The eve of a World Cup is not exactly the most opportune moment to announce you’ve just sacked your head coach. But that is exactly what Spain have done.
One of the tournament’s favourites, the Spanish looked in good shape until the shock announcement on Wednesday that Julen Lopetegui would be sacked with immediate effect. The shocking news followed Lopetegui’s decision to take up the Real Madrid job after the World Cup. The Spanish Football Federation were clearly not impressed with this, and wanted a man more focused on Russia. Their Solution? Parachuting in The Marshal: Fernando Hierro.
El Mariscal doesn’t have a managerial CV to boast about. He spent just one season at Oviedo in the second tier before coming in as Director of Football for Spain recently — and that is mostly it. However, the former Real Madrid icon makes up for his shortfall with his stellar playing career.
Before the dark arts of Pepe and Ramos, Hierro was the bedrock of Real. In a playing career spanning three decades he was one of the fan’s favourites as he went on to win three European Cups and five La Liga titles. He endeared himself to the nation with his gritty leadership and underrated quality on the ball. He captained his country until his international retirement in 2002 and won eighty-nine caps for la seleccion. Quite the CV indeed.
As those in Spain reeled from the news that Lopetegui had gone, they would have been even more shocked by Hierro’s appointment. It is a gamble for sure, but could it pay off?
Hierro is a national figurehead. To the Spanish football authorities, he represents a leader the nation and it’s players could rally behind in Russia. His natural confidence and leadership will no doubt help, but he will need more. Spain have a tough opener in their group against European Championships Portugal. If they loose that one, the nation’s fierce media will descend and the pressure will fall on the players.
Hierro will need tactical nous, too. They will likely progress from the group but the knockouts will be a challenge, especially if they fail to win their group. Yes, he can rely on the individual talent in his side, but they will need something from the manager at some point and there his lack of experience is a worry.
Hierro is a throw back to Spain’s less successful era. A time when they had huge names and were often dubbed dark horses only to fall against the big boys. Hierro was their leader, scoring vital headers in qualification matches and inspiring his team.
He will need to draw on that in Russia. His lack of international honours would have hurt but suddenly out of the blue, he has a shot at redemption.
Spain really are a talented group. Their midfield core of Isco and Iniesta is bolstered by veterans like Ramos, Pique, Silva and Costa. They may be a slightly older, but they are all serial winners. There is an argument to suggest that Hierro won’t have so much to do with all of that talent at his disposal.
At Real Madrid, it could be said, that the inexperienced Zidane was the beneficiary of the rich talent and winners in the ranks there when he took over. Hierro could well benefit in a similar way. Whatever the outcome of their gamble though, it does feel as though Spain’s chances of glory are now a little more diminished as they embark on their Russian campaign.