Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Spanish federation's obfuscation over Robert Moreno's departure leaves a bad taste

Still unclear if Moreno resigned or was sacked by Spain a day after announcement Luis Enrique had returned to the helm

Spanish Royal Football Federation president Luis Rubiales gives a press conference to announce Luis Enrique's return at the helm of the national team. AFP
Spanish Royal Football Federation president Luis Rubiales gives a press conference to announce Luis Enrique's return at the helm of the national team. AFP

Robert Moreno’s reward for taking Spain to Euro 2020 was that he lost his job. Instead of celebrating after Monday’s 5-0 win against Romania in Madrid, the 42-year-old Catalan declined to speak to the media and was described as being angry. He was in tears in the dressing room as he said goodbye to his players, and they weren’t tears of joy.

Given that he had won six and drawn two of his eight games in charge, his response is perhaps understandable, yet Moreno had said he would be delighted to step down only 10 weeks ago if his friend “and friends are above all else” and former coach Luis Enrique wanted to return.

A press conference was called by Spain’s Football Federation the following day, where its president, Luis Rubiales, announced that Moreno was being replaced by his long-time partner Enrique, the man Moreno himself replaced in March. Enrique will lead Spain at Euro 2020 with a contract that extends to the 2022 World Cup finals.

The change was shrouded in obfuscation. Rubiales did front up to the media at a packed press conference for 90 minutes. He said he would answer every question and he did. He said that he was proud about the way the federation had handled the managerial changeover, but it was far from the smooth transition he spoke of, and there were still many unanswered questions. He said that the door had always been open for Enrique to return.

Rubiales also claimed it was Moreno’s decision to leave the job, even continually reading from a paper stating: “Agree my exit, so I won’t stand in Luis Enrique’s way.” Were they Moreno’s words?

He also said that Moreno had told him that Enrique wanted to come back, yet if that was the case why was Moreno given a contract to manage the national team until the end of Euro 2020?

Sadly, this whole farrago appears to have come at the cost of ending the close relationship between Enrique and Moreno. The pair had worked together at Roma, Celta Vigo, Barcelona and Spain as manager and assistant. It was a successful partnership with domestic titles and a Champions League, but assistant managers are paid a pittance compared to their master. Moreno has yet to give his side of the story.

The Spain job has become a circus. After years of stability and trophies under Luis Aragones and Vicente Del Bosque between 2004 and 2016, La Roja have had five managerial changes since. Julen Lopetegui left in farcical circumstances on the eve of the 2018 World Cup after news that he was joining Real Madrid was leaked from Madrid.

Luis Enrique stepped down from his role with Spain in March to care for his sick daughter. Reuters
Luis Enrique stepped down from his role with Spain in March to care for his sick daughter. Reuters

Spain’s Football Federation were furious with Madrid’s conduct, yet they have hardly covered themselves in glory in their treatment of Moreno, who was subjected to leaked stories about his own future on the eve of his final game. Hardly a decent way to treat a decent man.

Fernando Hierro stood in for the finals in Russia as an underwhelming Spain won only one of their four games. Enrique took charge in 2018, brought young players through and won eight of his 10 games before standing aside in March of this year citing personal circumstances. He continued to manage with Moreno in the dug out, but stepped aside completely in July. Tragically his nine-year-old daughter Xana died from cancer in August.

Enrique was liked and respected by Spain’s players. Having played with distinction for both Barcelona and Real Madrid helped fend off any accusations of bias which has been poisonous in the past. He is a proud Asturian too, a fan of Sporting Gijon, the club where he started out.

Spain have no games now until March, but it appears that matters came to a head on Monday after Moreno asked for clarification over his future after reports that Rubiales had doubts about Moreno.

Robert Moreno won six of his eight games in charge of the Spain national team. He was replaced by Luis Enrique the day after Euro 2020 qualifying. AFP
Robert Moreno won six of his eight games in charge of the Spain national team. He was replaced by Luis Enrique the day after Euro 2020 qualifying. AFP

“Here’s the important part,” Rubiales said to the media. “On Sunday, Molina [Spain’s sporting director Francisco Molina] spoke to Robert Moreno and he asked Molina what would happen, saying he wanted to know right now. Molina said to him: ‘Look, Robert, if Luis Enrique wants to return, we are going to evaluate that possibility’.

“That day, I committed to the fact that, when Luis Enrique felt ready, he would have the door open. Every time you have asked me about that, we were sincere. I think that’s clear and it was important to highlight it.

“Nobody had spoken to Luis Enrique about returning. Nobody had negotiated with Luis Enrique. On Monday, we received a message from Robert Moreno in which he said [and Rubiales read, again, from that sheet of paper] ‘to agree my exit and not be an impediment in the return of Luis Enrique’.”

The implication of all this is that Moreno resigned. Yet, significantly, Rubiales wouldn’t say if Moreno resigned or was dismissed. He only described it as "a decision". Whatever it was, it appears to have come at the a heavy cost.

Updated: November 20, 2019 03:32 PM

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