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SACKED

Who is really to blame for Real Madrid’s disastrous start? Not Julen Lopetegui…

"They stole 50 goals from my son."

Whatever you think of his credibility as a coach, it’s difficult not to feel empathetic towards Julen Lopetegui.

In the space of four months, he has been sacked from the two biggest jobs in the world.

You may debate that, but for a Spaniard they don’t come any bigger than the national team and Real Madrid.

Nightmare

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Nightmare

His reign in the capital was doomed to fail from the start.

The nature of his dismissal by the Spanish Football Federation, on the eve of the World Cup, was undoubtedly a factor in Spain’s disappointing summer.

As the catalyst for the fatal disruption, Lopetegui was the target of ill will from the get-go.

But who is really to blame for Real’s dismal start to the campaign?

Time’s up

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Time’s up

It was Real who gave the president of the Spanish Football Federation five minutes warning before announcing Lopetegui as Zinedine Zidane’s replacement.

It was this rudeness, more than the poorly-timed appointment itself, which provoked Luis Rubiales into wielding the axe just two days before the opening game in Russia.

Spain’s biggest club sabotaged the national team’s World Cup campaign.

One can only imagine the reaction if such a scenario had inflicted another country — say, England?

Going home

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Going home

Three weeks later, Juventus signed Cristiano Ronaldo for £99million.

And who did the club sign to replace the 50-goal-per-season, five-time Ballon d’Or winner?

Mariano, a player they sold to Lyon in 2017.

Speaking after Real Madrid’s 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona at the weekend, the final nail in Lopetegui’s coffin, the 52-year-old’s father spoke out about Ronaldo’s departure.

“They stole 50 goals from my son,” he said.

Pastures new

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Pastures new

The players are not blameless either.

After a confident start, Karim Benzema’s finishing has deserted him.

Injury niggles have hindered Gareth Bale, who has ‘gone missing’ for long periods during Real’s run of one win in seven games.

Raphael Varane has looked a shell of the composed World Cup winner who impressed in Russia.

And Sergio Ramos has been guilty of some notable personal errors, not least error in judgement which led to Luis Suarez’s hat-trick goal in Sunday’s El Clasico.

Los Blancos’ captain has stepped forward to replace Ronaldo when it comes to free-kick and penalty duties, but he has not been the unflappable talisman Lopetegui so desperately needed.

Ramos’ experience is needed now more than ever

Getty - Contributor
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Ramos’ experience is needed now more than ever

Of course, Lopetegui is not entirely unburdened of responsibility.

Even without Ronaldo, Real’s squad is an embarrassment of riches in terms of talent and experience.

Under no circumstances should they find themselves below the likes of Getafe, Levante and Valladolid after ten league games.

However, Florentino Perez must be held at least partially accountable.

Ill-fated

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Ill-fated

Real’s enigmatic president is quick to step into the spotlight during the club’s trophy presentations, but not so prominent when Real are languishing in mid-table.

Ronaldo recently named Perez as the primary reason for his exit in July.

“The president looked at me through eyes that didn’t want to say the same thing, he told France Football.

“As if I was no longer indispensable to them, if you know what I mean.

“That’s what made me think about leaving. The difference is that, at Juve, they really wanted me.”

The higher power in Madrid

EPA
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The higher power in Madrid

There is a sense that Lopetegui has been used as a pawn in a greater game.

Perhaps he is guilty of not much more than following a widely-held ambition.

Going forward, it won’t be a surprise if judge, jury and executioner Perez is unable to lure his preferred choice for Head Coach.

Lopetegui’s head has been placed on a spike as a warning to others.


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