Real Madrid have already drawn up a shortlist of candidates to replace Jose Mourinho in June, having accepted that his departure at the end of the season will suit everyone. The Germany coach, Joachim Löw, and Rafael Benitez have been lined up as the most likely replacements for the former Chelsea manager.
"Jose is threatening to leave at the end of the season – so it must be January again," was the essence of Real Madrid's reaction yesterday to stories circulating, first in Spain last week and then in England at the weekend, that the Portuguese coach has decided to return to the Premier League in June. Mourinho has overtly mooted leaving his present employers in the last two seasons at this stage of the campaign and the club see it as a predictable reaction to the deteriorating relationship between the manager and his senior players.
Last year, the club was panicked by his threat to quit but this time, with the latest round of exit talk coming after last week's much-publicised training-ground row with the club captains, Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos, and the leaking of a transcript of the altercation to the press, his departure has taken on an air of inevitability.
The club president, Florentino Perez, is preparing to stand for re-election at the end of next season and, not wanting the unpredictable Portuguese in a position to derail his chances of re-election, he is happy to lose the coach he hired at the start of last season if he can get a replacement who will win him another election.
Mourinho has at least shown the club the importance of spending as much on their manager as on their players, and they will bring in another top name, with former Liverpool and Internazionale manager Benitez and Löw the favourites. Neither man will be difficult to persuade. Benitez is a free agent and Löw will have come full circle with Germany since taking them to the 2008 European Championships.
The France coach, Laurent Blanc, is close to Real's sporting director, Zinedine Zidane, and could emerge as a possible third candidate.
Benitez is friends with Perez and sources close to the president say there was even a pre-contract agreement in place last season that would have meant the Spaniard stepping in had Mourinho quit. The suggestion is that that deal enabled Benitez to turn down prospective offers while holding out for the Madrid job.
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