Wolves have made Julen Lopetegui their new head coach, appointing the Spaniard as permanent successor to Bruno Lage and taking over from caretaker boss Steve Davis.
Lopetegui initially turned down the Wolves job in October, after being approached once he was relieved of his duties at Sevilla. He cited a desire to spend time with his elderly father, whom he said he hadn’t been able to see for “a long time”.
After Wolves searched for other candidates, including QPR’s Michael Beale, 90 minutes revealed that they decided to make another approach for Lopetegui, who responded favorably the second time around. Part of the appeal was the promise of a substantial fund to rebuild.
Wolves chairman Jeff Shi confirmed that one of the main reasons the club wanted Lopetegui was his “excellent experience at an elite level of the game”, which is impossible to deny.
The 56-year-old has been seen by Real Madrid as the man to succeed Zinedine Zidane in 2018, poaching him from his role as Spain national team head coach on the eve of the last FIFA Cup. world.
Before that, Lopetegui coached Porto in the Champions League. Having left Real Madrid just months into his contract at the Bernabeu – his tenure in the Spanish capital came at a difficult time 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. They were even in the title hunt until the final stages of 2020/21 and 2021/22.
Lopetegui has never worked in England before, but he described himself in a 2016 interview with The Guardian as an “English football enthusiast” and was in fact set to be appointed by Wolves in the same year. Instead, he ended up with the job in Spain.
Wolves were a Championship club at this time, newly under the ownership of Fosun – which has ultimately had their man six years later, but he said Molineux’s project at the time was “particularly attractive”.
Long before occupying some of the most important positions in world football, Lopetegui cut his teeth as a coach in the Spanish FA with the country’s youth national teams. He was first an assistant with the Under-17 side and then managed the Under-19, Under-20 and Under-21 side between 2010 and 2014 when he switched to football senior with Porto.
Spain won the European Under-19 and Under-21 Championships under Lopetegui 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 of the current first team are aged 25 or younger.
Lopetegui also has the added benefit of speaking English, as well as being able to communicate easily with the large number of Portuguese and Spanish speakers in the Wolves squad.
Notwithstanding the fact that Wolves almost signed him in 2016, there is also an element of familiarity. Lopetegui worked under Ruben Neves during his time at Porto, bloodying the now Wolves star in the first team as a teenager and even making him Porto captain at 18.
Lopetegui has worked with Diego Costa in the Spain national team, as well as Jonny in the national youth teams. He even beat Wolves with Sevilla en route to the Europa League title in 2020.
There are of course no guarantees with an appointment in football, but it looks like Wolves could hardly have found a better man for the job.