The World Cup Warm-Up: Julen Lopetegui’s waking nightmare
Jack Lang surveys an eventful World Cup Eve for Spain...
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"Spain: the banter years – a thread"
You stretch, slowly easing into consciousness again. Yes, a good night’s sleep. You open your eyes and sunshine is pouring through the window like honey. Today is going to be a good day.
Then you remember what today is. Today is World Cup day. Scratch ‘good’: this is like Christmas and your birthday rolled into one, then squared, then coated in chocolate. All those months of waiting and now it’s here. Magic.
No matter that it’s Russia vs Saudi Arabia. Like being served microwaved bread as a starter at a five-star restaurant, you chuckle to yourself. You’re good with little comparisons like that, and you actually like bread. Nice, warm World Cup bread.
Julen LopeteguiGetty Images
Then, just as you rise from horizontal, it starts to hit you. The things that… happened… yesterday. You stagger into the en suite, grab at the edges of the sink, memories ambushing you. Slowly, you raise your eyes to look at yourself in the mirror. Oh God. Oh God, no.
It’s ruined. All ruined. The greatest month of all is nothing to you now; the colour is draining and the light dimming.
Yes, friend. I’m ever so sorry, but you are Julen Lopetegui.
Julen LopeteguiGetty Images
And – SNAP – you’re back in the room. You’re not actually Julen Lopetegui, and you are allowed to be excited. But let’s all agree: the actual World Cup is going to have to go some to match the spectacle of the Spanish dumpster fire currently raging in Krasnodar.
“There are decisions that we are obliged to take based on an understanding of how you should behave and on ethics,” was how Spanish FA chief Luis Rubiales put it. And while this did look very much like something he wasn’t actually obliged to do, you have to admire the sheer no-prisoners militarism with which he tackled the whole affair. The man knows how to turn a drama into a crisis.
Fernando HierroGetty Images
This is Spain’s Saipan, Spain’s Knysna, and all the better for being cut with a sticky-sweet vein of Real Madrid villain sauce. Why didn’t they just, y’know, announce it after the World Cup? Or give the Spanish federation more than a few minutes’ notice? It’s basic stuff, really, and the fallout, while hilarious, is unlikely to help La Furia Roja much this summer, even if new coach Fernando Hierro can stop a mutiny.
You really have to feel sorry for Lopetegui, though. “If it was up to the coach, I am sure he would have done things differently”, Rubiales said. And if that doesn’t win the Understatement World Cup, The Warm-Up doesn’t know what will.
Just when Manchester United fans were feeling quite pleased with themselves, drooling over Fred videos on YouTube and imagining how good Alexis Sanchez might be after a summer off, along came an Anthony-Martial-shaped raincloud last night.
“After thinking about all the factors and possibilities, Anthony wants to leave Manchester United,” his agent told RMC Sport. “There are lots of factors, and right now it’s too early to talk about them.”
Anthony Martial of Manchester United in action during the Premier League match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Manchester United at Amex Stadium on May 4, 2018 in Brighton, England.Getty Images
Four seconds later, it was no longer too early: “I think that when Manchester United, the most powerful club in the world, do not find an agreement after eight months of negotiations then they do not really want to keep such an important player in their squad. That’s why this decision has come – it’s a well-thought-out decision.
" Anthony is disappointed because he has shown his love for the club and the supporters for three seasons. Everyone will have their opinion but I think he needs to resume his career. The time has come."
Which… fair enough really. There’s no point staying in a loveless marriage. And to judge by this photo, Martial’s other half didn’t think much of those quotes when he read them on his phone at the departure gate…
2026 here we come
It’s probably a bit early to start getting excited about the World Cup after the World Cup that follows this World Cup, but you know what? The Warm-Up is already starting to dream after it was confirmed that the 2026 edition will be hosted by the USA, Mexico and Canada.
Morocco would have been cool too, of course, but now that money – and existing infrastructure – has told, it has to be admitted that the prospect is a lip-smacking one. Imagine a World Cup itinerary of, say, Juarez-Vancouver-Miami. Or maybe San Francisco-Toronto-Cancun.
Obviously we’re assuming air fares come waaaaay down in price over the next eight years (or that payments for writing snarky news round-ups go waaaaay up), and that your man in the White House hasn’t torn up his continent by then, but come on. It could be wicked.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino (R) addresses the United 2026 bid (Canada-Mexico-US) officials Carlos Cordeiro, president of the United States Football Association, president of the Mexican Football Association Decio de Maria Serrano, Steve Reed, presidenGetty Images
IN OTHER NEWS
Every World Cup has its famous fans. From those Dutch girls who turned out to be a marketing ruse, to the Spanish fella with the big drum, to… well, I’ve run out of steam with this list, in all honestly, but the good news is that we’ve sorted the 2018 version nice and early.
Say hello to Raimundo Junior, of Teresina in Brazil. So upset was he at the Selecao’s performances four years ago, he decided to turn a little chunk of his town into “Argentina Road” for the next four weeks.
Magnificently petty, we’re sure you’ll agree. And goodness knows what he’ll do when the Albiceleste crash and burn in the group stage…
Dearest Opening Game Gods,
We don’t need a nine-goal thriller, necessarily, but something like this would be great.
Love, The Warm-Up.
HEROES AND ZEROES
They lit up the last World Cup with their sassy, good-time football and magnificent goal celebrations, and the early signs are that Los Cafeteros are in a mood to do it all again in Russia.
Exhibit A: this photo shoot. Is it possible to have Juan Cuadrado as your spirit animal? Asking for a friend.
Exhibit B: this video of what can only be described, however regrettably, as a party bus. Even coach Jose Pekerman is getting his groove on.
Another hero: Stanislav Cherchesov
It’s too happy a day for there to be a zero, so here’s the press-conference line of the day from Russia’s coach:
" What the Russian Premier League needed, then, was better foreign imports to lift the level of the league. And even after the foreigner limit was first introduced, there were still moments when Russian clubs could buy the top players from abroad – most notably when Zenit St Petersburg signed Axel Witsel from Benfica and Hulk from FC Porto for a combined €100m in September 2012. That felt like the start of a new era of Russian power, but we know now it was a peak that is unlikely to be reached again. Zenit are owned by Gazprom, the state-owned gas giant, and the most profitable company in the world in 2009 and 2011. But when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and was hit with sanctions the ruble collapsed. Combined with a collapse in global oil prices, Gazprom suffered an 86 per cent fall in net income in 2014. Which meant no more Hulks or Axel Witsels."
THE WORLD CUP, OBVIOUSLY. DO YOU EVEN LIKE FOOTBALL?
SORRY FOR THE CAPS LOCK. I’M JUST GOING TO RUN AROUND THE HOUSE LIKE A KID ON CHRISTMAS MORNING.