19th June 2017. By Edward Stratmann
When he took over as Spanish national team manager, Julen Lopetegui made a point of looking to the future and doing things his way, in his style, for he knew comparing himself to the magnificent success Spain had enjoyed under Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque in recent years wouldn't be a wise move.
"In my opinion, the generation that has just passed is without doubt the most brilliant not just in the history of Spanish football, but one of the best in the history of world football, so comparing anything to that is not fair and would be a mistake," he insists.
"But that doesn't mean we haven't got good footballers: we have got good footballers, with ambition, personality, desire. Players who are making big steps, but to follow their path, not someone else's."
The former coach of numerous Spanish youth teams, who knows so many of his players from his previous work, is certainly doing a fine job of stamping his mark on the position. Undefeated in his 10 games at the helm, he couldn't have wished for a better start really.
Following another important World Cup qualifying victory over Macedonia last weekend, David Silva, who's especially relishing working under Lopetegui, stated how pleased he is with the current boss. "You can see the confidence that the coach is giving me and I am very happy," said Silva.
"Everything is moving in a positive direction and that is being seen on the pitch. I hope we can keep up this high level."
Indeed, the former FC Porto boss can be proud of his efforts so far, as he's got La Roja playing some exciting football, that features some slick interchanges in the final third and brilliant off the ball movement, which is a fine recipe to creating plentiful goal scoring opportunities. Even though Spain's opponents usually sit extremely deep in a low block, making it difficult to find time and space, Lopetegui's personnel and tactics are definitely conducive to breaking down such schemes.
Important width is supplied by the fullbacks and overloads in the 10 spaces and the wings are utilised to create a free man, plus to take advantage of third man runs, which all combine to disrupt, stretch and disorganise their adversaries' defensive structures.
Another key factor in his success has been his openness to select players who are in the best form, not just the tried and proven ones that del Bosque usually did. This unquestionably gives players the knowledge that if they perform well, there will be a terrific chance to be selected.
Currently sitting atop of their World Cup qualifying group, level on 16 points with Italy, La Roja are fighting neck and neck with the Azzurri, who they face in September, a match that will likely determine who comes first.
Lopetegui recently spoke of the never give up attitude, which should hold his troops in good stead for that fixture, that he's instilled into the squad, and how he instructs his players to always keep attacking and to not get too frustrated. After all, he knows the possibility of a defensive error raises in the second half as defences tire and are consequently more prone to a lapse in concentration. The fact that Spain has scored a staggering 27 of their goals under Lopetegui in the second half illustrates how fruitful this approach is. "Until the referee does not whistle for the end, any comeback will always be possible," he insisted.
While fighting off his critics and those who'll relentlessly be juxtaposing his team with the great sides of the past is something he'll have to get used to, this clearly isn't something he takes into consideration. Lopetegui is solely focused on doing everything in his power to coach the team how he believes, and in a way that will breed success. He notably defends his players vehemently, just as he did in the Gerard Pique booing upheaval, and places his unwavering faith in them to execute his style too.
In Lopetegui, Spain look to have the right man in charge to take them into the future, and crucially a man who the players respect, appreciate, enjoy working under and knows can get results.
It's certainly so far so good for the Spaniard, as his men look well on their way to being one of the favourites to win the coveted World Cup in Russia next year.
The Management Style of Julen Lopetegui Suits the Spain Squad Perfectly
19th June 2017. By Edward Stratmann