On Tuesday, Jan. 22, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez had his annual meeting with team captains Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos to discuss some potential end-of-season player bonuses.
Both parties arrived at a hasty agreement on the extras: €10 million to be split equally among the players should they win the Champions League in May.
But the conversation took a different tone as Casillas and Ramos brought up a more pressing concern: their discontent with manager Jose Mourinho’s handling of the club, and they warned Perez that if the Portuguese manager didn't leave Madrid, key players in the side would.
The details of this exchange were first recounted in a story published in the popular Madrid-based newspaper Marca, which quickly went viral throughout the globe.
It is difficult to say for certain whether this latter part of the conversation ever took place—Perez, Casillas and Ramos would flatly deny the veracity of the report’s claims—but those were certainly troubling times for Real, as the Spanish title race was already over and the team wasn’t exactly playing well either.
True or false, the story helped instill the idea that this season would be Mourinho’s last with Los Merengues, and it certainly appears that way, as Mourinho has been heavily linked with a move back to Chelsea this summer (per the Independent).
The mood at the Bernabeu is, however, very different now than it was in January.
Real are still out of contention for first place in La Liga, but they have booked a place in the Copa Del Rey final and are two semifinal legs away from a berth in this year’s Champions League final as well.
The team’s performance over the last two months has all but restored Mourinho’s popularity at the Bernabeu.
Casillas, of course, likely still feels resentment towards the Portuguese gaffer as the legendary Madrid native and team captain hasn’t been able to reclaim his starting spot between the pipes.
But Mourinho’s decision to omit him—a decision which was initially met with scathing criticism—has now garnered sympathy with the Madrid press because backup goalkeeper Diego Lopez has fared exceptionally well in his place.
But even with Madrid’s resurgence in the last few months, Mourinho will still likely leave the club after the season’s end—especially if he’s able to win "La Decima"—and the concern for Real is what kind of effect his departure would have on the team.
Mourinho is certainly a tough act to follow.
After Mourinho left Chelsea, the southwest London club needed a few years and a fair bit of managerial shuffling before it was able to win the Premier League again.
Three seasons after Mourinho won a historic treble with Inter Milan and moved to Real Madrid, the Nerazzurri have had four different managers and have failed to win a single league title. They didn’t even manage to qualify for last year’s Champions League nor do they look likely to do so this season, as they sit in seventh place in Serie A.
Though Mourinho leaving Porto didn’t have as dramatic an effect as it did for Chelsea and Inter, the Dragoes still slipped to second place in the Primeira Liga the season following the Setubal native’s move to Chelsea.
The biggest concern for Madrid, if Mourinho were to depart, is where that would leave a player like Cristiano Ronaldo.
Many players that work under Mourinho come to acquire a special affinity for him and his switching from one club to another has left players wanting to tag along. When Mourinho left Porto, for example, Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira followed him to Chelsea.
Chelsea star midfielder, Frank Lampard, admitted to Chelsea TV in 2010 that he too very nearly joined Mourinho at Inter Milan after he left Chelsea at the end of 2007.
“At the time, if I am honest about it, I did have thoughts about going to Inter,” Lampard said. “It was a difficult time for me in my life, things had happened for me personally and everybody knows how I feel about Jose Mourinho.”
Perhaps no player feels as much of a bond with Mourinho as does Ronaldo. Along with being a fellow countryman, Mourinho has been Ronaldo’s staunchest supporter, and Ronaldo isn’t a particularly esteemed character in Spain: He’s heavily criticized for his often haughty demeanor.
Ronaldo in turn has repeatedly voiced his content at being able to play with Mourinho, who Ronaldo considers second to none as far as managers are concerned, even better than former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, someone Ronaldo has labelled as a second father.
Ronaldo hasn’t exactly been happy at Madrid of late either. He didn’t go into particulars, but the forward did tell reporters in September that he was “Sad, due to a professional issue that the club knows about.”
What his issue could be is anyone’s guess, but Mourinho leaving Madrid would surely only help accentuate Ronaldo’s discontent.
Ronaldo being sold to another club later this year isn't by any means a far-fetched possibility. After this season, Ronaldo will only have one year left on his contract, which means that if he doesn’t re-sign with Madrid in the offseason, the club will be forced to sell him in order to avoid losing him for free when his contract expires.
Ronaldo leaving Madrid would be a devastating loss for Real who are already well behind Barcelona in La Liga. His goals—already 50 in all competitions this season—will be extremely difficult to replace, perhaps too much so.
What’s to say Ronaldo isn’t the only player that wants out if Mourinho moves on?
At this point, contrary to the Real captains’ alleged suggestion to president Perez in January, Mourinho leaving Madrid would actually be much more problematic than him staying.