Real Madrid: 5 talking points as Lopetegui is named Zidane’s successor

The shock news that Julen Lopetegui certainly adds an interesting dimension to Spain's World Cup campaign.


REUTERS/Susana Vera

Just as it was the case when Real Madrid held an impromptu press conference to announce Zinedine Zidane’s departure a few short weeks ago, the news of his replacement is a bolt from the blue.

Nobody, not least the bookies, even considered the possibility that Spain coach Julen Lopetegui would be the one to step into the biggest job in football. 

Not least because he signed a contract extension with the national team as recently as May 22nd (just nine days before there was a vacancy at the Spanish giants).

Here are the immediate talking points from the shock appointment:

  1. 1 Good news for Madrid's youth


    REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

    Having won the Under-19 and Under-21 Euros with Spain, Lopetegui's biggest strength is his ability to bring through younger players. That includes Real Madrid players Dani Carvajal, Isco and Nacho (and former players Asier Illarramendi and Alvaro Morata) with whom he won the U-21 Euros in 2013.

    His record in domestic football is limited to an unsuccessful stint at Porto that was characterised by a lack of return on the big money spent. 

    However, in his eighteen trophyless months at the club, he did give minutes to young players, including bringing through a 17-year-old Ruben Neves, giving Casemiro (then 22) a first full senior campaign in European football on loan from Madrid, and also using Juan Quintero, Oliver Torres and Cristian Tello. 

    Borja Mayoral (21), Achraf Hakimi (19), Theo Hernandez (20), Marcos Llorente (23) and particularly Dani Ceballos (21) - considered by many to be one of the most exciting young players in Spain - had limited opportunities under Zidane. The Frenchman did help Marco Asensio establish himself but such potential superstars warrant more starts in the future. 

    All of them should be getting more minutes and Lopetegui is a fitting choice to help them make the step up. 

  2. 2 Isco will be key


    REUTERS/Hannah McKay

    As one of the players Lopetegui worked with in the Under-21s, Lopetegui knows Isco well and has consistently used him in an important role as Spain emphatically qualified for the World Cup. A certain starter in Russia, this appointment will also reinforce his position in Madrid. 

    He was particularly outstanding against Italy in a 3-0 win, genuinely looking one of the finest individuals in world football. 

    At Madrid, having earned his place in the latter stages of last season's Champions League win, he appeared frustrated with a lack of consistent game time at his club this season, despite featuring prominently in Europe again. 

    This is what he said to Marca in March when on international duty:

    "In Madrid I don't have the confidence a player needs. The matches with the national team give me life. Here I have the confidence of the coach.

    "I want to show that I'm a good player. Lopetegui shows me confidence with the minutes he gives me. Maybe I'm the problem in Madrid. I don't know how to win Zidane's confidence.''

    He'll be delighted with this news, then. 

  3. 3 ...but what does that mean for Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo?


    REUTERS/Javier Barbancho

    The era of the "BBC" appeared to come to an end last season with the three forwards starting barely any games together. 

    With Casemiro and Isco having worked with Lopetegui before and looking likely to play, and the partnership of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric seemingly a non-negotiable, that only leaves two available places up top.

    After shining in the Champions League final against Liverpool, Gareth Bale was keen to stress his demand for more minutes. 

    Cristiano Ronaldo appears unhappy with his current deal. Karim Benzema showed his value in the latter stages of the Champions League but had a poor goal-scoring return and often looked off-colour - Zidane liked him, but is no longer there to protect him.

    So could one - or more - be departing this summer? It's an uncertain time in the Spanish capital and Lopetegui has difficult decisions to make.

  4. 4 Can he lure David de Gea back to the Spanish capital?


    REUTERS/Juan Medina

    With Manuel Neuer's recent injury record, David de Gea has staked a claim as the best goalkeeper in the world. His highlights reel of scarcely believable acrobatic saves earned him a fourth player of the season award in his last five years at Manchester United.

    It's well-established how close Real Madrid have been to signing him in the past.

    Should he continue his league form in Russia - especially if Spain go all the way - there would be a clamour to sign Spain's national goalkeeper, a World Cup winner and best in the world. They've got form for signing such players (Cannavaro, Ozil, James). 

    Lopetegui might try make sure it's not the last time they work together. 

  5. 5 A convenient stop-gap

    There's a polarity in Madrid's squad. There are a number of promising players under 23 (above) but there also six first teamers over 30 - Benzema, Ronaldo, Modric, Marcelo, Ramos and Navas. None need to be replaced, but a succession plan needs to be put into place. 

    Lopetegui will be tasked with this transition alongside gunning for trophies. Barcelona have won the last four Copa del Rey and have dominated domestic football over the last decade, winning seven of the last ten league titles and last season's with a 17 point lead over Madrid. 

    In European football, succeeding a three-time Champions League winning manager is an unenviable task. 

    It's certainly possible that this era of European dominance continues - they have shown an ability as serial winners, after all - but it's just as likely that it ends. 

    That's not to say the new manager has to do much wrong or different to his predecessor. Next season there might not be those Karius howlers, or that Ulreich error, or those scuffed opposition chances. Next time, the killer injuries might hit Madrid instead. Fortune has played a big part in the recent successes and they can't rely on it forever.

    Without winning La Liga or the Champions League, that would likely be the end of the road for Lopetegui. But even so, he'll have filled an important role: made some difficult decisions, helped the club through transition and ensured that the man they really want - Mauricio Pochettino - doesn't have the impossible job of following Zidane.

    Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Spain's World Cup group in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.

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