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What will Julen Lopetegui bring to Wolves?

Original article published 9 November 2022

Wolves were made to wait before appointing their first-choice Julen Lopetegui as their new boss but now the Spaniard has finally been confirmed as the full-time replacement for Bruno Lage at Molineux.

After initially turning the Premier League club's approach down last month, the former Spain national team and Real Madrid chief, who was most recently sacked by Sevilla after a three-year spell in charge, has agreed to take over from 14th November.

First game after World Cup

The 56-year-old will have time to get accustomed to his new surroundings in the Black Country during the World Cup as his first match will not be until Boxing Day when Wolves, who are in the bottom three and are 6/4 to be relegated, take on Everton at Goodison Park.

It seems chairman Jeff Shi is excited at the appointment of a coach who has a reputation for aggressive, attacking football - something which was largely absent from Molineux under former manager Lage.

Shi described Lopetegui as "a top coach, with excellent experience at an elite level of the game" and his CV is certainly impressive.

A former goalkeeper, who played 149 La Liga matches over nine seasons, mostly for Logrones and Rayo Vallecano, he was also a member of Spain's 1994 World Cup squad and had spells at both Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Success with Spain's youth teams

Early in his managerial career, Lopetegui caught the eye while in charge of Spain's youth teams, winning the 2012 European Under-19 Championship and the 2013 Under-21 Championship. With that record, a top club job was inevitable and Porto came calling in 2014.

He led the Portuguese giants to the quarter-finals of the Champions League in his first season in charge but failed to win any trophies and was sacked in early 2016.

His reputation didn't appear to be affected, though, and he was named as the new Spain boss in the summer of 2016 after originally being heavily linked with the Wolves job back then.

Lopetegui easily oversaw qualification for the 2018 World Cup but, on the eve of the tournament, controversy struck when it emerged he would be taking over as Real Madrid coach after the competition. 

Spanish officials weren't impressed and he was dismissed from his post in charge of La Roja the next day.

He was only in charge of Los Blancos for 14 games, winning just six of them, being sacked barely three months into the job at the Bernabeu before taking over at Sevilla in June 2019.

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Europa League glory at Sevilla

During his three-year spell at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, he won the Europa League and took Los Rojiblancos into the Champions League for three consecutive seasons. He has become renowned for his attacking approach, playing a high-tempo game and attempting to control matches, even against perceived better opponents, and this will be music to the ears of Wolves fans who had grown tired of Lage's negative tactics.

Under the Portuguese boss, Wolves scored just 38 goals last term - only the three relegated clubs scored fewer - while this season so far they have found the back of the net a paltry eight times - the joint-lowest figure in the top flight.

The fact the new man in charge will have at least a month to work with some players not going to Qatar will likely be viewed as a positive and he will be able to get his message across in training in plenty of time with the Wolves squad expected to be keen to adopt a much bolder, front-foot approach in games.

Quality players at his disposal

There's no shortage of quality at Molineux with Raul Jimenez closing on fitness and the likes of Ruben Neves and Adama Traore available to Lopetegui but the reality is they are currently in 19th place and results will need to swiftly improve or a relegation scrap could be on the cards in the second half of the campaign.

Wolves are 1/2 to not be relegated but have picked up just two wins from their first 14 games, most recently going down 3-2 to Brighton on Saturday. They only have 10 points on the board, one more than bottom-placed Nottingham Forest and one fewer than Leicester directly above.

However, they have a coach who is prepared for the challenge and one who regularly got the best out of a Sevilla squad by focusing more on the collective than the individual - an ethos he is set to engender at Wolves and one he hopes will see them successfully move up the table.

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