Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

Jose Mourinho, Mauricio Pochettino and the other candidates who could replace Santiago Solari at Real Madrid

The Argentine would appear to be on borrowed time at the Bernahbeu following Champions League exit to Ajax

Spare a thought this morning for Santiago Solari.

Assuming the Real Madrid manager is summoned to the Bernabeu board room to give weekly updates on how the team are progressing, you would have thought that nothing could top last week's one as far as feeling uncomfortable goes.

Telling Florentino Perez and the rest of the directors that, sadly, the Copa del Rey and Primera Liga titles were no longer up for grabs, following consecutive defeats to Barcelona, the one club Real Madrid can't stomach losing one game to, let alone two on the bounce, would have made even the most brazen squirm.

So this week's bulletin that retaining the Uefa Champions League, the tournament that has become the Spanish club's own private fiefdom over the past three years, is also no longer an option following a humiliating exit to Ajax, is not going to play out well.

And while some observers can be too quick to predict the demise of every manager who suffers a poor run of form - ie Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea (guilty) - Solari's long-term job prospects in a post he only assumed in October look about as safe as sticking your head in a piranha tank.

So, with that in mind, here are five potential candidates to replace the Argentine should the meeting with Perez and Co not go well.

Manchester United won La Liga and the Cop[a del Rey during his three years in charge at Real Madrid from 2010-2013. Reuters
Manchester United won La Liga and the Copa del Rey during his three years in charge at Real Madrid from 2010-2013. Reuters

Jose Mourinho

The "Special One" has been doing a fine job of touting his own credentials to viewers in the Middle East since being dismissed by Manchester United in December. Mourinho has been given almost permanent residency, nestled nicely between Andy Gray and Richard Keys, on BeIN Sport's coverage of live football most weekends.

The Portuguese won a Copa del Rey, Primera Liga and Spanish Super Cup during his three years in charge at Madrid from 2010-2013 and has emerged as a frontrunner to return to his old stamping ground since parting company with United.

Despite his success, it's too easy to forget that, as is usually the case when Mourinho leaves a job, he left Madrid amid much acrimony. He has a habit of falling out with star players (Eden Hazard at Chelsea, Paul Pogba at United) and his time in the Spanish capital was no different including bust ups with, among others, the club's legendary goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Plus there is the fact that Mourinho's time in charge at United was punctuated by never-ending excuses and football that could politely be described as dull.

Is he really the man to revive Real Madrid's fortunes?

Mauricio Pochettino has guided Tottenham through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, a stage further than Real Madrid. Reuters
Mauricio Pochettino has guided Tottenham through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, a stage further than Real Madrid. Reuters

Mauricio Pochettino

For selfish reasons, Tottenham Hotspur fans would have been hoping to see Real Madrid's name alongside their own when the draw is made for the Champions League quarter-finals. Pochettino masterminded a superb two-legged victory over Borussia Dortmund to book their place in the last eight, with Tuesday's 1-0 victory at the Westfalen following an even more impressive 3-0 win over the German leaders at Wembley last month.

Overcoming Ajax would have enhanced Solari's chances of extending his stay beyond the end of the current campaign (if he even makes it that far). Instead, Tuesday's 4-1 loss to Ajax in the last-16 second leg has only highlighted how elite managers are hard to come by.

Worried Spurs fans had hoped Solari would have had a similar impact as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made at United. The Norwegian has overseen a swift upturn in performances and results since replacing Mourinho on an interim basis.

Under Solskjaer, United are unbeaten in 12 league matches and have won a record eight games on the road and are a big part of the top-four conversation in the Premier League once more.

Solari's impact since replacing Julen Lopetegui is rather less impressive, and the ignominy of exiting to a club who have a long association with winning the European Cup but are no longer considered genuine contenders will only intensify Madrid's efforts to get their man.

Despite falling out of the title frame in recent weeks this could arguably be Pochettino's best season at Spurs during nearly five years in charge. Financial constraints, due to the costs and ongoing delays of revamping White Hart Lane, means the Argentine has had to work largely with the same squad that finished third last season and had nine players involved in the semi-finals and final of last summer's World Cup, the most of any club.

With Solskjaer having probably done enough to get the United job on a permanent basis, that leaves Real Madrid with a clear run at a manager who in all probability has taken Spurs as far as he can.

Antonio Conte won the Premier League and FA Cup during his two years at Chelsea and is available for work immediately. EPA
Antonio Conte won the Premier League and FA Cup during his two years at Chelsea and is available for work immediately. EPA

Antonio Conte

Out of work since leaving Chelsea in the summer of 2018, the Italian firebrand ticks a huge box in terms of immediate availability should Real choose to move Solari on.

His last two positions in club football have been littered with trophies, including three straight Serie A successes with Juventus and a league and FA Cup at Chelsea.

The one thing that might work against Conte is his combative reputation - Carlo Ancelotti once said the only thing more vicious than the former Juve and Italy midfielder's tackling was his tongue - and how well that would play out in a Madrid dressing-room notorious for being difficult even in peace time.

Then again, maybe Conte's brand of hell fire and brimstone is just what Real Madrid need.

France manager Didier Deschamps, right, helped nurture the likes of Kylian Mbappe, left, to become a World Cup winner in 2018. EPA
France manager Didier Deschamps, right, helped nurture the likes of Kylian Mbappe, left, to become a World Cup winner in 2018. EPA

Didier Deschamps

Last summer's World Cup success in Russia with the French national team saw Deschamps become only the second to win the trophy as both player and manager. But for the dogged determination of Portugal, Deschamps could easily be a European Championship-winning coach, too, with France dazzling on home soil at Euro 2016 before losing to Eder's extra-time strike in the final.

The likes of Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and N'Golo Kante, to name a few, have thrived under Deschamps at international level, and it wouldn't be outrageous to suggest some of them might be prepared to follow him to the Bernabeu should he make the move.

Zinedine Zidane won three successive Champions League trophies as manager of Real Madrid before stepping down in May 2018. AFP
Zinedine Zidane won three successive Champions League trophies as manager of Real Madrid before stepping down in May 2018. AFP

Zinedine Zidane

A legend as a player and already as a manager at Real Madrid, the Frenchman has known only victory in the Champions League, winning it every time he took charge of the Spanish giants during his two-and-a-half years in charge before stepping down last May.

But there were reasons for his departure. Zidane knew intimately that the team he had guided to three successive Champions League triumphs was on the wane as has been evident by the steep decline of club stalwarts Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Toni Kroos this season.

Replacing the guaranteed 40 plus-goals-a-season of Cristiano Ronaldo was going to be nigh on impossible and time has proved the Frenchman right to walk away at the top rather than stick around for the current malaise.

But the pull of returning to a club where he is still idolised may prove too hard to resist.

Updated: March 6, 2019 01:52 PM

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