BARCELONA (Reuters) - Jose Mourinho’s possible departure from Real Madrid at the end of the season would leave club president Florentino Perez in a tricky position as he seeks an adequate replacement for the man he has constantly lauded as “the best coach in the world”.
Obsessed with winning the 10th continental crown that has eluded Real since 2002, construction magnate Perez hired the controversial Portuguese at great expense in 2010 after he led Inter Milan to the Champions League title.
After Tuesday’s elimination from Europe’s elite club competition by Borussia Dortmund, when Real narrowly failed to overturn a 4-1 deficit in their semi-final second leg at the Bernabeu, Mourinho dropped his strongest hint yet that his time in the Spanish capital is drawing to a close.
Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos scored late goals to give Real hope but they fell just short and Dortmund went through to the May 25 final 4-3 on aggregate.
Asked after the game if he would stay on next term - he has a contract until 2016 - Mourinho told ITV Sport: “Maybe not. I don’t know but I want to be where people love me to be.”
At a later news conference he added: “I am loved by some clubs, especially one (Chelsea). In Spain it is different, some people hate me, many of you in this (press) room.”
Mourinho’s reference to Chelsea appeared to give credence to recent reports saying he is poised to return to the London club where he won Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006 but came up short in the Champions League.
If he does leave Real at the end of the season, he will have led them to one La Liga title, when they set a record points tally, and, if they beat Atletico Madrid in this month’s final, two King’s Cups.
It is a decent record by most standards but at Real it is success in Europe that counts above all else and on that score he has disappointed, suffering elimination in the Champions League semi-finals for the past three seasons.
Mourinho’s combative character may have had a negative impact on the club’s image that will leave behind a damaging legacy, according to marketing experts.
Appointed sporting manager as well as first-team coach, an unusual step for a club in Spain where the power of Mourinho’s counterparts is much more limited, he has responsibility for the development of the Real soccer product.
A successful marketing strategy mainly requires success on the pitch but should also promote an image of the club that is acceptable to existing fans and will encourage more to invest their time and money.
Mourinho has alienated some of Real’s more traditional supporters, who have whistled at him at the club’s Bernabeu stadium, while gaining hero status among the “Ultras Sur”, a group known for their extreme right-wing views.
If he does decide to jump ship his successor may be taking on a poisoned chalice, while Mourinho’s stint at Real will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Those included sneaking up behind Tito Vilanova, then assistant Barca coach, during a brawl and poking a finger in his eye, continual complaints about refereeing bias, ugly clashes with journalists and Real officials and dark hints that Barca get favourable treatment from governing body UEFA.
He has also sidelined club captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas, a hero to many supporters.
Some reports in Spain have suggested Perez is lining up Carlo Ancelotti, another former Chelsea manager currently in charge at Paris St Germain, to replace Mourinho.
The Italian is a very different personality to the outspoken Mourinho and won the Champions League with AC Milan in 2003 and 2007, losing to Liverpool in the 2005 final.
After the clashes and controversy of the Mourinho years, perhaps the understated and respectful Ancelotti is just what Real need to restore calm and finally get their hands on the “decima”, or 10th European title.
Editing by Clare Fallon