Club v Country: Spain's decision to sack Julen Lopetegui could be a pivotal moment

by Andy Dillon / 14 June 2018, 15:40

INTERNATIONAL football is back on the map as the biggest tournament on earth gets underway in the wake of Spain’s bombshell 24 hours.

Sacking manager Julen Lopetegui a couple of days before their opening game of Russia 2018 borders on soccer suicide but may yet turn out to be a pivotal moment in the struggle between club and country football.

Axing their underhand coach for sneakily negotiating to join Real Madrid straight after Spain’s campaign ends is a signal that the big European clubs can only flex their muscles so much.

There is a line in the sand where enough is enough and Spain’s FA President Luis Rubiales drew it when he got just five minutes’ prior warning that his main man out in Russia was planning to defect.

Spain have been hugely embarrassed by this. Rubiales and the Spanish football federation which has won three of the last five major international tournaments, were caught on the hop.

Nobody would bet on Spain adding a second World Cup this summer to the one which heralded a remarkable era of global domination at South Africa in 2010.

But the short term cost is a long term gain for Spain and for anyone else who still has a vested or emotional interest in the fortunes of their country’s football team.

Not for a long time has an England team departed our shores with such low expectations of glory. It’s not a bad thing, it’s realism.

The overpowering influence of club football in the Premier League has put the domestic game on a huge pedestal overshadowing the national team and the ever-shrinking pool of talent from which current boss Gareth Southgate can pick his 23 man squad.

It is only down to Southgate’s mature, open attitude towards the limitations of his team and his desire to keep dressing room egos in check that has endeared him and the players to the fans.

Take a look around today and see if you can spot any of those George Crosses flying from car windows, or wing mirrors. I’ve seen one so far.

International football has been taking a hiding from the big clubs for years now with TV executives falling over themselves to throw money around the Premier League. And people like Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore ready and willing to take every penny they can.

In turn, our best teams have been trying to shoehorn as many world class players into their squads as possible in order to finally land a punch on Real Madrid in Europe.

Journalists in Spain reacting to the news of Lopetegui’s sacking on Wednesday confirmed that the reactionary decision was made as a statement of intent.

That however big Madrid may think they are, Spain is bigger and more united, despite it’s bitter political divisions.

Such is the gulf between the two giants of La Liga, Madrid and Barcelona, that knowing the manager is casting his eye over all his 23 players before taking his fact files with him to the Bernabeu Stadium come late July would split the camp wide open.

Fernando Hierro

Spain’s FA have installed Fernando Hierro as an instant replacement and there is hope the explosive last 24 hours will galvanise the players. But we all know the game is up this year unfortunately.

But sacrificing one World Cup seems a worthwhile price to pay if it can tame the beasts of Madrid and Barcelona.

England and The FA have a job to do to keep our clubs under the whip. For many years now there has been a badly kept secret that until Southgate took over, players from the top teams were under pressure to pull a sickie when it came to international breaks; that club pursuits took priority.

But only last week Tottenham defender Danny Rose revealed how England had been his ‘saviour’ during dark days of depression when he was struggling with personal problems and deep-rooted professional dilemmas at Spurs.

For the next four weeks or so we will feast upon a clash of nations on the football field, watching 32 teams whittled down to one ultimate victor in a tournament that has already made big news before a ball is kicked.

What the world needs is for us all to save what we have and revive that special buzz for international football and for national associations to take a similar line to Spain’s to preserve the rule that countries must come first.

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