There can’t be many people for whom 2020 has been better than 2019, or 2018 for that matter, but for Julen Lopetegui this will be a year he remembers fondly. For the Sevilla manager, 2020 has been a year of redemption, possibly even revenge such was the way he was treated by many within the Spanish game.
At the final whistle of Friday’s Europa League final victory over Inter, the 53-year-old allowed emotion to get the better of him. Tears streamed down Lopetegui’s face as a sign of how he has finally been released from his footballing demons, with the sight of Sevilla’s players parading the Europa League trophy around the RheinEnergieStadion in Cologne proof of his credentials as a top level coach.
- Sevilla stun Inter to win Europa League in five-goal thriller
- Jesus Navas dedicates Sevilla's Europa League triumph to the late Jose Antonio Reyes
- Inter boss Antonio Conte: 'No bitterness over Europa League final loss'
- 'Headers are my specialty' - Sevilla's two-goal hero Luuk de Jong
Julen Lopetegui says 'the past is behind me' after Sevilla Europa League triumph
Those credentials had been in no doubt 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 touched down in Russia for the 2018 World Cup, but Lopetegui never lost a game as Spain manager. There was a reason Real Madrid approached him to replace Zinedine Zidane in the first place - he was regarded as one of the best coaches in the country at the time.
At the Santiago Bernabeu, Lopetegui’s reputation was trashed, sacked after just 14 games in charge of Los Blancos. For a while, he was the punchline to many a footballing punchline in Spain, much like David Moyes is in England. Even when Lopetegui was hired as Sevilla manager last summer, he took a stray shot straight to the face in his first training session in charge. Caught on camera, naturally.
Monchi saw Lopetegui for what he could still become, though, giving him the chance to be a coach again. And Lopetegui is undoubtedly a coach rather than a manager. Of course, he has a dressing room to manage, a group of players to keep happy and motivated, but Lopetegui has been allowed to focus on training ground and matchday matters while Monchi navigates the transfer market and all else.
Sevilla's Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui and staff celebrate after the UEFA Europa League final football match Sevilla v Inter Milan on August 21, 2020 in Cologne
Image credit: Getty Images
This is partly why the Sevilla job has suited Lopetegui so well. International football was a good fit for him due to the focus on coaching and training ground work. At Real Madrid, Lopetegui was overwhelmed by the demands made of those who stand in the dugout at the Santiago Bernabeu. Only a certain kind of personality can thrive in that environment.
At the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Lopetegui’s best qualities have shone through. 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.
Antonio Conte hints he could leave Inter after Europa League final defeat
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.
There may well be more squad turnover this summer. This is the Monchi model. This is 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 Lopetegui to redemption.