After having been subjected to abject humiliation as Real Madrid and Spain manager, Julen Lopetegui has finally achieved redemption by leading Sevilla to Europa League glory.
Not many can claim that 2020 has been better than 2019, or even 2018, but for Julen Lopetegui this will be a year he will fondly cherish for a long time to come. 2020 has been a year of redemption, possibly even vengeful vindication, for the long-beleaguered Sevilla manager, as such was the way he was treated by many within the Spanish side of the game.
When the final whistle was blown at the end of Friday’s match sealing Sevilla’s victory over Inter, emotion welled up and got the better of the 53-year-old allowed as tears of joy and relief streamed down Lopetegui’s face as he was finally able to savor his release from the footballing demons that had been tormenting him, whilst the sight of Sevilla’s players parading the Europa League trophy around the RheinEnergieStadion in Cologne serveda as visible proof of his credentials as a top level coach.
Those credentials had been severely put to the test during Lopetegui’s short, and ultimately ill-fated, tenure as Spain national team boss. It’s easy to forget given what unfolded once La Roja actually lamded in Russia for the 2018 World Cup, but to his credit Lopetegui never lost a game as Spain manager.
It’s easy to understand why now in retrospect Real Madrid had approached him to replace Zinedine Zidane in the first place as he was carrying the laurels as one of the best coaches in the country at the time. Yet at the Santiago Bernabeu Lopetegui’s reputation was invariably trashed, and he was soon sacked after just 14 games in charge of Los Blancos. Soon after, he was the favorite punchline to many a footballing punchline in Spain.
At Sevilla, Monchi gave him the chance to be a coach again, having seen in Lopetegui the quality of what he could still become. And Lopetegui is undoubtedly more a coach rather than a manager, and despite having a dressing room to manage, a group of players to keep happy and motivated, Lopetegui has been given the leeway to focus on training ground and matchday matters while Monchi navigates the transfer market and all else. This is partly why the Sevilla job has suited Lopetegui so well.
Along a parallel path, international football was also a good fit for him due to the focus on coaching and training ground work unlike at Real Madrid where Lopetegui was overwhelmed by the demands made of those who have to thrive in the dugout at the Santiago Bernabeu where only a particular kind of personality can thrive in that harsh environment.
At Sevilla’s Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Lopetegui’s best qualities have defiitely shone through once again to dispel the dark doom clouds above that had been trailing him. The appointment of the 53-year-old was just one part of a complete overhaul of Sevilla’s squad and coaching staff led by Monchi last summer, with the legendary sporting director immediately pointing the club in the right direction again following his return from Roma.
15 players left the club before the start of the 2019/20 season, with 14 coming in. Among those signed were Diego Carlos, Jules Kounde, Lucas Ocampos, Joan Jordan and Oliver Torres, all of whom have become key figures for Sevilla and would now cost far in excess of what was paid for them only 12 months ago.
In all likelihood, there may well be more squad turnover this summer, this being the Monchi model with what he does best – buying undervalued players to sell on at a profit. The money is then reinvested and the cycle repeats. It’s a cycle that has carried Sevilla to Europa League glory once again – and Julien Lopetegui once again to the joy and glory of redemption.