Real Madrid’s decision to replace Zinedine Zidane with Julen Lopetegui means the Bernabéu board have opted for a coach with a similar profile to the Frenchman: a former Madrid player, who also coached Castilla, Lopetegui is also respected by senior players in the dressing room, not least Sergio Ramos, who is captain of the Spain national side and will carry out the same function under his current boss at club level after the World Cup.
Lopetegui, a keeper by trade, was schooled in Real Sociedad’s academy but moved to Real Madrid in 1985 where he started out between the sticks at Castilla. After a loan to Las Palmas he was promoted to the senior side in 1989 under John Toshak but failed to dislodge Francisco Buyo from the number one shirt and made only a single appearance for Madrid during a 3-3 derby draw against Atlético.
After three eye-catching seasons at Logroñés, Lopetegui joined Barcelona as second-choice before enjoying the best spell of his career at Rayo, where he featured in the 2000-01 Uefa Cup campaign during which the capital-based side reached the quarter-finals.
He then started his coaching career at the same club at the age of 37 but was swiftly introduced to the cruel world of coaching, being fired just 10 games into the 2003-04 season. After a brief stint as a pundit, Lopetegui re-joined Ramón Calderón’s Madrid as head of the scouting department and took the reins at Castilla in 2008.
Lopetegui's history with Spain a boon for Madrid
After a season with Madrid’s reserves, Lopetegui’s long association with Spain began. From 2010 to 2013 he was in charge of the under-19s, leading the side to victory in the European Championship in Estonia in 2012 and a year later repeating the achievement with the under-21s in Israel, when he was first touted as a successor to Vicente del Bosque by bringing together a golden generation that included Isco, Álvaro Morata, Koke and Thiago.
Lopetegui’s subsequent return to club management was bitter-sweet. He led Porto to the quarter-finals of the 2014-15 Champions League but failed to land any domestic silverware and was dismissed in January 2016 with the side third in Primeira Liga and out of the Champions League at the group stage.
When Vicente del Bosque stepped down after Spain’s elimination at the group stage at the 2014 World Cup, Lopetegui was seen as a natural successor and he will lead Spain into Russia as one of the favourites after a qualifying campaign that reaped nine wins and a draw with 36 goals and three conceded.
At the Bernabéu Lopetegui is viewed as an ideal replacement for Zidane due to his excellent relationship with Ramos and his influence on the careers of Isco – who he says is still yet to reach his peak - Marco Asensio and Lucas Vázquez, who are all part of his 23-player squad for the World Cup alongside Nacho, who has always been a firm Lopetegui favourite even before he secured his status as a Madrid regular.