It's unusual to see Sergio Ramos, the pantomime villain of the Champions League final, act as a firefighter but, hours after Julen Lopetegui was sacked as Spain coach, the centre-back was a voice of calm amid the chaos.
"We're the national team, we represent a badge, colours, fans, a country," he tweeted. "Yesterday, today and tomorrow: together."
The tone was right, the message of solidarity important. But it felt like a man politely asking a storm not to blow down his house while the flood waters reached his shoulders.
Lopetegui's dismissal was as momentous as it was horrendously ill-timed. Announced as Real Madrid's next coach on Tuesday, he did not even see out the following 24 hours with his national team.
Royal Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales made sure of that, flying from Moscow to Krasnodar to swing the axe despite a reported two-hour meeting with senior players, who pleaded for a stay of execution.
Ramos was among them, it is said. He's been here before. The defender, along with Andres Iniesta, Pepe Reina and David Silva, is a surviving member of the Euro 2008-winning squad, a group of players who ended Spain's long wait for a trophy despite coach Luis Aragones having been announced as the next Fenerbahce boss during the tournament.
Aragones did take over in Istanbul but only after Spain's triumph, so the argument that Lopetegui had to go for the sake of La Roja's ambitions in Russia simply does not hold water.
The former Porto coach has spent the best part of two years cultivating a squad with experienced heads and younger talents he knows well from the youth set-up.
Would he really have lost focus on his shot at international glory, when Madrid do not play a competitive match for another two months?
29 - Julen Lopetegui has been sacked only 29 hours before the start of the 2018 World Cup— OptaJean (@OptaJean) June 13, 2018
He has never lost in 20 games in charge of the National team
Others might claim his new club deal would cause a rift among the players, specifically those from Madrid and Barcelona. Members of this Spain side, Ramos included, survived the fiercest Clasico rivalry in years to win back-to-back European Championships and the World Cup in 2010. In-fighting could not derail those campaigns, so why would this year be any different?
It feels like this was Rubiales' call, perhaps even his alone. He surrendered his vote for the 2026 World Cup hosting rights at the Moscow FIFA Congress to fly more than 1,300 kilometres to Spain's Krasnodar base in order to confront Lopetegui. A shock announcement seemed necessary to justify the expense.
At a delayed news conference, Rubiales spoke of how there are more important things than winning, "such as your way of working", hinting at a seething anger at not being informed about Madrid's discussions with his coach. "The federation cannot be left outside the negotiation of one of its employees and find out five minutes before a public announcement," he said. "That can't happen."
There was an undeniable bitterness, a sense even of betrayal, with Lopetegui having signed a new two-year contract less than three weeks ago. There is also a feeling of Rubiales looking to stamp his authority on a position he has held for barely a month, by taking to task a man 11 years his senior for his conduct.
The concern is that he could have dealt the very sort of damage he has tried to avoid. He has dismissed a coach apparently against the will of a number of players, turned Madrid – Spain's most powerful and popular club – into public enemies of the national team and severed the head of a cohesive outfit who looked primed to challenge for the trophy, four years on from a humbling group-stage exit.
Placing Fernando Hierro in charge, a Spain great who commands respect from the players, seems a perversely sensible stop-gap. In fact, Hierro ironically boasts the very quality Lopetegui will need at Madrid, namely the tact to get a volatile dressing-room pulling in the same direction.
Trouble is, he has 48 hours to do just that, to save Spain from a second nightmare World Cup start in succession. Succeeding Zinedine Zidane at the Santiago Bernabeu looks a breeze by comparison.
