The Real Madrid hot seat, often referred to as the "Electric Chair", looks increasingly like being the next stop for Sven Goran Eriksson. David Beckham yesterday maintained that the Swede is more than capable of taking on the toughest job in football when he ceases to be the England manager after the World Cup finals this summer.
Eriksson was named by the Real president Fernando Martin in a seven-man shortlist on Tuesday - but significantly, the six other names on the list have already distanced themselves from the position, leaving Eriksson as the clear favourite unless a surprise candidate emerges.
Madrid have gone through five managers in the three years since Beckham's arrival, and eight other coaches came and went in the 10 years before that. But the England captain has backed his international manager to have what it takes to succeed at the Bernabeu where so many others have failed.
"I think he would work well with the current set of players because that is one of his qualities - his man-management, the way he treats the players with a lot of respect and what he is able to get out of the players," Beckham said after a training session yesterday in which he exacerbated the bruised ankle he sustained in last Sunday's 4-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruña, making him doubtful for the game against Barcelona at the Nou Camp on Saturday. "He will support the players in front of the press and I think that is important, players respond to that."
Beckham also believes the immense pressure Real coaches are usually placed under to win every game they play would not be a problem for Eriksson, who has weathered numerous storms - often of his own making - during his time in the England job.
"He is an experienced manager so he can handle it," he said. "He has been the England manager for five years and he has handled the press and pressures that go with that. He can handle it wherever he manages."
Martin was under pressure at the start of the week to show that some progress was being made in the search for next season's coach, because three weeks ago he said a new manager would be in place "in three weeks' time". On Tuesday he named his magnificent seven - a veritable who's who of European coaches.
But Eriksson stood out as the one man who would be willing and available after the World Cup. Of the other candidates, Arsène Wenger has verbally committed his future to Arsenal; Rafael Benitez has signed a new deal at Anfield; Carlo Ancelotti has extended his deal at Milan and Fabio Capello and Jose Mourinho have both said they are staying where they are, at Juventus and Chelsea respectively. The seventh candidate named was Marcelo Lippi, formerly with Juventus.
Beckham agreed that Eriksson could be the last man standing. "Sven is the obvious one because he will be out of a job," he said. "He will be free and available, so we will see. I think it's a list of the best managers in football. It's easy to say who you want but getting them is going to be difficult. I haven't got a clue who it will be, but Sven is certainly one of the best managers around and his name was bound to come into the equation."
Whoever gets the nod - and rumours persist in Madrid that Guus Hiddink, a target for the FA to replace Eriksson, and the current PSV Eindhoven and Australia coach, could yet emerge as a contender - Beckham wants his next Real coach to be his last.
Tired of the constant changes, he added: "I just want us to get a manager - and, hopefully, for the club to keep him for the rest of the time I'm here. The club needs stability, and I think when you have that, you get performances and you start winning trophies."
Of his bruised ankle, Beckham said: "Just kicking the ball is really painful. I've had an anti-inflammatory injection and ice but I'll just have to give it a bit of rest and see how it is.
"We will just have to see what the swelling is like and if it goes down or not. The pain is the problem. I hope I'll be able to play, though."
Real will also almost certainly be without their centre-back Jonathan Woodgate due to back pain as he recovers from a thigh injury that has kept him out of action for the last month. Real, who are 11 points behind Barcelona in second place in La Liga, lost 3-0 to the Catalans at the Bernabeu earlier this season.
Martin may be a big fan of Wenger, but the Frenchman has no intention of planning for the future at anywhere but Arsenal. Martin believes that the club's next coach must have "the Madrid feeling", a characteristic which Wenger would certainly possess, having admitted earlier this month: "I love Real Madrid... it was the team I admired when I was a kid."
However, suggestions that the 56-year-old - contracted until the summer of 2008 - would be going anywhere other than Arsenal's new 60,000-seater stadium next season were given little credence by the club.
"Arsène Wenger has repeatedly made his position clear," an Arsenal spokesperson said yesterday. "He is happy here and is not planning to move."
Wenger himself has stressed many times where his future lies. "My priority is to do well for Arsenal because I am here and I feel we are in the rebuilding process of being a big team again and I want to do that," Wenger said less than two weeks ago. "I can say publicly I will be at Arsenal."
Capello has already coached the Spanish side, leading them to the 1997 La Liga title in his only season in charge. But with Juventus cruising to a second successive Serie A crown and still in the Champions' League, it remains to be seen whether he would view a move to Madrid as a step forward.
Martin insists that the club's best assets - such as Beckham - will not be sold on the cheap. "None of the galacticos are for sale," he said, before admitting that a better balance between on-field and off-field success must be found.
"I want to win titles and if we do, then we will sell shirts. If we don't win them, even if you want to sell shirts, no one is going to buy them. But we shouldn't forget that from 2000 up to now, Real has undergone a spectacular change."Reuse content