After the euphoria and the achievement of wresting back the La Liga title last summer, Real Madrid and their manager Jose Mourinho have had a far more difficult time of things this season.
The league champions are just third in the top division, their two cup ties—Copa del Rey and Champions League—are poised on a knife-edge at 1-1, and the manager has lost his former air of invincibility, seemingly questioned by both fans and players alike.
From damaging reports of a player revolt (via Daily Mail), with the club president issued with a him-or-us ultimatum regarding Mourinho's prolonged stay at the Santiago Bernabeu, to dropping star players and rumours of an exit even before the Champions League tie with Manchester United is over (via Guardian), stories and suggestions of the Special One's demise have been apparent for some time.
Though the idea of key players Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos asking for the boss to be kicked out were derided as untrue by the club (as per Mirror Football), the signs are all pointing one way.
Whether by his own decision or not, Jose Mourinho looks increasingly likely to be headed out of Real Madrid this summer.
Exactly where the former Porto boss will go next will fill even further the column inches during the already-crazy weeks of the transfer window, but Real will have to turn their attentions to his potential successor, if they haven't done so already.
A few of the regularly mentioned names will be thrown around, including current Chelsea interim Rafa Benitez, but perhaps there is another boss that Madrid should be eyeing. According to reports, perhaps they already are (via Mirror Football)—Swansea City manager Michael Laudrup.
The Swans have just registered their first-ever trophy win in 100 years of football with a Capital One Cup win at Wembley, in England.
With Swansea in the top half of the Premier League table, Laudrup has been winning plaudits for bringing success to the club while maintaining the on-pitch approach that the team has cultivated over the last decade.
A great of the game as a player, Laudrup has acclaimed the win as his "most important trophy" and has not been shy about admitting he would love to return to Real Madrid, where he spent part of his career on the pitch, to lead the team next season.
"It is a pleasure that the fans think that I could be the next Real Madrid manager, we will see what happens in June or July. It's certain that I will return to Spain, but I don't know when. Spain is like my second home, but I am enjoying my experience in the Premier League."
For Laudrup's part, having managed Brondby, Getafe, Spartak Moscow and Mallorca before his current club, the natural progression for a successful coach would be to step up to a more high-profile club, a team with not only aspirations of winning trophies, but expectations.
They don't come much higher profile, or with bigger expectations, than Real Madrid.
Real themselves certainly seem as though they need a change.
For many seasons, they have played with—and therefore recruited for—a primarily 4-2-3-1 system. Laudrup favours this, having used it at Getafe and Mallorca as well as now with Swansea. He understands tactically the roles for each position but is flexible enough to match his players to their strengths, rather than to the "ideal" role in each position.
A naturally attack-minded manager, Laudrup has consistently looked to get his teams playing good football, defending by being the better team and attacking at pace. It would necessitate a slight switch in mentality and emphasis on the Real Madrid players to get them to dominate games in this fashion, but Laudrup is known for being a good communicator, as well as already commanding respect in the world of football.
Getting his ideas over to the uber-talented yet underperforming group of players should present an exciting challenge for the relatively young manager.
Real have a history, of course, of parting ways with their head coaches in rather rapid fashion.
Since John Toshack was appointed boss in 1989, only one man has lasted longer than three years in the job—Vicente del Bosque, who stayed on for three years and seven months, from '99 to '03.
Including Mourinho, 24 different managerial appointments have been made in that time.
If Laudrup is to be the 25th, there is no particular indication that he would be afforded any more time than the rest to have an impact—and then, crucially, to sustain that success.
Should Mourinho fail to see his side to at least a second-place finish in La Liga this season, it would be the first time in nine years that Real finished outside the top two. For a club which has dispensed of its managers after big trophy wins, it would be hard to see him being allowed to continue in his role in that case, unless he delivers the long-awaited decima, the 10th European Cup triumph.
Appointing Laudrup would be a change in philosophy, to an extent, for Real Madrid.
In Mourinho they brought in the biggest name, the biggest ego and the most successful recent coach at the time. Laudrup would be altogether less proven, but his potential as a manager is limitless.
A different style of play, a vastly different method in cultivating personal relationships—certainly with the press, perhaps with the players—and yet the same expectation of success.
Laudrup has not yet had a job where there is anything more than a belief in his way of working and a hope that he could bring success, so watching him make the step up to a team who demands results—whether that be at Real Madrid or elsewhere—will certainly make interesting viewing.
But the suspicion is that he would make an excellent manager at the very highest level, he already has a track record of achieving with clubs of lesser reputation and ability to point to, and he certainly won't lack for confidence in himself.
Michael Laudrup the player and Real Madrid won La Liga title in 1994-95 together. Almost two decades on, don't bet against them repeating the trick, this time with the Dane as manager.
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