Luis Enrique has stood down as coach of the Spanish national team due to a serious family problem, leaving his assistant Robert Moreno in charge until Euro 2020.
The former Barcelona manager had been absent during the last international break but had continued working from a distance and in a meeting held at his home in May the Spanish Football Federation had decided to wait for him.
In the last few days, though, the situation has worsened and he took the decision to leave the post. That was communicated during a hurriedly called press conference held at the RFEF’s Las Rozas HQ on Wednesday afternoon by the federation president, Luis Rubiales, who described this as a “moment of tremendous difficulty for family reasons”.
Luis Enrique wanted his family issue to be handled in the strictest confidence and that has been respected since he was first forced to abandon the national team setup the night before Spain faced Malta on 26 March. Having taken charge of the match against Norway, he hurriedly returned to his home. Messages of support were sent by members of the squad, conscious of the seriousness of the situation, and since then he has been unable to return to an active role.
“We had a meeting in Barcelona [in mid-May] and we decided to wait and not take any hasty decisions,” said José Molina, the RFEF’s sporting director. “In the last few days there has been a change from Luis and he decided to leave because he can’t do the job the way he would have liked.”
The RFEF called a 4pm press conference at 2.32pm on Wednesday. In a written statement Luis Enrique, who did not attend, said that he had decided to step down “due to the reasons which had prevented me from fulfilling my duties as normal since last March”.
Rubiales described that as a “decision from Luis himself, which we respect. This is a private matter which I can’t get involved in”. He said: “You have respected this situation a lot and we ask you to keep doing that. What most matters now is being at the side of those who need it.
“The human element was important. I spoke to Robert and he said: ‘Luis, if you don’t want us here, we’ll go. We don’t want you to feel obliged to keep us here.’ But we think this is the best solution. This is a group [of coaches] that is working very well.”
Moreno will continue on the same contract and with the same staff, maintaining Luis Enrique’s team. His current deal runs until next summer and Rubiales expressed his “total faith” in the man who has now become the fourth manager Spain have had in 13 months, as many as in the previous 13 years.
Although he has never been a head coach before, Moreno said that it was not accurate to describe him as inexperienced after a nine-year career alongside Luis Enrique at Celta, Roma, Barcelona and the national team. He was on the bench against Malta and again for victories against the Faroe Islands and Sweden this month, but the federation insisted that Luis Enrique was still coaching the team from a distance, choosing the squad, watching training sessions remotely and in constant contact with his staff. He said that while the former coach would “not now pick up the phone as much as he would like”, he would ask himself often “what would Luis do?”
“This is a bittersweet day, more bitter than sweet,” Moreno said. “I always dreamed of being Spain coach, but not like this. It’s very difficult for me with these circumstances: sometimes opportunities arrive by routes you don’t like but you have to confront them. This is a responsibility but above all it is an honour.”
Asked if he feared what he might encounter as national team manager, Moreno said: “The only thing I fear is things that you can’t control, like the situation Luis faces now.”