MADRID (Reuters) – Embattled Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui says he is ignoring all speculation suggesting he is on the brink of being sacked, insisting he is focussed only on Sunday’s ‘Clasico’ against arch-rivals Barcelona in La Liga.
In a spiky news conference on Saturday, Lopetegui showed little interest in discussing his job being on the line after a run of three defeats and a draw in their last four league games which has left his side sitting in seventh place.
“We have a game that is sufficiently attractive without having to think about these types of stories, which don’t help me to prepare for the game,” Lopetegui said ahead of the visit to La Liga leaders Barcelona.
“I’m focussed on my work as a coach which is trying to help the team improve. What the press say doesn’t help me to win or improve my team, we’re trying to prepare for a game which will be very demanding for us.”
Reports in Spanish media claim Lopetegui will be sacked if his side do not win on Sunday, while some media outlets have suggested the club’s hierarchy have already taken the decision to relieve him of his duties, regardless of the result.
“I expect to keep breathing, I don’t think I’m about to die,” added Lopetegui, who was visibly annoyed with the repeated questions about his future.
The coach’s tense exchange with reporters came three days after an outburst by Real defender Marcelo following a 2-1 win in the Champions League over Viktoria Plzen, in which the Brazilian said the media was critical of his side because they were jealous of their footballing talent.
“These situations favour your job and do little to help ours, what I’m interested about is how well Marcelo is training,” added Lopetegui.
“Our situation is not irreversible, we are only in October. The media see things from one side and we see them from another, our interests are not the same.”
A former reserve goalie for Real and Barca, Lopetegui was sacked as coach of Spain on the eve of the World Cup after announcing he was joining Real without the approval of the national federation, an episode he has described as one of the worst moments in his life.
A promising start with the Spanish giants has given way to a troubled spell of four defeats in six games in all competitions, in which the team also went eight hours without scoring.
His side earned a badly-needed 2-1 win over Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League on Tuesday yet were still booed off the pitch by Real supporters after an unconvincing display.
The beleaguered coach, however, has received plenty of backing in public from his players.
“They trust in me and I trust in them even more,” Lopetegui added. “We are working hard and well and what we want to do is give our fans something to shout about.
“We are going there with the maximum ambition and hope, ready to put in a good performance tomorrow.”
(Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Martyn Herman)