Wolves have made Julen Lopetegui their newest head coach, appointing the Spaniard as a permanent successor to Bruno Lage and taking over from interim boss Steve Davis.
Lopetegui initially turned down the Wolves job in October, having been approached once he was relieved of his duties at Sevilla. He cited a desire to spend time with his elderly father, who he said he hadn’t been able to see for a ‘long time’.
After Wolves searched for other candidates, including QPR’s Michael Beale, 90min revealed that they decided to make another approach for Lopetegui, who responded favourably the second time around. Part of the appeal was the promise of a substantial fund to rebuild.
Wolves chairman Jeff Shi confirmed that a major reason the club wanted Lopetegui is his ‘excellent experience at an elite level of the game’, which is impossible to deny.
The 56-year-old was deemed by Real Madrid the man to succeed Zinedine Zidane in 2018, poaching him from his role as head coach of the Spain national team on the eve of the last World Cup.
Before that, Lopetegui had coached Porto in the Champions League. After leaving Real Madrid just a few months into his contract at the Bernabeu – his tenure in the Spanish capital came in a difficult moment of transition for Los Blancos following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo – he then quickly restored his reputation by winning the Europa League with Sevilla.
Sevilla also beat Bayern Munich in the 2020 UEFA Super Cup and automatically qualified for the Champions League by finishing in La Liga’s top four in each of Lopetegui’s three full seasons in charge. They were even in the title race until the latter stages of both 2020/21 and 2021/22.
Lopetegui has never worked in England before, but he described himself in a 2016 interview with The Guardian as ‘passionate about English football’ and was actually very close to being appointed by Wolves that same year. Instead, he ended up with the Spain job.
Wolves were a Championship club at that time, newly under the ownership of Fosun – who have finally got their man six years later, but he said the project at Molineux back then was ‘especially attractive’.
Long before he held some of the biggest jobs in world football, Lopetegui cut his coaching teeth working within the Spanish federation with the country’s junior national teams. He was first an assistant with the Under-17 squad, then led the Under-19s, Under-20s and Under-21s between 2010 and 2014, at which point he moved into senior football with Porto.
Spain won the Under-19 and Under-21 European Championships under Lopetegui’s guidance in 2012 and 2013 respectively. He has a track record of working with and developing young players, which is a big plus for Wolves given that 14 members of the current first-team are aged 25 or under.
Lopetegui also has the added advantage of speaking English, as well as being able to easily communicate with the large number of Portuguese and Spanish speakers in the Wolves squad.
Notwithstanding the fact that Wolves almost hired him in 2016, there is an element of familiarity as well. Lopetegui worked with Ruben Neves during his time at Porto, blooding the now Wolves star in the first-team as a teenager and even making him Porto captain at 18.
Lopetegui worked with Diego Costa in the Spain national team, as well as Jonny in the junior national sides. He even beat Wolves with Sevilla en-route to the Europa League title in 2020.
There are of course no guarantees with any appointment in football, but it feels as though Wolves could hardly have secured a better man for the job.