Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho... in the firing line

Real are 11 points behind Barça, which is usually sacking territory. Lose the derby to Atletico and the chances of a move to PSG grow ever more likely

Chelsea’s owner, Roman Abramovich, and the Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez, are not, as far as we know, Facebook friends or following each other on Twitter. Were they regularly engaged in cyber-small talk – aside from “favouriting” each other’s firings – they might well have turned the chat this week to their respective managers.

Abramovich has installed Madrid-born Rafa Benitez, against supporters’ wishes, and seen him serve up two turgid goalless draws in his first two games; while Perez has Jose Mourinho in charge – the most popular manager in Chelsea’s history but increasingly unpopular with Real Madrid’s supporters and potentially 14 points behind the leaders Barcelona by midnight Saturday.

Perez has seen how Abramovich canned Champions League winner Roberto Di Matteo – he did the same to Vicente del Bosque in the cruellest of his seven sackings – and knows the pressure will be on for him to show the same ruthless streak should things go wrong in tomorrow night’s Madrid derby.

Real have already dropped 13 points this season – only one less than in the whole of last season and while it’s acceptable to concentrate on the Champions League – it’s not acceptable to be out of the title race by November. Only six managers have ever fallen this far behind Barcelona so early in the season and all were sacked.

Last season Perez is understood to have had an agreement in place with Benitez that meant he would take over should Mourinho leave his post mid-season. There were even suggestions that the agreement involved Benitez being paid by Madrid not to take other jobs;  which would explain him turning down Chelsea when first approached.

Now there is no such plan B in place for Perez who, aside from wishing to avoid the potential €20m (£16.2m) compensation package, still believes Mourinho is the man most capable of delivering him the club’s 10th European Cup next May.

His problem is that there are almost three months before the competition starts again and the pressure on him to remove his man would intensify should Real, currently not even the best team in Madrid, let alone Spain, slip further away from the top of the table.

Real Madrid  have not looked like potential Champions League winners in the group stage in amassing what will be their lowest points haul since 2005. But then neither did Mourinho’s Inter in 2010 when they struggled in a group that included Barcelona before going on to win the final against Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabeu.

That night, sat in the visitors’ dug-out, remains Mourinho’s greatest to date at a stadium where once again in midweek the singing of his name was drowned out by jeers from supporters, despite the fact that the team were in the process of winning the second leg of their Spanish Cup game by a three-goal margin. Add that to the same magnitude of victory in the first leg and it was the first time they’d achieved such a feat since 1978. A happy crowd, then? Not entirely.

Mourinho, as ever, has his potential exits planned. He is close friends with the Paris St-Germain president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, who employed him as a pundit during Euro 2012, in his capacity as head of Al Jazeera Sport. PSG will test Real Madrid’s resolve to retain Cristiano Ronaldo this summer. If the Portuguese ends up in Paris alongside Zlaten Ibrahimovic, then a strong coach with experience of handling both men will be required and agent Jorge Mendes, representing both clients, would be the man to make it happen.

In the build-up to Real Madrid’s Champions League meeting with Manchester City, Mourinho met with his old friend Sir Alex Ferguson and if the United manager has any say in who replaces him then Mourinho remains the strongest candidate for the Old Trafford job. Mourinho has also gone enthusiastically on the record to say he would have no problem working for Abramovich again.

His suitors are less fickle than those who have never warmed to him in the Spanish capital. The press that feeds their disdain has already dubbed tomorrow’s encounter “judgement day”. He has won all six of his Madrid derbies to date but they warn the end will be nigh if his team become the first Real Madrid side to lose this fixture in 13 seasons. 

On form Atletico will provide a huge test. They have won 11 of their 13 games this season, losing only once. They also play the style of football that least suits Real Madrid, who lost last week to a Betis team who decided to let them have the ball, denying them their greatest weapon – the counter-attack.

Diego Simeone’s side is likely to employ the same tactic. Atletico are the third-highest scorers in the league but are 11th in the table in terms of minutes in possession of the ball.

If Mourinho comes out a winner tomorrow then planning will continue unhindered for the Champions League last 16. If the club can finally offload Kaka, who has been given just 360 minutes to so far this season, then there may even be room to bring in a January reinforcement.

Perez went down into the dressing room after that defeat last weekend, though his mere presence served as a chilly reminder of how serious things had become rather than a warm show of support. Players have also publicly stood up for their coach.

The captain, Iker Casillas, said: “Maybe people are being unjust with Mourinho – a large part of the success we have had over the last two seasons has been down to him. He’s the best coach in the world so maybe too much is asked of him. In the dressing room we have 100 per cent faith in him.”

At such a politically charged club a vote of confidence from the players can be as ominous as one from the board and Mourinho will discover tomorrow the real extent of his players’ desire for him to stay.

Hired in June 2010, Mourinho is now the longest-serving manager in the league. For a president who wants a Champions League it would be madness to lose a man who has won it twice, but a 14-point gap between Madrid and Barcelona would be a real test of Perez’s sanity.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible