Monday was Iker Casillas’ 32nd birthday and the Real Madrid and Spain captain got exactly what he had been wishing for since January: in the least surprising press conference Florentino Pérez has ever had to call, the Real president announced that José Mourinho will leave the club at the end of the season by “mutual consent.
Cue audible sighs of relief around the Bernabéu. The Portuguese has hardly been winning any popularity contests in the white half of the capital this season and could not even leave a significant trophy in the cabinet by way of recompense for his repeated assaults on the institution of Real Madrid. But Mourinho will also have woken up on Tuesday with a fresh spring in his step: the Real job, and the constant attention of a media thirsty for controversy, has put 10 years on the former Chelsea and Porto coach, who arrived in Madrid comparatively fresh-faced in the summer of 2010.
Real devours managers. Its haughty self-importance rarely allows a coach to flourish and even success is often rewarded with a bullet, as Vicente del Bosque well knows. The Bernabéu crowd is among the most fickle in Spain and player power is a constant minefield a coach must negotiate. Earlier this year, it was reported that team captains Casillas and Sergio Ramos gave Pérez an ultimatum: either Mourinho leaves, or we do. The Real honcho looked considerably less comfortable at the press conference hastily convened to deny that mutinous ménage a trois.
Mourinho has more than likely had an agreement in place with former employer Chelsea for some time: Rafa Benítez was handed a caretaker’s role at the London club earlier in the season when it dispensed with Champions League-winning coach Roberto di Matteo but ended it with another European trophy for his paymasters. But loyal Blues fans cannot forgive his comments about their club when he was in charge at Liverpool. Mourinho has been openly courting Chelsea for weeks.
The question for Real is whom does it employ to replace the Portuguese?
The job is not so much a poisoned chalice as a suicide pill; few who have taken on the role have profited as a result. Del Bosque spent a few years in the soccer wilderness after Real sacked him the day after delivering the league title — as did the side, in terms of European success — while the likes of Wanderlei Luxemburgo, Bernd Schuster and Juande Ramos never managed in Spain again.
Real, through Pérez, has made no secret of its desire to lure experienced Italian schemer Carlo Ancelotti from Paris Saint-Germain. But the Madrid club is no longer the biggest boy in the playground and PSG is in no mood to hand over its title-winning coach without a bit of a scrap. As with all things at Real, it will be simply a matter of money. Pérez inserted his intention to stand for re-election as club president next month into the Mourinho conference. It remains to be seen if he will run opposed: last time out, he was the only person who could afford to stump up the 50-odd million euros required to present a candidacy.
Real has already made an approach for Ancelotti, and has already been told no dice. Pérez admitted the club had not agreed a pre-contract with anyone yet: “On the subject of a coach, it is not something we will be able to solve overnight but we have sufficient time to think about it. Furthermore, we haven’t got just one coach in mind but several... one, two, three or more.”