Perhaps a lesser known fact in the world of football is that Wolverhampton Wanderers played
a very significant role in the establishment of the UEFA Cup; later rebranded to Europa
League, and were the runners-up in the inaugural UEFA Cup Final in 1972. More than 45 years
later and Champions League football at stake, Wolves have fought their way to a one-legged
quarter final against the most successful club in the competition; Sevilla.
This would be an already tantalizing clash. However, the English side might have a time-
honored grudge to settle when they face a Sevilla side headed by a manager who snubbed
them for Spanish national side at the last minute, Julen Lopetegui.
When Fosun International purchased Wolves in 2016, it was widely reported that Lopetegui
was expected to join after the takeover was complete. This impending appointment was
further made common knowledge when it was believed that Lopetegui had played an
important role in facilitating the lining-up of players to be bought. He had also verbally
agreed to be head coach despite not signing a contract.
With the World Cup around the corner, Spain’s national team was looking for a replacement
after manager Vicente del Bosque had retired and Lopetegui was on the shortlist. He was
eventually appointed after winning European titles with the Under-19 team in 2012 and
Under-21 team in 2013. He also had a two-year spell at FC Porto. His charge then saw Spain
qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, only for him to be dismissed on the eve of the
competition for agreeing to be Real Madrid’s manager. This lasted 14 games before his spell
at the La Liga giants swiftly came to an end.
“It’s true that (Wolves and I) had been working hand in hand for some time. It was very similar
but in the in the long run it wasn’t to be,” Lopetegui admitted later.
Wolverhampton Wanderers have had their own managerial adventure since the takeover.
Their then current manager Kenny Jackett oversees two games before being sacked on a
Friday night. Walter Zenga takes over the job but is sacked after three months into his
tenure. Rob Edwards takes charge for a month before Paul Lambert is hired as his
replacement. He too, doesn’t last more than six months before he is let go.
After firing several managers, recruiting 15 new players in one season and a 15 th spot finish in
the Championship, Wolves learned some valuable lessons and hire Nuno Espirito. As fate
would have it, Nuno succeeded Lopetegui when he left FC Porto, at around the same time the
latter was turning down the Wolves job.
Both clubs and managers have gone on different journeys in the past years. The Spaniards,
who have won the Europa League three times in the last six years, will be looking to use
experience in their quest for a record fourth title. Wolves, the tournament debutants, are
rarely outplayed and seem to have reserve energy to tap into when need arises. With this
being their first ever meeting in the competition, will this be the chance for Wolves to finally
settle their silent grudge?