Goalkeeper formed at Real Sociedad’s pool of young players, he then went to Castilla and Las Palmas before getting to Real Madrid’s first team. At CD Logroñés he became one of the best Spanish goalkeepers of the 90’s, something that made him debut with the Spanish national team and even go to the USA World Cup. After that he went to Barcelona where he stayed three seasons before going to Rayo Vallecano where in 2002, he decided to retire from professional football.
Lopetegui is one of the coaches with more future projection in the national and international panorama. He has coached Rayo Vallecano, Real Madrid Castilla, Spain Under-19, Under-20 and Spain Under-21 with success and then, during two seasons, Oporto, a historical club in Portugal. Currently he is Spain’s National Coach and he has the challenge of qualifying Spain for the 2018 World Cup.
Leaving his coaching facet aside, Julen Lopetegui has worked as a football pundit for several media. On TV he collaborated with La Sexta on the 2006 World Cup and also for Estudio Estadio (TVE) and Bein Sports speaking about the Champions League. On Summer 2016 he signed a contract with the Vocento Group to write a column about France’s Euro 2016.
''The Spanish National team is a responsibility that I assume proudly. With everyone's commitment we'll be stronger.''
CAREER AS A COACH
Being a tireless and studious man who is always learning new methods, Lopetegui applies his ideas with diligence and discipline. With a willing to discuss personality, he is always ready to listen to the footballers to get the best out of them.
His career as a coach started in the same club in which he retired as a footballer. Julen Lopetegui coached Rayo in Second Division (2003-04 season) after having ended his agreement with the Spanish National team for which he was the goalkeeper trainer next to Iñaki Sáez, who was the national coach. « I feel very identified with the team and their crowd » he said, a feeling that has been with him since then. In Vallecas he ‘drew his first paintings’ as a coach with Juan Carlos Mandiá as first assistant, who knew the complicated issues of the job.
In 2006 Julen Lopetegui was incorporated to Real Madrid’s organization chart. He spent three years at Chamartín. First he was the responsible man in charge of the international talent scouts but in the end he ended up becoming the coach of Real Madrid-Castilla.
“He is one of the best talent scouts in the international scene of this country. A man of football, dedicated, passionate and a worker who will instill his knowledge to the youth team”, said the White team when making him the official coach. Lopetegui achieved to make Castilla a competitive team and he collaborated in the formation of footballers like Bueno, Szalai or Adán. When he left Castilla (2009), only several months later he was called by Spain’s federation to become Spain’s Under 19-20 coach. On Summer 2010 he started a crucial stage for his future.
The U20 World Cup was the last tournament of the successful spell of Julen through Spain´s youth teams. A few months later, Porto knocked at the door and the Basque manager accepted the responsibility to lead one of the clubs with the best trophy record in both Portugal (27 First Division Championships, 16 Taças of Portugal), in Europe and internationally (two Champions League, two Europa Leagues and two Intercontinental Cups). A Club that was looking for a coach who give stability to an ambitious sport project.
From the beginning, Lopetegui bet, as he has always done, for an association football. An attractive style, offensive and modern, deployed on the pitch through a 4-3-3 formation. The team progressed from month to month to reach a remarkable level of play. Lopetegui´s first season ended with Porto in second place (just three points behind Benfica), while in Champions League they reached the quarter-finals.
In that round they faced Bayern, and both, left for the memory, a brilliant first leg, in which Porto beat Guardiola´s men 3-1. His squad appreciated in such a way that the club cashed in more than 110 million the next summer selling players.
Lopetegui left Porto in January 2016, barely a week after having been the leader in the league. Until that date his record was 53 victories, 16 draws and 9 defeats, scoring 159 goals and conceding 54.
Julen holds the reins of Spanish football after being named by the Spanish Federation as the replacement of Vicente del Bosque, he will be the current coach of Spain. Lopetegui has a great challenge ahead: Qualifying Spain for Russia’s 2018 World Cup and to trying to take Spain back to being as succesful as years ago. All the triumphs achieved with Spain’s inferior categories and the fact that he has already worked with many players of the current squad before are some of the reasons for him to become the current coach of Spain. And now, Lopetegui hopes to give back all that trust by maintaining Spain’s way of playing, in which possesion must always remain as the protagonist. Nevertheless, he must also take advantage of all the new qualities and virtues of the Spaniards in order to alter the system whenever it is required.
With Lopetegui at the helm, La Roja completed a great qualifying stage, winning nine games and drawing one, which earned them the first place of the group and the qualification for Russia 2018. Spain scored 36 times and conceded just three, keeping its characteristic idea of football even in the friendlies against Belgium, England or Russia.