22 de agosto 2018
|Garcia battles past Sasnovich in Connecticut|
|Peterson a ´physical freak´, says Redskins´ Gruden|
|Thunder forward Grant says Westbrook is a ‘great team-mate’|
|Edmund and Chung make progress in Winston-Salem Open|
|Independiente 0 Santos 0: Dogged defending preserves deadlock|
|Ceferin nominated for second term as UEFA president|
|Marseille have ´moved on´ from Balotelli deal|
|´Crazy´ Cheika his own toughest critic|
|McClaren defiant amid QPR woes|
|Lendl joins Zverev´s coaching staff|
|England captain Hartley ready for return|
21 de agosto 2018
|Buttler happy to serve up a century as England dig in at Trent Bridge|
|PSV beat BATE in Champions League thriller, Benfica held at home|
|Mkhitaryan backs Emery´s philosophy at Arsenal|
|Championship Review: Leeds go top, QPR problems mount|
|Ronaldo shares snap of ´Juventus family´|
|Aguero is the Premier League´s best foreign import, says Shearer|
|Real Madrid warned they must pay Rodrigo´s €120m release clause|
|England´s Broad fined for Pant rant|
|India on brink of victory after brilliant Bumrah halts Buttler|
|Serena Williams elevated to 17th seed at US Open|
|Kombouare signs new two-year Guingamp contract|
|Scaloni unclear on Messi´s long-term Argentina plans|
|F1 Raceweek: Gasly and Alonso restore focus at Spa|
|Nouri able to communicate, brother reveals|
|Pjanic extends Juventus contract to 2023|
|Odegaard joins Vitesse in latest loan from Real Madrid|
|Luck ´sort of happy´ with sack from Suggs|
|Manchester United´s Sanchez will ´be back soon´|
|Former Giants star Cruz announces retirement|
|RFU set Cipriani disciplinary date despite RPA complaints|
|Spalletti fined €10,000 for ´gravely offensive´ referee comments|
|IndyCar driver Wickens has spinal surgery after Pocono crash|
|Tiger: No doubt this is one of my best years|
|Vice-captain Tiger trying to remain objective in Ryder Cup conversations|
|Ronaldo won´t win Serie A by himself, warns Allan|
|Moeen sends message to England selectors with double century|
|Brunt calls time on Northern Ireland career|
|Tottenham´s Janssen sidelined after foot surgery|
|Liu Xiang breaks women´s 50m backstroke world record at Asian Games|
|Atletico Madrid winger Vitolo suffers knee ligament damage|
|Leverkusen teen Havertz aiming to emulate idol Ozil|
|Beckham to be honoured with UEFA President´s Award|
|CPS drops Hillsborough charges against Bettison|
|Who can take over from Federer, Nadal & Djokovic? Agassi backs Zverev, Kyrgios|
|´Freak incident´ rules Dragons´ Vaughan out for season|
|Kompany: Different Manchester City must not be complacent|
|Toyota withdraw appeal over Alonso´s Silverstone disqualification|
|Manchester City offload defender Denayer to Lyon|
|RPA want RFU to drop Cipriani charge|
|Cheika still the right man for Australia - Polota-Nau|
|Bolt not giving up on Manchester United dream|
|All Blacks must improve ´average´ set-piece, says Smith|
|Raiola hits back at Scholes following Pogba criticism|
|Indians top Red Sox in series opener|
|Struff stuns Cecchinato, Jarry reaches last 16|
|I´ll prove people wrong - Bolt completes first Mariners training session|
|Former champ Kvitova tops Radwanska, Pliskova ousted|
|Sad if it´s Filipe Luis´ last game for Atletico - Oblak|
|White Sox manager Rick Renteria hospitalised before game|
|Carragher: Van Dijk can become Liverpool legend|
|No timetable for Sale return from shoulder injury|
|This is a partnership - Rodgers on contract negotiations with Packers|
|Eagles QB Wentz unsure he´ll be cleared to play opener|
|Balotelli staying at Nice|
|It wasn´t a penalty, says Hodgson as Palace boss fumes at refereeing decisions|
|Salah can play much better - Klopp demands more from Liverpool star|
|Gasly to Red Bull: Vettel, Verstappen and the drivers who took their Toro Rosso chance|
|Klopp in the dark on Karius future amid links to Besiktas|
|Simeone pleased with draw after rigours of Super Cup|