MOSCOW, June 13 (Xinhua) -- The World Cup is still 24 hours from kicking off and already we have what promises to be one of the most important stories of the tournament as Spain decided to sack Julen Lopetegui as coach.
The sacking comes less than 24 hours after Real Madrid confirmed that Lopetegui, who less than a month ago signed a contract to lead Spain into the 2020 European Championships, would be their next first team coach, taking up the post as soon as the World Cup finishes.
Speaking in the press conference in which he announced Lopetegui's sacking, Spanish Football Federation President Luis Rubiales was strongly critical of the way the coach had acted.
"The negotiation (with Real Madrid) happened without the Federation being given any information. We only found out five minutes before Real Madrid issued their press communique," he said, adding that the Spanish football team "belongs to everyone in Spain and there are decisions we are obliged to take."
"We have to send a message to the workers at the RFEF that there is way you have to act and although Julen has worked magnificently for us, the way this has happened means we had to take a decision," he added.
The fact that Lopetegui had just renewed his deal with Spain will be seen by many as a betrayal, and the decision is bound to divide Spaniards, given that it leaves Spain without a coach just 48 hours before they play Portugal in Sochi.
Some will think Rubiales has 'cut off his nose to spite his face,' carrying out an action which will do even more harm than the news of Lopetegui's imminent departure.
However, many will believe that Lopetegui left him with little alternative other than to show him the door: the coach was clearly involved in negotiations with Real Madrid during the 10 days following Zinedine Zidane's departure from the Santiago Bernabeu.
If Lopetegui was thinking about Real Madrid, then he clearly wasn't giving all of his attention to Spain in the days prior to flying out to Russia.
Had he continued as Spain boss for the duration of the World Cup, there is also a question over how much attention he was giving to the job at hand, and how much he was thinking about planning Real Madrid's squad for the season ahead (after a summer which promises to see the club carry out a lot of activity in the transfer market).
Rubiales was keen to play down accusations that he had been betrayed by Lopetegui's decision saying: "I don't feel betrayed, but it's another thing the way (he) has carried out things, he was working for the Spanish Football Federation, and the way you do things is important."
The decision also raises huge issues about the unity in the Spanish squad. Spanish media report that one reason the news of Lopetegui's move to Real Madrid was confirmed before the World Cup was that the 6 Madrid players in the Spain squad knew of the decision and a non-Madrid player found out, meaning it had to be made official before it was leaked.
The fact that 6 members of the squad possibly knew what would happen and were trying (probably told by Madrid) to keep the story to themselves will do little to strengthen unity in the squad ahead of a tournament where unity is vital, as their companions now can't fully trust them.
Ad as for Real Madrid, their actions will only serve to make them more unpopular with fans of other clubs. The action has to be seen as putting their interests ahead of those of Spain, which although it makes sense in many ways, has to be criticized from a moral standpoint.
Lopetegui will now fly back to Madrid where he will begin his new job, but he has to have some regrets. Very few coaches have the chance to lead their country into the World Cup finals, and he was 48 hours from doing so. For all that Real Madrid and their riches could have offered him, they could not have given him that chance. And he will never have that opportunity again.