Before he was named as national team coach, the Spanish federation trusted him to coach the Under 19 and the Under 20 national team. The first competitions came in 2011. He took his team to the European Under 19 Final and he won it, although the Under-20 World Cup didn’t let him be in the European championship. Julen had to be with the Under – 20 team in Colombia. His time there was successful. The Under 19 were champions of Europe in Romania against the Czech Republic (2-3), while the Under 20 team lost in quarter finals against Brasil, who won the tournament. Brasil could only beat Spain in penalties after a vibrant match.
A year later he continued with his excellent job in the youth teams. This time he was able to coach the European Under-19. The result was unbeatable. Spain won the title against Greece. That squad had players like Jesé, Deulofeu, Denis Suárez, Óliver Torres, Alcácer and Bernat.
In June 2013 there was a new challenge: the Under-21 European championship at Israel. Julen had been in charge of the Under 21 after the Olympics in London. Spain had plenty of talent (De Gea, Alberto Moreno, Illarramendi, Koke, Thiago, Isco, Morata…) at Lopetegui’s orders. The coach managed the team like a master and they performed brilliantly: Spain won all 5 matches with 12 goals scored and only two conceded. Those two goals conceded came in the final, where Spain beat Italy 2-4.
With the continental gold, the coach from Guipúzcoa went to the Under 20 World cup in Turkey. Spain under 20 was one of the toughest teams in the tournament, but Uruguay beat them before semifinals on extra time. Before quarter finals, Spain had given an incredible impression. They beat Pogba’s France, who finally won the competition.
Understanding football as a whole. As a coach I aspire that my teams dominate all facets of the game, both offensive and defensive. But for all this to happen, I want to create a group tremendously ambitious at both the individual and the collective level. My thought is that in football the systems are no longer that important; what really matters are the styles and decision-making.
From there, I work to make my players capable to choose, in the best possible way, the solution to the problems that could arise at any time. Football is something continuous and there are four key moments that are directly related: attack, attack-defense, defense and transition defense-attack. It is a kind of loop that revolves around those four fundamentals. That is why it is important to understand the game and know the solution needed at each moment.
To develop these four phases we need to handle all the concepts of the game, both offensive and defensive. I think that it is easier to control and win the games having the ball, but fortunately in football there are many winning ways.
Having the ball without knowing where and how to use it may become against you. That is why I try to convince the player with my understanding of the game. There are times in which it is impossible to use the counterattack and there are others in which is a fantastic solution. Depends on the moment.
I believe that having the ball is a great way to defend, but at the moment that we do not have it, my team must know how to act. There are two important moments: the pressure after loss and aggressiveness and conviction of all the players at that time; and if it does not succeed, back to the order and to the defensive balance.
Above all, I want a team with a defined personality, clear concepts of the game to so during the match we know search for the best solutions and for that it is essential the commitment of the player and the understanding of the game.
I pretend the player constantly to understand what and why type of exercise we practise any time. They perceive what is the benefit of the action or the domain for that task or situation of the game and so he can understand how to helps us on the day of the match. I believe much more in the effectiveness of a task from the conviction that from the imposition. It improves the responses of the player and motivates his work. For that reason we have to be able to explain the reasons for every exercise.
As a coach you are dealing with a dressing room with young people under great pressure. Many of them still no knowing how to handle these situations. And for one-self as a coach it not only the tactic, the technique and the physical work, you also need to ensure that the player is balanced enough to be able to take advantage of their conditions. In that matter the coach and the technical staff has to enhance the mental and emotional management of the player, or even use a specialist for certain moments.
The main actors are the players, if they are not balanced, emotionally well and do not have that peace of mind to develop all their skills, they may not show their potential and my team will be worse. My goal is to get them to converge both the management of the player and its commitment toward an idea and how to put it into practice. You have to perceive that your players understand toward where you want to go. Feel a ‘feedback’ in which players are working motivated and confident.
A contemporary coach
The coach has to be very attentive to progress in the profession. The technologies have made a lot of progress, but do not win matches. Yes, it helps us to better transmit our ideas. Give us more resources, help us to gain time, but it does not give the essence and the spirit of the game.
I really believe in the management of your own experiences. This way you can be self-critical with your own experiences and be able to progress and continue to improve. The fact of having been a player is an important asset within the knowledge, but is not definitive or decisive to be a good coach.
Relationship with the media
The relationship with the media, with managers and the fans is an important part of a coach. A coach has to be able not to forget where he is and what he represents, handling with naturalness and dexterity all the external pressure.