Real Madrid: Top 5 Candidates to Replace Jose Mourinho
Assuming Jose Mourinho decides to cut his losses at Real Madrid, although financially he has a lot to gain from reneging on his contract or inviting the boot of Florentino Perez to hoof him onto next season, the Portuguese is going to leave quite a vacuum.
Handed absolute dominion of team affairs at the club after his power struggle with Jorge Valdano, Mourinho has taken his carte blanche to extremes recently. His decision to bench Iker Casillas for two consecutive matches has backfired spectacularly.
There are few coaches that can step comfortably into the Italian leather brogues of the Special One, as Rafa Benitez can attest.
Should Real go for a safe pair of hands able to man-manage the most expensive collection of stars in world football? Or opt for a complete revolution in the coaching hierarchy at a club famous for chewing the men in tracksuits and spitting them like a rancid slice of chorizo?
Honorable mentions go to Joachim Loew and Guus Hiddink.
5. Andre Villas-Boas
Villas-Boas was the hottest property in coaching after he emulated Mourinho in leading Porto to a treble in 2010. Snapped up by Chelsea for a not-inconsiderable 15 million euro in compensation, the similarities between the two Portuguese tacticians were irresistible.
Both were mentored by Bobby Robson. Both got their start in the game based largely on their linguistic skills. Both were precocious success stories at the upper level of the game, where wise old heads are generally more desirable to the men putting their hands into their suit pockets.
After a brief and ignominious affair with Chelsea, Villas-Boas has found a perfect match in Tottenham, which sits third in the Premier League.
It is unlikely Real could tempt Villas-Boas with anything other than free rein to run the club as he sees fit.
It is also unlikely, having failed to tame player power at Stamford Bridge, that the Portuguese would fare much better at Real with its current squad.
4. Carlo Ancelotti
Stern Italian taskmasters have a bit of history at Real Madrid.
Fabio Capello was twice brought in to drag the players to heel, and twice he won the league in 1997 and 2007. Twice he was sacked for producing a dull brand of football. It's difficult to keep the bigwigs at the Bernabeu entirely happy.
However, Capello remains the only Italian to have managed the Spanish giant.
Ancelotti has a nice little contract at PSG, but nothing Real couldn't easily better. He also has plenty of experience of managing problematic star players. He has brought the best out of Zlatan Ibrahimovic this season and there are few grumbles of discontent from a bloated squad of obscenely paid players.
It's unlikely Perez hasn't noticed this, and PSG's progress in the Champions League will be keenly watched at Real, which hasn't won the competition since 2002.
3. Michael Laudrup
Great players don't always make great managers. Great managers were not necessarily great players. Mourinho would be the first to admit his playing career was unspectacular.
Great players who go on to be great managers are a rare breed. As a player, Michael Laudrup was a species entirely of his own (with respect to Brian, of course).
A former player is always going to be a popular choice to roam the touchline at the Bernabeu and there are few more fondly remembered on the Paseo de la Castellana than the Danish genius. Not least because he signed directly from Barcelona.
At Getafe and Mallorca, Laudrup worked wonders with limited resources. He is doing the same thing at Swansea, one of the most entertaining teams in the Premier League.
Imagine what he could do with Real. Two more boons to his candidacy: he would still be more skillful than anyone else on the training ground. And he'd probably be able to persuade Michu to come with him. Although the newly minted Spain international will cost a fair bit more than when the Swans signed him.
2. Jurgen Klopp
The coach who led Borussia Dortmund to the top the Champions League's Group of Death might yet lead one of Europe's most exciting teams to the title itself.
If he does, Klopp will be high on the list to do the same at the Bernabeu, whether Mourinho scratches Perez's decima (10th European title) itch or not this season.
Two successive Bundesliga titles and an historic double last season, which included a 5-2 drubbing of Bayern Munich in the German Cup final, embellishes his credentials considerably.
Media savvy, Klopp is a former pundit who can charm the fourth estate in a manner that Perez can barely remember. And Perez likes Real to be liked.
He looks a bit like Sam 'Klop' Kelly from the movie 'Allo 'Allo! as a random aside.
1. Rafa Benitez
Rafa Benitez would fit the Real Madrid job like a glove—one with a horseshoe named revenge inside it.
The chance to succeed Mourinho at the Bernabeu would be a red rag to the former coach of Real Madrid Castilla (Los Blancos' reserve side). The former's gibes after Benitez's ill-starred tenure at Inter, plus a glorious return to La Liga, would ensure he signed whatever was put in front of him. Perez could name his terms and resume some semblance of control over his fiefdom.
The bad blood between the two runs deep. The chance to flourish where Mourinho has until now only partially succeeded would prove irresistible and Benitez is still very much the interim coach at Chelsea. At least until Pep Guardiola announces where he will be next season.
Perez will be watching The Hurricane's pulls and punches at Chelsea with more interest than Roman Abramovich until May.