It has been five months since Julen Lopetegui and Wolves parted ways.
Having guided Wolves to safety having taken charge when the club were bottom of the table last season, Lopetegui has enjoyed one of the longest breaks of his managerial career.
A career which has included managing Porto, Spain, Real Madrid and Sevilla before his last job in the Premier League.
Now, Lopetegui still resides in Wolverhampton and as we sit down in his kitchen, he explains why he’s ready for his next challenge and why he wants it to be in England…
Lopetegui and Premier League reunion on the cards?
When I ask Lopetegui what he has been up to since August, his first response is ‘very busy!’.
He has used his time over the last few months to travel around the UK to take in British culture but also because his wife has a love for British history – their travels have taken them to Edinburgh and York to name a few – with some football on the side.
“It’s the first time in eight or nine years that I’ve stopped but sometimes it’s a good thing to stop,” Lopetegui told Sky Sports News.
“To have a different perspective, to take care of the family and to be able to reset yourself too – we have to try to take advantage of this time.
“I try to watch a lot of matches in the stadiums, in different cities but I’ve also been on a lot of trips with my wife too – you can ask me about all the castles in the UK and I know them!”
Although, it has not all been about the sightseeing – Lopetegui has also been preparing for a return to management and in this time, has met the PFA, LMA and PGMOL – all helpful engagements as he readies himself for a return to the Premier League.
“It’s why I’ve said no to different countries and different situations because I would like to stay here in England. I feel like our team here is just starting and we want to achieve our dreams.” Lopetegui said.
“The way the country lives football here is special – it’s the best league in the world, the most competitive league in the world, the best environment for the players, coaches and fans too.”
As Lopetegui mentioned, he has declined numerous opportunities to return to management as he waits for the right opportunity – but in his eyes, what does that look like?
“I have fought for titles, I have fought for different aims but of course for the most important thing to feel like you have a project you can put your stamp on it, where you can work and improve the performance of the whole club – if you ask me, I’d like this kind of challenge and to be able to achieve each aim the club has,” Lopetegui said.
“I have to be ready. When you accept a challenge, it’s not just about the players and the way you want to play… I think you have to understand where you are, what’s the culture of the club and the history too.
“I think it’s important to be able to create the right environment in each club – it’s not easy, it’s not just the players but the environment for the whole club, if you don’t do that, it’s very difficult, it’s impossible in my opinion.”
Wolves survival is my ‘greatest achievement’
It was the 1-0 win against Aston Villa at Molineux that did it in May 2023.
Wolves defender Toti headed a winner for the home side which cemented their Premier League safety for another season and sealed an incredible turnaround for Wolves considering they were bottom of the league at the World Cup break – the point Lopetegui and his staff took charge.
I spoke to Lopetegui the day after that game and he described it as ‘the greatest achievement’ of his managerial career.
When you look at the successes Lopetegui has had, having seen his Sevilla sides seal consecutive top-four positions in LaLiga while also winning a Europa League title at the club – managing Real Madrid and Spain – it was a huge claim by the Spanish manager at the time.
Five months on – does he still believe it?
Lopetegui said: “Yes it’s true I said that, because Wolves was a very different challenge in my life as a coach – you remember, we were at the bottom with five points, it was a very bad situation.”
“That’s why it was hard challenge as a coach – it was a different country, different league, different languages – a lot of things, so it was a big challenge for me, that’s why were were happy to achieve this aim with three or four matches to go.”
After such an achievement, it may have come as a surprise to many that Lopetegui and Wolves parted ways just days before the season began but despite the way the relationship ended – he only has fond memories of his time in the West Midlands.
“It was a very good time, a fantastic experience for me – we were able to put our opinion and knowledge in all of the football departments at the club and able to create a new energy in the team,” Lopetegui said.
“Fortunately we had three weeks to work because of the World Cup break, it was more or less like a pre-season to try and put all of these things in the team but also the club.
“We achieved this aim all together, that’s why my memories about this time were very good – with the fans, the city – I still live here in Wolverhampton because I feel happy here, my family too – we had very good memories.”
Source : Sky Sports