Spain defender Gerard Pique cited an odd precedent for Spain’s World Cup hopes in the wake of firing their coach on the eve of the tournament — University of Michigan basketball.
The Spanish federation on Wednesday decided to sack coach Julen Lopetegui after he agreed to take over as manager of Real Madrid once the World Cup ended.
The move has threatened to push the team into turmoil just two days before their opener against Portugal, but Pique found inspiration in American college basketball.
“University of Michigan. Basketball. 1989. NCAA Champion. It wouldn’t be the first time it happened,” Pique wrote on Twitter. “All together, now more than ever.”
Universidad de Michigan. Baloncesto. 1989. Campeón de la NCAA. No sería la primera vez que ocurre. Todos unidos, ahora más que nunca.
— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) June 13, 2018
Almost 30 years ago, Michigan faced nearly the same situation as Spain when coach Bill Frieder announced before the NCAA tournament that he would leave after the season to take over Arizona State.
Michigan decided to fire Frieder immediately and promoted assistant coach Steve Fisher, who led the 3-seeded Wolverines to the national title.
“I don’t want someone from Arizona State coaching the Michigan team,” athletic director Bo Schembechler famously said of his decision. “A Michigan man is going to coach Michigan.”
Spain replaced Lopetegui with sporting director Fernando Hierro, who said he hopes to change as little as possible within the team as they prepare to face Portugal, Iran and Morocco in Group B.
Former Spain great Xavi Hernandez said he believed the national federation made the right move.
“I think [federation president Luis] Rubiales acted correctly and was looking out for the federation, which should be above any single individual,” Hernandez told Marca. “It wasn’t an easy situation but I think he did the right thing. The players have seen things like this before and I am sure they are going to have a good World Cup.”