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Cause for celebration descends into chaos as Spain bodge Luis Enrique's return

Cause for celebration descends into chaos as Spain bodge Luis Enrique's return

The uncertainty created in mishandling Robert Moreno's departure was easily avoidable.

LUIS Enrique is back in charge of Spain. That is the good news. Or it least it should be.

In March he stepped back from the national job because his nine-year-old daughter had cancer, leaving his assistant Robert Moreno in immediate charge with an understanding that he was still running things in the background.

In July, Luis Enrique stood down completely. A month later, his daughter died. Now, he feels strong enough to resume the role. The circumstances are tragic, of course, but his return ought to be a positive. And yet, not for the first time in recent years, the transition for one Spain manager to another has been a shambles.

Moreno had been Luis Enrique’s assistant with Barcelona and is, or at least was, a friend. Despite having no top-level experience either as a player or a manager, Moreno won seven and drawing two of nine games. The agreement, though, at least according to the president of the Spanish federation Luis Rubiales was always that he would step aside if Luis Enrique felt ready to return. Indeed, Moreno said as much in September.

Which makes the events of the past few days difficult to understand. Last week, Spain beat Romania 5-0 to seal qualification for next summer’s Euros. Moreno’s contract ran until the end of that tournament and it appears he had come to believe that he would stay on until then.

Rubiales, though, was reportedly unconvinced by the stand-in and as rumours circulated that he was looking an alternative, Moreno sought clarification of his position. According to Rubiales, when he told Moreno the federation was investigating the possibility of bringing Luis Enrique back, he reiterated his desire to step aside. In his press conference on Tuesday, Rubiales even claimed it was Moreno who has raised the possibility of Luis Enrique returning.

But something doesn’t add up. On Sunday, before the federation had even contacted Luis Enrique – at least according to Rubiales – Moreno effectively issued an ultimatum. On Monday, he quit to make way for his predecessor, although there were apparently no guarantees Luis Enrique would return.

Then again, as Rubiales said, Moreno tended to know what Luis Enrique intended before anybody else. It’s hard not to read significance into the fact that Moreno will not be Luis Enrique’s assistant. Whatever the initial plan, this is not simply a case of an assistant taking temporary charge until his friend felt ready to return.

The attempt from Rubiales to portray Moreno as the instigator was clear, yet it’s hard to square that account with the way Moreno broke down in tears in the dressing room on Sunday and felt unable to attend the press conference after the win over Romania. At the very least, this has been handled exceptionally badly. Rubiales is making a habit of this.

At the World Cup last year, it was at least possible to respect what seemed a principled stance as he forced Julen Lopetegui to step down after news broke that he would be the new manager of Real Madrid. At the time, Madrid seemed the party in the wrong, their decision to announce his appointment on the eve of the World Cup ill-judged. How, after all, could it not affect his relationship with the squad?

In retrospect, though, it’s the decision to parachute in Fernando Hierro that looks ill-judged. Perhaps Lopetegui’s decision would have undermined Spain’s tournament anyway, or perhaps accommodations would have been found. But bringing in a coach of limited experience with no knowledge of the specifics of the squad or what they’d been working on guaranteed an early exit.

At least this upheaval hasn’t happened just before a major tournament, and at least Spain have ended up with the manager they wanted. The issue will probably flare again around the draw and the friendlies next March, but by the time the Euros come round, Moreno’s brief interregnum will probably have been forgotten. In a sense, the fact that Moreno had no club fanbase to rally behind him was one of his strengths as an interim manager.

But the whole affair, whoever turns out to have been to blame, leaves an unpleasant taste. It shouldn’t undermine Spain’s challenge at the Euros, but the sense of chaos that keeps enveloping Rubiales has to raise questions about Spain’s ongoing stability.






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Jonathan Wilson
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