BARCELONA (Reuters) - Newcastle United offered the Spain national team the chance to have Rafael Benitez as their coach during the 2018 World Cup after Julen Lopetegui was sacked on the eve of the tournament, Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales has said.
Former sporting director Fernando Hierro was named as Spain’s interim coach several hours after Lopetegui was sacked one day before the World Cup began, with the 2010 winners later suffering a shock exit to hosts Russia in the last 16.
“When I sacked Julen I immediately called Hierro and told him I didn’t want to make any changes. Two days later a letter arrived from Newcastle saying ‘Are you interested in our coach? He’s at your disposition.’ We said thanks but no,” Rubiales told Spanish radio station Cadena COPE on Tuesday.
“We would have never done that, we couldn’t hire Benitez because it would have been acting in the same way for which we reproached Julen.”
Lopetegui was sacked for announcing he had agreed to take over Real Madrid immediately after the World Cup without the consent of Rubiales.
Newcastle did not immediately respond to a request to comment from Reuters.
Benitez mentioned the possibility of coaching Spain during the World Cup earlier this month, telling reporters at Newcastle’s training camp in Dublin: “There was maybe a chance, but still I am here and I am happy to be here.”
Luis Enrique was appointed as Spain’s coach earlier this month.
Rubiales has been criticised in certain sections of the Spanish media for taking a seismic decision which threw Spain’s World Cup preparations into chaos after an impressive qualifying campaign.
The federation president, however, said that he had received sympathy from former U.S. Barack Obama.
“I had a conversation with Obama and he mentioned the sacking of Lopetegui,” added Rubiales, who met the former head of state at a conference in Madrid in July.
“He told me that when you do not act you get criticised less but sometimes you have to act, and he had taken similar decisions to the one we took with Lopetegui.”
Editing by William Maclean