As Spain captain Sergio Ramos was seeking to end the panic surrounding his side ahead of their blockbuster of an opener against Portugal after the shock sacking of manager Julen Lopetegui on Wednesday, the old coach was revealing what he had been through as he was unveiled as the new man at the helm of Real Madrid.
“Yesterday was the saddest day of my life, since the death of my mother…but this is the happiest day,” said Lopetegui, who was presented an hour after his replacement, Fernando Hierro, spoke for the first time ahead of Spain’s opening match.
The 2010 World Cup winners were left in crisis when Lopetegui was sacked on the eve of the tournament for secretly agreeing a deal to ditch his country and sign for Madrid.
Ramos was in a boisterous and passionate mood in which he posed with his arm around his new coach and pointed to him as if to say ‘he’s the man’.
He then produced a Churchillian speech to rally the troops and left with one last message. “On that note, I’m going to finish this press conference because it feels like we’re in a funeral parlour here but we’re starting a wonderful World Cup and it’s time to smile,” said Ramos.
Back in Madrid, Real president Florentino Perez defended the club’s decision to make public the appointment of Zinedane Zidane’s successor just days before the start of Spain’s World Cup campaign and said Lopetegui should still be in Russia.
He said: “We had wanted to do this (presentation) after the World Cup, but a series of circumstances have led us to here. We still cannot understand why this agreement could affect the (Spain) players, who really wanted to win and be world champions again. There’s no argument that justifies Julen Lopetegui not being on the Spain bench tomorrow.”
Lopetegui insisted he did not feel humiliated by what happened with the national team but would have liked things to have been handled differently.
“Humiliated, no,” he said. “I’ve acted in an honest way despite the things that have been said. We have been professional, honest and clear.
“Loyalty is telling the truth. The agreement (with Madrid) was closed before the World Cup, not during. I had been honest and transparent and had nothing to hide. I will be supporting (the team) like a Spaniard. They are going to have a great World Cup and I feel part of this team.”
Before his departure, Ramos was adamant there are no splits in the Spain ahead camp of a difficult opening match in Group B – and promised players will rally around their new manager.
“There is no division whatsoever,” he said. “We can have different opinions, that’s normal, but the unit is the same, the shared goal is the same and nothing or no-one is going to change that.
“There are few people more qualified than Fernando Hierro to cover Julen’s departure. He’s a player we have admired, a perfect candidate to cover this post.”
Hierro stressed the importance of calm and continuity “We are not going to deviate one iota from our footballing concepts and what we’ve been doing for a long time now,” said the former Spain defender.
“We need to respect the work that has been carried out over the last two weeks in the run-up.”
As for the match, the mere matter of Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, the European champions, lie in wait. Ramos and co will surely be delighted for the football to begin.