Julen Lopetegui Exclusive Interview: Wolves boss on Led Zeppelin, Johan Cruyff and picking up the team tab | Football News

It was meeting Wolves vice-chairman Robert Plant that made Julen Lopetegui’s arrival at Molineux extra special. The Led Zeppelin frontman had a gift for the new coach. “A fantastic souvenir with different records,” says Lopetegui Sky Sports.

“I grew up with this music as a kid, my brother and I. For my brother, it was an incredible moment. He’s five years older than me. At that time, when I was little, I always listened to his music at home and it was always the Led Zeppelin. We know all their music.”

Lopetegui even had the opportunity to recall a show of theirs that he had watched in the United States. “In New York at Madison Square Garden.” The fan remembered the performance. The singer remembered it because of what happened after The show. Don’t say anything else.

Friday 24 February 19:00

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It’s a light-hearted moment from a manager who is otherwise focused on the task of keeping Wolves in the Premier League. The club were bottom of the table at Christmas, with the lowest scorers in English football. They are now completely out of the relegation zone.

Speaking inside his office at the club’s training ground, he makes sure to clear the tactical formation from the whiteboard. Later, watching Fulham manager Marco Silva’s press conference on Sky Sports News on the TV in reception, makes a note to record it for any awareness. Lopetegui is, as new signing Craig Dawson put it in an interview of his own Sky Sports this week, in great detail.

Football is his passion and the explanation for his decision to take up coaching is revealing. “I think when you’re a player, the only way to keep feeling the same adrenaline is to become a manager. But the main reason is that I’m interested in the players,” he explains.

“And a coach’s job never stops. Tomorrow, for sure, you’ll learn something new about your job. That’s one of the exciting things about this job, because there’s new information to learn every day. That’s what makes it so interesting.”

This interest was first sparked during his career. His influences include some of the biggest names in Spanish football, as you’d expect from a man who played for Real Madrid and Barcelona, ​​as well as being part of Spain’s World Cup squad.

“Maybe I was lucky because I had very good coaches. Javier Clemente, Radomir Andic, John Benjamin Tosak. Coaches with personality. Sometimes you feel more with one coach than the other, but in the end you will be influenced by all of them. .”

Influenced by all but changed by one of them.

It was his first coach in Barcelona who opened his mind. A man named Johan Cruyff. “Johan was different,” explains Lopetegui. “It started to make me think about why I did things as a goalkeeper and the solutions we were trying to find.

“It started me thinking about the answers to the game. Up until that moment I wasn’t thinking, I was just playing. The coach told me what to do and I did it but without real conviction. He was very different to me. He had his own way of managing the people”.

Julen Lopetegui’s career since 2012

2012-2014 Spain U21

2014-2016 Porto

2016-2018 Spain

2018 Real Madrid

2019-2022 Seville

2022- Wolves

You can count on one glove the number of goalkeepers who have become Premier League managers, but Lopetegui is one of those who wanted more. “It would be comfortable to stay as a goalkeeping coach. That would be a comfortable life.”

It was nothing comfortable with the situation he inherited at Wolves, but the mood is no longer so gloomy. Belief that Lopetegui could turn it around was soon boosted by a late victory over Everton in his first Premier League game in charge.

Wolves’ opponents continue Friday night football, Fulham, are the only team outside the top three to have won more matches since he took over. The recent 3-0 win over Liverpool was certainly their most emphatic against one of the Premier League’s big boys of the era.

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FREE WATCH: Highlights from Wolves v Liverpool

How has it changed?

“Your main job as a manager is to develop the players’ skills. We want to be a strong team in all phases. I tell the players all the time that you have to aim for perfection. It doesn’t exist but it’s a very good goal, knowing that we can we will improve.

“Sometimes we’ll win, sometimes we’ll lose, but you have to go in every day with a lot of energy to improve. I’m trying to give the team belief, show them that they can compete with any team in the Premier League, knowing that any team can to beat you”.

Defeat at Bournemouth last weekend, when victory would have kept them six points clear of the relegation zone, was a reminder that the job is far from done. Lopetegui is trying to instill belief in a group of players whose confidence has been badly shaken.

The last Premier League goal by a Wolves striker came almost a year ago now. Even January signings Mateusz Cunha and Pablo Sarabia, who arrived from Atletico Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain respectively, are yet to score this season.

It’s a concern among supporters.

Lopetegui stresses that it is everyone’s responsibility to score, but he knows that needs to change. “We have to improve the situation. It’s true that our strikers haven’t scored, but they work hard for the team. They say luck finds you when you work hard.”

The improvement in defense helped. Lopetegui’s Sevilla conceded the fewest goals of any team in La Liga last season and Wolves already look more organised. They may have scored just nine goals in eight games since he arrived, but they have conceded even fewer.

“Football is the defense phase and the attack phase if you want to beat the opponent. Without both, it’s impossible. That’s why the clean sheet is important. Having a clean shot allows you to beat the opponent in a single moment.”

Did signing Dawson help?

“Right,” agrees Lopetegui.

“He is here in a good mood, an experienced player who definitely helps us. We had to put that experience in the dressing room because you have to be balanced in bad times and have good characters. We are very happy with him.”

Craig Dawson celebrates after scoring against Liverpool on his Wolves debut
Craig Dawson celebrates after scoring against Liverpool on his Wolves debut

Dawson was part of Wolves’ clean sheet against Liverpool on his debut, an achievement which was rewarded with a meal in Birmingham – paid for by the manager. It will become a tradition if Wolves manage more shut-outs between now and May.

“It’s a good investment,” says Lopetegui.

“I would like to pay more!”

There seems to be a sense of unity again at Wolves – sure many of the first team players were watching on the training ground as Pedro Neto continued his return from injury in a development game. This is a big group now, but they seem to be happy.

“I’m just trying to be honest with the players. We have room for 20 players in a squad and maybe one or two should stay here and wait for the opportunity. It’s good for the competition week. After that, I choose. I want to continue to have this problem. It’s good for us.”

It uses this depth. Rayan Ait-Nouri’s winner at Everton was the first goal from a Wolves substitute this season, but in the most recent away game at Southampton, Joao Gomes repeated the trick on his debut. Lopetegui helped change games from the bench.

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FREE WATCH: Southampton v Wolves highlights

It’s not just the goals. He changed formation in each of his first four games to introduce defender Totti Gomes, made a triple change at half-time in the fifth game and saw substitutes Joao Moutinho and Adama Traore combine for a goal in his sixth.

He has won him the affection of the Molineux crowd, who quickly sang super Lopetegui. But don’t expect fist-pumping celebrations in front of the stadium’s South Bank. Lopetegui is a more reserved number.

“I am grateful for the love of the fans. But football is about the players. They are the key factors. We are all, the staff, the whole club, here to help them develop in the best way. But they are the ones who are fighting for the club on the field.

“We have to stay one step behind the team. Always. It is the team that needs to feel the support of the fans because it will be key in these last moments of the season. It will be difficult for a lot of teams and you have to be strong until the end”.

Hard work. It’s the mantra now.

“I’m happy with the commitment of the players, they work hard every day. But we need points. We have to be ready for the match. We have to have that mentality. We are in the middle of the storm now. We are in the middle of the river. We have to continue to we work”.

With Julen Lopetegui, as Robert Plant once shouted, the song remains the same.

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