladolid. 

Lopetegui's last game proved a humiliation as Madrid were hammered 5-1 by rivals Barcelona in the Clasico on Sunday. 

READ MORE: El Clásico: Suarez hits hat-trick as Barça blow away Real Madrid

The defeat was their fifth in seven games and, seemingly, convinced president Florentino Perez that change was required. 

“This decision, adopted from the highest level of responsibility, aims to change the dynamics of the first team, when all the objectives of this season are still achievable,” a club statement read on Monday.    

“The Board of Directors understands that there is a great disproportion between the quality of the staff of Real Madrid, which has eight players nominated for the next Golden Ball, something unprecedented in the history of the club, and the results obtained to date.” 

Madrid's eagerness to emphasise the talent in their squad was noticeable and perhaps a reminder for potential successors, who may not be easy to find.    

Antonio Conte is the early favourite but initial talks have not gone smoothly, according to reports in the Spanish press. Others linked with the post include Belgium coach Roberto Martinez and former Real Madrid midfielder, Guti. 

Solari is the man in position, however, after two seasons with Castilla, in which he oversaw them finishing 11th and eighth in Segunda B.    

For Lopetegui, the two biggest jobs in Spanish football have been lost in less than five months after his decision to join Madrid also cost him his role as Spain manager at the World Cup. 

Spain subsequently failed in Russia under Fernando Hierro, their stand-in coach, and now Lopetegui's failure at Madrid has been confirmed too. 

Cracks appeared

Zinedine Zidane was always a hard act to follow given his three consecutive Champions League triumphs, not to mention the Frenchman's popularity in the dressing room. 

But beneath the celebrations in May, cracks were already appearing. Madrid finished 17 points behind Barcelona in the league, Zidane departed and then Cristiano Ronaldo followed, taking an average of 50 goals per season with him.    

Perez opted against signing a big-name replacement, which left Lopetegui short up front, while the problems in attack quickly spread to the defence, where Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane have become increasingly erratic.    

“It is not just Julen's fault”, read the headline on the front page of Marca, Spain's biggest selling daily, on Monday.    

Madrid's dreadful recent run showed no sign of abating at the Camp Nou, however. They have managed one win in their last seven matches, sit ninth in La Liga and earlier this month went more than eight hours without a goal.    

Some now believe, perhaps Perez included, that the team needs a firmer hand. Conte is a demanding coach, meticulous in his tactical preparation and unrelenting when it comes to defensive organisation.    

After Sunday's game, Ramos pointedly stated that managing the dressing room at Real is more important than technical knowledge.   

“Respect is earned, it isn't imposed,” Ramos said. “Those are the coaches with whom we've won titles. Managing the dressing room is more important than the knowledge of a coach.” 

The next coach will be tasked with closing a seven-point gap on Barcelona, who returned to the top of the La Liga table after their emphatic win last weekend. 

Ramos insisted the title is not yet lost.    

“There are people that would believe, others that wouldn't,” Ramos said. “I have won La Liga from 10 points behind. The key to success is to work. Madrid never gives up when it can turn the situation around.”

By AFP's Thomas Allnut

READ MORE: Lopetegui the fall-guy for wider malaise at Madrid

 

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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