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Spain’s Coach Was Fired a Day Before the World Cup. It’s a Shocking Lesson in Basic Professionalism

In a stunning move, coach Julen Lopetegui was fired by Spain’s soccer federation. A lesson on managing up lies within.

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BY Scott Mautz - 14 Jun 2018

Spain's Coach Was Fired a Day Before the World Cup. It's a Shocking Lesson in Basic Professionalism

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

With respect to PT Barnum and the Super Bowl, the World Cup is the greatest show on earth--and a sideshow worthy of a circus just erupted a day before the tournament.

On Wednesday, less than 24 hours before the start of World Cup play, Spain's soccer federation dropped a bomb, announcing the immediate firing of Spain's coach, Julen Lopetegui.

Why? Because he was caught administering steroids to players? Because he was part of a bribery scandal?


Because it was announced on Tuesday that Lopetegui was taking the job as the new coach of soccer powerhouse Real Madrid. Along the way, it seems, he never keep the federation up to speed on his doings.

The federation had been kept out of the loop, and was furious about it. As head of Spain's Football Association, Luis Rubiales, stated in a press conference:

"The federation cannot be left out of a negotiation by one of its workers and be informed five minutes before the press release. If anybody wants to talk to one of our employees, they have to speak to us too. That is basic, as this is the team of all Spaniards. The national team is the most important we have, the World Cup is the biggest of all. There is a way you must act. Julen has worked in a great way with the team, but we cannot accept how he has acted in this case."

The decision has divided Spanish media and fans. Admittedly, I was divided too, at first. The World Cup is immeasurably important to each participating country and canning a coach on the eve of competition will certainly have an impact on players.

These players have been training together, bonding together, and rallying behind their leader in preparation for the ultimate competition. In the blink of the eye, they now have to perform on the world's biggest stage with a new manager (Fernando Hierro, who reportedly advised Rubiales not to fire Lopetegui).

Unquestionably, pride is a factor here. And I've got to believe there are past tensions and politics at play behind the scenes. Seems to me that proper punishment could have been doled out after the World Cup.

However, there's another side to the story.

The more I think about it, the more I think Rubiales is right.

Most of us have someone in our professional lives we simply must respect, collaborate with, and take direction from so that the greater whole can thrive. I'm not talking here about being a corporate drone who lines up, does as told, never pushes back, and plays politics to get ahead--even founders and CEOs are always accountable to someone.

I'm talking about basic respect and professionalism. Lopetegui clearly knew what he was doing and that it would be a middle finger to his "boss" (the federation). And as Rubiales pointed out, excelling with your team is a must, but you have to smart about managing and enrolling up the chain.

What kind of precedent would it set if the federation simply turned its head? How disruptive would coaches act in the future if the federation didn't take a disruptive action right now?

The players themselves have nobly said that they will carry on and win for Spain, regardless of who is their coach. I can't help but feel that their herculean task just got tougher--but I think we know right now that Rubiales made the right call.

What do you think? Am I right, or should punishment have been administered after the World Cup? Or not at all?

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