Julen Lopetegui may have been named as Real Madrid’s next head coach on Tuesday, but he will not have a lot of time to prepare for what promises to be a huge job.
The former Madrid goalkeeper must keep his eyes on the prize in the weeks leading up to his first day back at the Santiago Bernabeu, with a World Cup on the line as Spain boss.
But if Lopetegui finds a moment to let his mind fast-forward to the end of the tournament, there will be plenty to ponder.
Madrid might be reigning European champions, but this is a club that finished well off the pace in LaLiga and has been rocked by Zinedine Zidane’s departure.
Lopetegui has work to do…
SETTLE THE FUTURES OF KEY MEN
Zidane is gone and even before that bombshell, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale had openly discussed the possibility of moving on. Given their performances at key times in crucial matches in recent seasons, losing both would be unthinkable.
Lopetegui’s first job will surely be to communicate with the pair and understand their thinking. The Spain coach would do well to keep both at the club, but he may want to take the side in a new direction. Although the Galacticos model has certainly been successful in the Champions League, Madrid are perhaps too dependent on their leading lights delivering the improbable.
Star power has been favoured over team work. The outcome of discussions with Ronaldo and Bale will hint at how Lopetegui plans to take the team forward.
ASSESS ZIZOU’S TRUSTED LIEUTENANTS
It is hard to make a case against the serial winners currently in the Madrid dressing room, but plenty have tried – particularly in the last 12 months when a domestic challenge was non-existent.
There is a feeling that Keylor Navas and Karim Benzema, in particular, were favourites of Zidane but not necessarily of the fans or the board. Lopetegui could quickly stamp his mark on the side by ditching two players who might well have been long gone had Zidane departed sooner.
However, replacing Benzema – a man with 56 Champions League goals – may not be an easy early task…
BRING IN A WORLD-CLASS GOALKEEPER
On the other hand, Navas is surely on the chopping block and, if that is the case, the next man in at Madrid must be a number one from the very top drawer.
Lopetegui, himself familiar with the position, must know there are more impressive options out there. Better yet, he is working with one at the World Cup; Spain’s David de Gea has long been linked with a move to Madrid. Recruiting a player of that calibre in a problem position would be a simple way to immediately improve an already brilliant team.
There are alternatives, too. Thibaut Courtois is facing up to a year outside the Champions League, while Madrid’s profile could see them quickly emerge at the front of the queue if Alisson becomes available. All look better options than Navas.
BUILD AROUND YOUNG STARS
One area in which Lopetegui can surely thrive is in the development of the younger stars at the Bernabeu, having held numerous Spain youth coaching roles earlier in his career.
While Madrid won and won, a chief frustration with Zidane was that the big money spent on recruiting the best prospects from around the country looked to be going to waste. Theo Hernandez made 17 starts in all competitions last season; Dani Ceballos did not reach double figures in that respect. Even Marco Asensio could have been handed a greater role, such is his talent.
These players are competing with some of the very best in world football, but they risk falling by the wayside if they are not given the responsibility they feel they deserve. This off-season presents an opportunity to change that.