Just when you thought that the circus surrounding US Soccer couldn’t get any crazier, it does. Having not had a full time head coach in over a year, the saga was finally supposed to end with US Soccer expecting to announce a new coach next week with Columbus Crew SC manager Gregg Berhalter being the favorite.
It’s never that simple is it.
Tuesday night, Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl reported that former Real Madrid and Spain manager Julen Lopetegui had reached out to US Soccer about the vacant managerial role but US Soccer said “No thanks.” On Wednesday, Lopetegui’s agent denied any interest in the role, but Wahl is standing by his story.
I’m usually the first one to criticize US Soccer. Whether it’s for being more interested in PR and making money than trying to grow the program, or for not hiring a full time head coach in over a year. But not today.
Assuming Wahl’s report is true, US Soccer were absolutely right to turn down Lopetegui. If Wahl’s report isn’t true, that changes nothing. Just because Lopetegui is available, that doesn’t mean US Soccer should get within 10 feet of him.
There’s no question that the reaction to likely appointing Berhalter has been lukewarm at best. There were plenty of experienced international managers available after this summer’s World Cup and Berhalter doesn’t exactly move the needle. Not to mention, he likely would have taken the job a year ago had it been offered to him. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a far better candidate than Lopetegui.
When Wahl first broke the news, fans were screaming their outrage all over twitter. How could US Soccer not even consider a former coach of Spain in favor of an MLS coach (who also happens to be the brother of a high ranking USSF official)?
Well good on US Soccer because I’ve got news for you. It’s hard to find an available coach that’s more overrated than Julen Lopetegui.
The fans that want him only know one thing about him, his resume. They see that he went unbeaten in over two years with Spain and then he was hired by Real Madrid! Real Madrid, the mega-club. Certainly they wouldn’t hire someone unless he was really good.
It only took Madrid four months to discover that Lopetegui is in fact not really good. Sure, Real didn’t do Lopetegui any favors but the man didn’t do himself any favors either. Yes, he lost Ronaldo, but then he couldn’t figure out how to restructure his still very good team without him. That doesn’t seem like a good sign for an international soccer manager who won’t have the ability to just sign new players for his team.
There are certainly some that will look past his struggles with Real because he was put in a position to fail, and point to his “great” record with Spain. Lopetegui took over La Roja following Euro 2016 and managed them right up until being fired on the eve of the World Cup.
Over that two year span, Spain played 20 matches and lost none of them. On paper, that looks like a great record. But when you take a closer look, it starts to fall apart.
For starters, Lopetegui didn’t manage Spain during any major tournaments. He navigated them through European World Cup qualifying where the margin for error is slim but the competition is even slimmer. Even when England were in their ‘hilariously crash out of tournaments’ they would still roll through qualifying.
For World Cup qualifying, Spain were drawn into a group with Italy, Macedonia, Liechtenstein, Israel, and Albania. The difficulty in qualifying isn’t the opponents but making sure you don’t drop any points because then you’ll finish behind Italy. In the two games against Italy, Spain won at home and drew on the road, both good but expected results.
Aside from the 10 competitive matches that Lopetegui had no control over, Spain also played 10 friendlies. They took on top sides like Germany, England, and Colombia, failing to beat any of them. They do have some nice wins on paper against Belgium, France and Argentina, but again there’s more that meets the eye to those.
Lopetegui’s first match in charge was a 2-0 win over a not full strength Belgium side. Divock Origi started at striker and Jordan Lukaku was the starting left back. The match against France also featured two teams that were at less than 100%, with France starting none of their first choice midfielders. As for that match against Argentina? Not only was Lionel Messi not involved but neither were Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria or Paulo Dybala. That Argentina side was laughably weakened.
Despite only having one “good” win, somehow Real Madrid thought it was a good idea to make Lopetegui their coach. That means that his resume now says that at one point he’s managed both Spain and Real Madrid, two of the biggest teams in the world. That might be a great resume but it doesn’t make him a great coach.
So kudos to US Soccer. Way to look past a nice looking resume and realize that an overrated coach who knows next to nothing about US Soccer is probably not a good idea.
This won’t change anyone’s opinion on Gregg Berhalter, but if you’re not a fan of him just remember this. It could have been worse.
[Photo: Getty Images]