"After you." "No, after you." "No, I insist, after you." This is the merry dance which Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho are leading each other as both try to engineer an exit strategy that will not cost them money.
If the Chelsea-bound Mourinho walks out on his contract – which has three years to run – he is due, under the terms of a contract extension agreed a year ago, to pay £10m to Real. Also under that agreement, if the club sack their coach, they must pay him £10m. Real president, Florentino Perez, is also under pressure to recoup some of the estimated €18m (£15.2m) they paid when they signed Mourinho from Internazionale.
Each wants rid of the other but neither wants to pay. The most likely outcome is a compromise where the club will receive an amount below £10m.
Any amount Mourinho would be due to pay would normally be met by Chelsea in compensation for him joining. However, the club owner, Roman Abramovich, is unwilling to shell out for the coach he sacked at the cost of £18m in 2007. So any amount owed by Mourinho might have to be paid by him, perhaps in reduced contract terms. But there is a fair bit more dancing to be done yet, and today it was Mourinho doing the leading, well aware of what he might escape paying when he joins Chelsea.
"I have considered staying," he said when asked if he had planned to leave. "I will earn a salary until the final day I work for Real Madrid but I don't want a single euro more."
In a poll of over 23,000 Madrid fans, 88 per cent said they believed Mourinho wanted Real Madrid to fire him. That would certainly be one way out, although he would prefer to win the Spanish Cup on 17 May first and then go into his end-of-season meeting with Perez knowing his president is in a corner, with too many directors, players and supporters wanting the coach gone.
Several of Mourinho's coaching staff are understood to have served notice on rented properties, and on Monday Mourinho went to his local Ikea store to buy €200 worth of packing boxes, bubble wrap and sticky tape.
Today it was more Iker than Ikea as he was again asked about making goalkeeper Casillas second choice. "I like Diego Lopez as a goalkeeper more than Casillas, simples [sic]," he said.
"Iker is a phenomenal shot-stopper but I like a keeper who can play with his feet, who comes for crosses and dominates." Pepe and Barcelona's Andres Iniesta, who have recently chipped into the Casillas debate, were next in Mourinho's firing line.
"I think it is fine that [Iniesta] gives his opinion but he should be thinking about his own team and why they have problems when they don't have Leo Messi," said Mourinho.
Real Madrid defender Pepe said the coach should show Casillas "more respect". "It is my job to pick the team," said Mourinho, "and I don't do it by flipping a coin." And as if to ram home the point he dropped Pepe for tonight's game with Malaga.