Julen Lopetegui to West Ham: Spanish coach can deliver the style that supporters want after David Moyes

Julen Lopetegui to West Ham: Spanish coach can deliver the style that supporters want after David Moyes

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Julen Lopetegui has been named as West Ham’s new head coach after the departure of David Moyes; The former Real Madrid manager can deliver the more progressive football that West Ham supporters now crave, writes Adam Bate

West Ham’s appointment of Julen Lopetegui looks a smart move. This is a coach with Premier League experience but someone eager to show what he can do with greater resources. At West Ham, he finds a club keen to embrace a new way.

David Moyes has done well in his second spell, most memorably taking them to a European trophy. But there is an appetite for a more progressive style of play and Lopetegui’s record, particularly in Spain, suggests that he can deliver that.

His brief time at Wolves means he is a known quantity and while that appears to have counted against him in the eyes of some supporters, it should not. His achievement in turning things around there showcased his motivational skills and his adaptability.


Rescue act at Wolves

Gary O’Neil has rightly received praise for guiding Wolves to mid-table in a season in which relegation was regarded as a risk but when Lopetegui took charge, that risk was more than speculation – it was reality. Bottom at Christmas and five points from safety.

Lopetegui inherited a group of players who were on the floor having not won away all season. He changed that in his very first game in charge and found eight more wins to transform their season, eventually finishing above Moyes’ West Ham in the table.

Seven of those wins were achieved without conceding a goal as he tightened up defensively. The scale of the accomplishment is best highlighted by the fact that Lopetegui boasts the best win percentage of any Wolves manager in Premier League history.

The style of football was seen as pragmatic but Lopetegui would point to the dire circumstances when he arrived. ‘The middle of the storm’ as he put it. It was no vanity project designed to enhance his reputation in England; livelihoods were on the line.

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The decision to leave Wolves has obviously had an impact on how his time there is viewed by supporters but Lopetegui sees it differently. He would argue that he did not leave because of a lack of belief in the team, it was simply a trust issue with the owners.

Style of play at Sevilla

While he has stated that keeping Wolves up was his most difficult achievement, a truer reflection of his preferred style of play on the pitch could be seen in his three years at Sevilla. One Europa League and three consecutive top-four finishes show that it worked.

Image:
Julen Lopetegui with the Europa League trophy after Sevilla’s win over Inter

During his final full season with Sevilla, they were second in La Liga at the end of February – nine points clear of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid – before injuries took their toll. They still finished that season with the best defensive record in the competition.

In doing so, he became the first coach to take Sevilla into the Champions League three seasons in a row. He achieved it by making them a much more fluent passing side. The emphasis on possession increased and that change can be seen in the statistics.

He took a team that had just 52 per cent of the ball in the season prior to his arrival and lifted that to an average of almost 60 per cent through the following three campaigns, during which only Real Madrid and Barcelona had more of the ball than Sevilla.

That is why the suggestion that his football does not differ enough from that of Moyes is a little surprising. At Porto, for example, he was actually criticised for implementing a possession game that was regarded as too intricate – too Spanish – for Portuguese tastes.

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Ideas influenced by Cruyff

This is a coach steeped in the style of play that saw Spain dominate world football. He took the U19 and U21 sides to European titles, the latter won with Thiago Alcantara in midfield. It was easy for him to embrace this approach. It was one he had learned at Barcelona.

A former Real Madrid goalkeeper, he was taken to Barca by Johan Cruyff in 1994. It was a defining moment in Lopetegui’s career because it changed his thinking. Speaking to him about this in his office last year, he explained the impact that Cruyff had on him.

“Johan was different,” Lopetegui told Sky Sports. “He started making me think about why I was doing things as a goalkeeper and the solutions we were trying to find. He started me thinking about the answers in the play. Until that moment, I did not think, I just played.”

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Julen Lopetegui spoke to Sky Sports in December about his hopes for a return

West Ham are getting much more than a former Wolves manager here. This is a man who was unbeaten in his two years as Spain manager, a record achieved despite having to play away games against England, Italy, Germany, France and Belgium in that time.

His preference is for a higher defensive line in a 4-3-3 formation with the full-backs providing the width and creative players operating in the spaces inside. There is already excitement at the prospect of working with Mohammed Kudus among others.

A coach still willing to learn

At 57, Lopetegui still wants to learn.

“The work of the coach never stops,” he told Sky Sports. “Tomorrow, for sure, you will learn something new about your work. This is one of the exciting things about this job because there is new information to learn every day. That is what makes it so interesting.”

His English has improved having stayed in the country until January before returning to be closer to his family in Spain. Intriguingly, as well as seminars with young coaches, he has even met with the PGMOL in an effort to stay on top of law changes in the game.

A return to football is overdue. Monchi, his sporting director at Sevilla, now working at Aston Villa, is known to be amazed that it has taken this long for a club to move for him. West Ham are the beneficiaries. Expect Lopetegui to bring the change that fans crave.



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