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Monday, 26 May 2014 16:10

So who exactly is Julen Lopetegui?

A look at FC Porto’s new coach

julen-lopetegui-presentation.jpgPorto have made a habit of taking a gamble on their choice of head coach in recent years. Despite the spectacular success of José Mourinho and André Villas-Boas, many thought the abject failure of Paulo Fonseca would persuade president Pinto da Costa to go for an old head this time round.

None of it. Little-known Spaniard Julen Lopetegui has been handed the hot seat at the Estádio do Dragão. Spanish football expert David Cartlidge gives us his coaching background.
Structure is important when it comes to Spain and football. The links created at International level from Under-16’s to the full setup have been vital in what has been a staggering run of success. Two European Championship trophies back to back, plus a World Cup sandwiched in-between.
Part of that process has been Julen Lopetegui, and he will hope to find such structure at Porto to help him adapt and achieve the success that was out of Paulo Fonseca’s reach. Style will be as key as trophies for Lopetegui though, and integrating that and getting the players to believe in his philosophy will be the defining feature in whether this risk by Porto has been well calculated.
Lopetegui’s work with Spain’s youth teams at both Under-19 and Under-21 may be the only genuine marks of managerial experience on his CV but they have been impressive stints. Work with Rayo Vallecano lasted just ten games, while he took part in moderate success with Real Madrid Castilla taking them to the play-offs. It’s his work with Spain that stands out though, and he left the Under-21 team with an undefeated record - 18 wins from 19 official games. In terms of pure success, he’s got both Under-19 and Under-21 European Championships trophies to his name. The only black mark on Lopetegui’s record to this date, has been a failure to perform during the Under-20 World Cup.

Impressive nurturing of talent

The forming of talent is always handed the greatest precedence with Spain however, at any level, and Lopetegui’s work has been an outstanding success. David de Gea, Isco Alarcón, Thiago Alcántara, Koke, Asier Illarramendi, Alberto Moreno, Rodrigo are just a few of the names to pass through the ranks under Lopetegui, to go on to bigger and brighter things. In fact, no less than seven of Spain’s 30-man World Cup squad named this past week featured at some point under Lopetegui. While Luis Milla also had a hand in the process, it’s worth remembering Lopetegui has come away with the greater level of rapport after his stint.
A differing factor between the two was their ability to get the maximum out of the talent available. While it’s arguable that these tournaments were Spain’s to lose given the players at their disposal, Lopetegui was able to impose such authority on opponents it eclipsed anything seen before. He was able to carve out a role for everyone, and fully convey his ideas to the young group of players. He did this magnificently so at the U-21 European Championships, bringing to the fore Thiago and Isco’s quality to eventually claim the prize.
Milla meanwhile floundered with a better group at the Olympics, failing to extract the maximum as Lopetegui did. His football has always been attractive to watch to, emphasising control over the opponent and of the pattern of the game. While there may be a more organised tone in midfield, the attack is allowed freedom and ability to interchange at will. Lopetegui has often switched between a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, though showing preference to the latter. Expect Porto looking to come out of the blocks aiming to assert dominance, and using the ball in a diligent manner.

His own man

Lopetegui often highlighted the similarities between his Under-21 group and that of Vicente del Bosque, but made sure to note any differences too. This is a positive for Porto, who think that Lopetegui may simply offer up the same brand of football, despite the differences in individuals. It’s for certain that the 41-year-old will work tirelessly to add a different set of nuances to his football, and make Porto into its own vehicle.
Experience, or lack thereof, is an understandable concern. However, some of Porto’s most successful coaches of recent times arrived with little or none at all. José Mourinho and Villas-Boas are surely testament to this, and while both had experience of working under another manager like Bobby Robson in Mourinho’s case and then Villas-Boas worked inside Porto, it could be said that Lopetegui has gained a great deal of knowledge from Del Bosque. The two worked closely, so it’s a given that certain aspects of Del Bosque’s methods have been picked upon.

Spanish talent on its way to the Dragão?

Lopetegui will surely look to bring in a few young Spaniards with him, and in recent days the likes of Cristian Tello and Asier Illarramendi have been linked. Ayoze from Tenerife is a long-term target of Porto’s too. Hopefully the number will be not of a degree where it becomes saturated, nor blocks the path of young Portuguese players into the first team.
The concerns are understandable and there is an inclination from myself to agree with many, but Lopetegui has shown his quality as a coach and Porto represents an excellent opportunity for him to do what he did for many players in Spain, and that is progress.

Our thanks to David Cartlidge. For more from David and to keep track of all things Spanish football be sure to follow him on twitter @davidjaca.


Comments (3)
BDC one step ahead
3 Thursday, 29 May 2014 00:55
Z / Canada
Marco Silva to Sporting

Lopet-whatever to FC Puerto

2 Wednesday, 28 May 2014 12:18
I was taken aback a bit when the financial losses were stated by Porto. It became less damming when you come to realize that they are still owed a great off their recent transfers. Keep in mind that this is due to how the deals were structured and failure of payment.
Last season should have been a wake up call for PdC. Sometimes you can't just roll the ball out there and let talent prevail. Porto never had a plan b and plan a was sketchy at best.
They've brought in tactically gifted manager, so for me the main question will be him getting the players to follow. Tiki Taka is a system that needs specific players that are good and comfortable in the ball, so there could be a lengthier transition period. We'll see, I don't think Porto is going anywhere down the table. Even if there's early struggles, our league offers up plenty of opportunities to work in getting it right. Specially with the unnessessary addition of two clubs.
Thanks David
1 Wednesday, 28 May 2014 00:27
Really appreciate the write-up. Not really a fan of bringing in a Spaniard for coach, but I will reserve judgement until next season. Hopefully he will not important too manu U-21's from his country and can help instead develop some of the young guns from the B squad such as Mikel, ToZe and Paciencia.


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