Real Madrid Chairman Florentino Perez is always looking to sign soccer’s biggest stars. His latest move stunned the country, but not in a good way.
The club on Tuesday poached Spanish national team coach Julen Lopetegui just two days before the start of the World Cup in Russia. Zinedine Zidane quit as Real Madrid coach last month.
The Spanish soccer federation fired Lopetegui on Wednesday — 48 hours before “La Roja’s” first match, against Iberian rival Portugal. The federation learned of Lopetegui’s appointment five minutes before it was announced by Real Madrid, its chairman Luis Rubiales said in a televised news conference.
The Spanish team is known as “La Roja” because of its distinctive red shirts.
Perez owes his fame as a household name outside Spain to the prowess on the soccer field of Real Madrid, a club that has won the Champion’s League a record 13 times, including this season. He’s been chairman of the “Merengues” since 2000, bringing a succession of top players to the Bernabeu Stadium from Zidane himself to David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.
In the world of business, he’s also known for his astute eye for a winning opportunity. Earlier this year, he sealed an accord for ACS to join Rome-based Atlantia’s 18.2 billion-euro ($21.4 billion) bid for the Spanish toll-road operator Abertis, cleverly heading off a bidding war.
The Spanish media has rounded on Lopetegui and Real Madrid.
“Neither the club nor the coach cared one bit about how destabilizing this would be,” El Pais columnist Jose Samano wrote on Wednesday. He said it’s a “hand grenade thrown into the barracks of La Roja.” Real Madrid officials weren’t available for comment.