Fernando Hierro tasked with leading Spain to 2018 World Cup gloryby Colin Millar / 13 June 2018, 14:02Tweet
It was a morning which defined the chaos which has engulfed Spain in recent weeks. However, the bonkers three-hour spell of events early on Wednesday had in truth commenced the previous afternoon.
Julen Lopetegui, boss of the Spanish national team, was appointed as the new Real Madrid coach in a role which he would assume following the conclusion of the World Cup. The Spanish FA confirmed, via a statement, that a compensation package of 2m Euros would be contractually required from the European champions.
However, a surprise press conference was called early on Wednesday morning which would be jointly-held by Lopetegui and Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales. Rumours started immediately with the suspicion that the boss would be, against all the odds, dismissed on the eve of the World Cup kick-off. Originally scheduled for 10.20am (Spanish time), the event was postponed by 70 minutes.
Various Spanish media outlets were reporting on vastly different outcomes. Perhaps there was a late change of heart. That a delegation of players had changed the mind of the FA.
Eventually, after midday Rubiales walked out, alone. Lopetegui was not present, as scheduled. Within minutes, it was confirmed that he had been sacked. ‘A great coach’, said Rubiales, ‘but we cannot tolerate this behaviour’. He referenced the appointment the previous day, when he and the FA were told ‘just five minutes’ before the announcement.
Unbeaten through 20 games, Lopetegui was gone. In two days time, Spain’s World Cup gets underway against Portugal. Frantic speculation ensued on who would take over for the tournament in Russia. It had to be a continuity appointment, someone involved in the setup.
Shortly before 2pm, that man was confirmed as Fernando Hierro. The former defender had been sporting director for the Spanish FA and his swift appointment is seen as a seamless transition for the national team. Albert Celades, Spain’s Under-21 boss, had also been floated but in the end it was the former central defender.
The former Madrid captain has one season of managerial experience having coached La Liga 123 side Real Oviedo in the 2016-17 but left a year ago following a mid-table finish. Whilst the context and level was significantly different to the situation he will inherit with the national team, Hierro built a reputation as being a conservative boss who set up his side as being difficult to break down.
Hierro netted 29 times for Spain in 89 international appearances whilst his playing career spanned spells with Real Valladolid, Madrid, Bolton Wanderers and Al Rayyan. The former Madrid defender captained his nation and his most memorable goal was against Switzerland in a last 16 tie at the 1994 World Cup.
In less than a fortnight in Spain: Zidane resigns. Replaced by Lopetegui. Who is then sacked by Spain, on eve of World Cup. Meanwhile, Spanish government voted out of power on corruption charges and the King's brother-in-law is jailed for five years.— Colin Millar (@Millar_Colin) June 13, 2018
Spain are pitted in a tough group along with Portugal, Morocco and Iran, and a real possibility exists that if they do not make a quick against the European champions then they may – for a second successive World Cup – fail to make it past the first hurdle. Hierro will be aware that this is the ideal stage for him to make a claim for the position on a permanent basis.
However, such instability is sure to have rocked La Roja and a new boss with a different style, different ideas and a lack of experience is almost certain to count against them. Lopetegui was hugely popular among the players and now a mistrust may exist between them and those running the team. Could this have a negative impact in Russia? It will not take long to find out, but responsibility has been thrust upon the new boss and right now, Spain need a Hierro.