Sergio Ramos Calls On Spain To Forget Manager Chaos And Look Forward To Opener With Portugal

Fernando Hierro has replaced Julen Lopetegui as Spain boss on the eve of the World Cup

Sergio Ramos had spent half an hour at the mercy of the Spanish inquisition when he pushed back his chair and climbed to his feet. 

‘It feels like a funeral,’ said Ramos, signalling the end of the press conference.

‘It is actually a World Cup, a wonderful event. We should enjoy it.’

With that, the Spain and Real Madrid captain flashed a smile and made for the exit, taking new boss Fernando Hierro with him.

The debate will continue about the wisdom of the decision to axe Julen Lopetegui two days before a testing World Cup opener against Portugal on Friday night.

Inside the camp, there is nothing to do but play on. ‘We need to move forward as soon as possible,’ said Ramos as he tackled the first of an inevitable barrage of questions.

Hierro addresses the Spanish on the pitch at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on Thursday night

Spain captain Ramos called Hierro 'the ideal man for the moment' after Lopetegui's departure

‘These have not been pleasant times. Julen Lopetegui was part of this effort. He helped us qualify and he will be part of what happens in this World Cup.

‘We will play [tonight] against the reigning European champions and the sooner we can forget this the better for all.

‘I came into this competition with dreamy eyes. It is my first as captain, carrying my country and my team. There are few things bigger than this.

‘Nothing is going to change. We have the same ambition we had two days ago. We have the same hunger. We must live up to our standards. We should not use any of this as an excuse.

‘It has been a sensitive time and it made some of us sad but we need to leave that to one side. No individuals come first. The Spain squad is more important than anything personal.’

If this was a test of his leadership then Ramos handled it with style. At 32, with 151 international caps and a glittering array of medals he is not short of experience and no stranger to controversy.

Only last month he was heavily criticised for the arm-lock challenge which forced Mo Salah out of the Champions League final and was accused of leaving Loris Karius concussed after elbowing the Liverpool goalkeeper.

‘I don’t want to lose, even playing at tiddlywinks,’ said Ramos.

‘I have a winning character. I sleep well. I have an easy conscience. Some people try to use certain arguments to become more popular but I am who I am and I rest easy. If anyone has any doubts about me they can check my c.v.’

After 13 years at Real Madrid, he also appreciates football’s political posturing and Ramos hinted that he knew of Lopetegui’s plan to join him at the Bernabeu Stadium after the World Cup.

‘As a captain you are more informed about what’s going on,’ he said but refused to go public with his opinions on the matter.

In private, both he and Hierro argued in support of Lopetegui keeping his job despite confirmation on Monday that he would be the next manager of Real Madrid.

After talks through the night at Spain’s World Cup base in Krasnodar, the FA president Luis Rubiales, furious to have received only five minutes warning before the announcement, stood firm on a point of principle and handed control of the team to sporting director Hierro.

‘There are few people more qualified than Fernando,’ said Ramos. ‘He is a player we admired and a perfect candidate to cover this post.’

Hierro, a stalwart for Real Madrid and Spain before a twilight year at Bolton, addressed the squad in Sochi on Thursday night.

The players applauded his words before turning to the training session. ‘We are not going to change much,’ said Hierro.

‘We have a clear goal in mind. We are keeping a lot of coaching staff. This squad has been playing beautifully for a long time and we are not going to deviate one iota from our concept. We are well prepared and we trust our boys.’

Hierro has only managed before for one ordinary season at Oviedo and could have hoped for an easier first match than a clash with Iberian rivals Portugal, captained by Real Madrid icon Cristiano Ronaldo.

‘I would rather have him on my team than against me,’ said Ramos. ‘We know how important Cris can be.

‘He ended the season in outstanding shape and he is a constant threat. Not only him, the entire Portugal squad is very talented, but I hope he doesn’t play his best.’

Portugal, meanwhile, are braced for a potential backlash from Spain. ‘I don’t think it will have a negative effect on them,’ said midfielder Joao Moutinho.

‘Maybe it will be a positive. We expect, a strong team, very united, one who will create challenges, but we have a quality team and aim for victory.

‘We are young and ambitious and we are aiming high. Portugal is among the candidates to take this cup home.’

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