Meet Julen Lopetegui – the ex-Real Madrid and Barcelona goalkeeper who was sacked by Spain but guided Sevilla to Europa League glory in 2020 – now tasked with keeping Wolves in the Premier League

    New Wolves boss Julen Lopetegui enjoyed a debut victory in his first match in England after his side edged out Gillingham to win 2-0 in the Carabao Cup.

    But a cup run may not be enough to convince the fans if he fails to achieve what he was brought in to do – keep Wolves in the Premier League.

    Lopetegui won his first match in charge against Wolves after beating Gillingham in the Carabao Cup

    Getty

    Lopetegui won his first match in charge against Wolves after beating Gillingham in the Carabao Cup

    Lopetegui is preparing for his first Premier League match away at Everton next week

    Getty

    Lopetegui is preparing for his first Premier League match away at Everton next week

    The 56-year-old was appointed as the club’s next manager at the start of last month, and had to wait until Tuesday night for his first match in charge due to the World Cup break.

    He is now preparing for the Boxing Day trip to Everton, where defeat could see the top-flight’s basement side go seven points adrift of safety.

    Lopetegui isn’t one to shy away from a challenge, with supporters hopeful his experience at the top of the game will see them prolong their five-year stay in the division.

    Few managers have been able to rebuild their career after back-to-back quickfire sackings.

    In 2018, Lopetegui experienced two of the most brutal sackings within four months – in both the international and club scene.

    He guided Spain to the World Cup in Russia where he was unbeaten in his 20 matches during his two-year spell.

    Lopetegui guided Sevilla to Europa League glory in 2020

    PA

    Lopetegui guided Sevilla to Europa League glory in 2020

    Lopetegui took control of Sevilla after being sacked by Real Madrid, where he lasted just 74 days

    Getty – Contributor

    Lopetegui took control of Sevilla after being sacked by Real Madrid, where he lasted just 74 days

    But he was shockingly axed on the eve of the opening match of the tournament after it was announced he would be taking charge of former employers Real Madrid once the World Cup was over.

    Spain failed to impress in his absence, as they crashed out at the Round of 16 stage to hosts Russia on penalties.

    And his time at Los Blancos also ended in humiliation after club chiefs wielded the axe on him after just 74 days.

    From his 14 matches, he won just six times while losing as many games – including a debut 4-2 loss to rivals Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.

    Lopetegui was sacked by Spain on the eve of the 2018 World Cup in Russia

    Getty – Contributor

    Lopetegui was sacked by Spain on the eve of the 2018 World Cup in Russia

    His time in charge ultimately came to an end after being thrashed 5-1 by Barcelona in El Clasico.

    Fast forward a year and he was back in the dugout, this time at Sevilla, where in his opening season he defied the odds to claim a top four spot.

    In addition to the achievement, he won the first major honour of his managerial career – beating Inter Milan in the Europa League final in August 2020.

    Sevilla had shocked Manchester United in the one-leg semi-final, while Lopetegui ironically masterminded victory over Wolves in the quarter-final and Roma in the previous round.

    Lopetegui once again managed to secure Champions League qualification in the next two years with two more fantastic fourth-placed finishes.

    But his time in Seville came to a sad ending in October after he was relieved of his duties due to the club’s poor start to the campaign where they lost five LaLiga matches in eight games.

    A 4-1 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the group stage of the European Cup proved to be the final straw, but Sevilla’s financial situation undoubtedly proved to be key.

    Having been greatly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Sevilla were forced to part ways with a number of high-profile players in the summer including Jules Kounde, Diego Carlos and Lucas Ocampos.

    Lopetegui lost six out of his 14 matches in charge of Los Blancos

    Getty – Contributor

    Lopetegui lost six out of his 14 matches in charge of Los Blancos

    Despite his sacking at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, his reputation remains intact, with his free-flowing interchangeable 4-3-3 earning rave reviews.

    Prior to the Europa success, Lopetegui’s only silverware from his managerial career had been the European Under-19 and Under-21 Championships from his time managing Spain’s youth sides.

    He failed to taste silverware from his time at Porto after he was sacked midway through his second season in January 2016.

    Though he did win three major honours from his playing days, where he was part of Real’s squad in 1990 that won the LaLiga title.

    A former goalkeeper, Lopetegui made just one league appearance for Los Blancos, before he joined CD Logrones to be their No1 in 1991.

    He starred in his three years, resulting in him earning his one solitary cap for Spain in 1994, while also being named in his country’s squad for the World Cup that year.

    A move to Barcelona followed, but just like at Real, he was only used as the back-up shot-stopper as he mustered just six appearances across his three-year stay at the Nou Camp.

    After picking up two Spanish Super Cups with the Blaugrana, he linked up with Rayo Vallecano, where he retired in 2002 after five years of service.

    Lopetegui (bottom left) was a back-up goalkeeper at Barcelona and Real Madrid during his playing career

    Getty

    Lopetegui (bottom left) was a back-up goalkeeper at Barcelona and Real Madrid during his playing career

    Despite his lack of trophies from throughout his career, he is without question the highest-profile name to land the top job at Molineux.

    The signs are already encouraging with Wolves close to signing Atletico Madrid forward Matheus Cunha with Lopetegui taking advantage of his knowledge of the Spanish market.

    And should Wolves manage to stay up, fans should be excited at the thought of challenging for a European spot once again under Lopetegui’s tutelage.

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