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POSTED 6.7.2018

Cometh the hour, cometh the man

The ability to manage a crisis situation is an essential PR skill and companies facing such a task could do worse than modelling their response on the way Fernando Hierro conducted himself as the interim manager of Spain in the World Cup.

By Donal Conaty

Yes, Spain went home meekly after losing to Russia in the last 16, but they weren’t the only tournament favourite to bow out, and we want to look at today how Hierro dealt with being thrown in at the deep end, rather than about his abilities as a football coach faced with a near impossible situation.

As most of the world knows, Spain’s tournament ambitions were thrown into turmoil when the head of the Spanish FA decided to sack their manager, Julen Lopetegui, two days before their first group game against Portugal after Real Madrid announced that he would be taking over the reins in Madrid after the World Cup.

Fernando Hierro, the Real Madrid and Spain legend, who had been working as Spain’s director of football, was announced as Lopetegui’s interim replacement. It was a move that many saw as adding to rather than resolving the country’s dilemma – replacing the man sacked, due to the manner in which he took up a role with Real Madrid, with a Real Madrid legend was seen as something that could exacerbate tensions within the Spanish camp.

In Ireland, the sacking of Lopetegui was immediately identified as Spain’s Saipan moment. A decision that would reverberate with negative consequences for years to come. Instead, Spain’s players and new manager presented a united front with players and coaches smiling and hugging each other on the touchline and at training. It must all have been very confusing for Roy Keane.

Their group games didn’t set the world alight but, unlike Germany, they qualified for the last 16, topping their group in the process.  A lot of the credit for this must go to Hierro who seems to be an excellent example of the type of personality you want representing you in a crisis: calm, assured, warm, human.

When appointed, he spoke warmly about Lopetegui. After Spain conceded three goals due to individual mistakes and goalkeeper David de Gea was singled out for a particularly damning error in their thrilling draw with Portugal, Hierro refused to issue recriminations: “I embraced him and that’s it,” he said.

“We know that goalkeeper is a special position, with a special psychology, and we have no doubts about him at all. None. We’re a team. We’re a family and we will not leave anyone aside. We don’t have the slightest doubt about any member of the family.”

When Spain played Iran, he sang the praises of Iran’s manager, Carlos Querioz and when they were eliminated by Russia, he shouldered the blame, without referencing the fiasco that preceded his appointment: “I’m not going to start laying blame at the feet of other people. I took on this role out of a sense of responsibility, because I felt it was necessary, and I accepted it with all its consequences.”

In short, he behaved calmly and gracefully at every opportunity and completely took the sting out of the crisis while Spain were involved in the World Cup. He demonstrated the positive power of personality in crisis management and public relations.

Image of Fernando Hierro from The Guardian