After 1,011 days of European dominance, Real Madrid’s stranglehold on the continent came crashing down on Tuesday night.
Los Blancos were ravaged 4-1 on the hallowed Bernabeu turf by Ajax, a club who have not reached the quarter-finals in over 15 years.
That result compounded a week of misery for Santiago Solari, who saw his side relinquish aspirations of achieving silverware this season in the space of fewer than seven days, getting knocked out of the Copa del Rey, La Liga title race, and now Europe – all on home turf.
Granted, Solari inherited something of a struggling patchwork of a team from Julen Lopetegui, but the Argentine has not had the Midas touch of his Castilla predecessor Zinedine Zidane.
Things are falling apart at the seams in the Spanish capital and Florentino Perez will likely wield the axe in the summer, if not before.
Should that come to fruition, who is the likely candidate to take the helm and oversee, what is guaranteed to be a summer of substantial replenishment?
Pochettino is hot property given his exploits in north London, working on a relative shoestring budget – in comparison with his ‘big six’ rivals – nurturing young talent, and fundamentally embracing an infectious brand of free-flowing football.
All three attributes have attracted a number of elite suitors, not least Real, who will need a shrewd tactician capable of developing their shooting stars, notably Vinicius Junior and the soon-to-be Madridista Rodrygo Goes – Pochettino also has the charm and a certain grandeur to match.
This entry would have seemed silly a week ago but recent reports claim the Liverpool boss is now considered Real Madrid’s No.1 target.
A serial winner, and another manager who has a penchant for cultivating young talent; Liverpool are currently enjoying the fruits of their esteemed scouting network courtesy of Klopp, and Perez will certainly have taken note.
With the crisis klaxons sounding loudly, Klopp is now among Real’s first-choice candidates in the wake of the Ajax humbling, according to the Independent, with Perez looking to restore “excitement and happiness” at the club, two words closely associated with the German’s exuberant nature.
The 51-year-old has revolutionised the Reds, transforming them, once again, into a Premier League and European powerhouse. And so, Perez will do exceptionally well to find a better candidate.
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There is an element of intrigue, if not fascination, regarding how Pochettino would fare in the hot seat of one of Europe’s great footballing powers. Give him the budget and the resources, and there is every suggestion the current Spurs coach would flourish.
At this moment, Real need a man who can rekindle a fractured dressing room, work with rising starlets, and cope with big egos. Pochettino ticks all these boxes and would relish the chances to return to the league where he first made a name for himself.
Mourinho has made no secret of his desire to make an immediate return to “top-level” football and is said to have been contacted by Perez over the supposed imminent vacancy back at his old stomping ground.
The Portuguese is a polarising figure in the capital after a whirlwind tenure saw many controversial moments. The 56-year-old does have the requisite provocative attitude needed to get under the skin of Barcelona, but he comes with prior baggage and has a less than cordial relationship with some of his former players, particularly skipper Sergio Ramos – it would be a monumental risk, given his acrimonious Man Utd department and previous club capitulations, but he is available and comes with significant experience.
The Italian has forged a formidable reputation as a tactically astute coach during his stint in the shadow of the Alps. He comes with huge pedigree having dominated Italian football since taking charge of the Old Lady in 2014, and has finished runners-up in Europe on two separate occasions.
Allegri has proven he can handle the biggest of personalities while demonstrating his tactical nous over the years, building from the fine work of his predecessor, Antonio Conte, in Turin and taking the Serie A giants to a new level.
The 51-year-old has a more relaxed demeanour – similar to that of Solari – which would certainly bode well in a dressing room as passionate and intense Real’s.
While Mourinho would be the easier man to acquire, his personality may drive the players over the edge. The likes of Gareth Bale – who has come in for scathing criticism of late – Isco, and Marco Asensio need an arm over their shoulder rather than a no-nonsense, my way or the high way sort of manager.
Allegri has an aura of composure and compromise, but with an underlying iron grip. It is a combination that could work wonders for building relationships and rejuvenating spirits, not to mention his football intelligence and innate understanding of the game.
Zidane had the world at his feet when he called time on his Real tenancy, which is why it seemed a strange decision at the time. But in hindsight, it appears the Frenchman foresaw the storm brewing and jumped ship at the right time.
The months following since his resignation have been nothing short of calamitous, to say the least, and now Perez wants his former Galactico back at the club to steady the ship, according to Spanish publication Marca. Perez failed to convince him to change his mind in the summer, but the president appears desperate and may offer Zidane a huge summer budget in an effort to revive his former working relationship.
Among the names being bandied about, club legend Raul has emerged as a possible candidate to take over from his ex-teammate, with Spanish news outlet Sport claiming Perez has shortlisted Los Blancos’ record appearance maker as a target.
The once lethal marksman is currently in charge of the Juvenil B youth team at Real, and Perez has a propensity to hire from within, looking to appoint a man who understands the ethos of the club and bleeds Real; the name Raul is practically synonymous with Real Madrid so there would be no better candidate on that front.
If, and it’s a big if, Perez can persuade Zidane to rejoin the club then it would be a miraculous move, and one of the better decisions he has made during his presidency. Raul could conceivably deliver the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer effect by rallying the troops, uniting the club and remedying the current tension presiding over the capital. But given his lack of managerial experience, this is always a risk, and at this moment Perez needs a man who knows what he is doing. In Zidane, he has that in abundance, a manager who knows the club exceptionally well and has a prodigious track record for getting results.