MADRID - With Real Madrid in tatters, it’s time to talk about Jose Mourinho again.
The spotlight turned to the Portuguese coach immediately after Madrid’s disastrous week came to an end — along with its entire season.
The Spanish club is already thinking about next season, and it appears the changes will start at the top, with coach Santiago Solari unlikely to keep his job.
Fans started chanting Mourinho’s name outside Santiago Bernabeu Stadium not long after the 4-1 loss to Ajax in the round of 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday.
Since then, rumors about Mourinho’s possible return have only increased.
Spanish media tracked Mourinho on the streets of London to see what he thought about fans wanting him back in Madrid.
“It makes me proud, but Real Madrid has a coach at this moment,” Mourinho told television channel La Sexta. “It’s something to be proud of, but nothing more than that.”
Mourinho said he had not been contacted by anybody from Real Madrid about possibly replacing Solari, although some reports said his agent, Jorge Mendes, had already started negotiations with the Spanish club.
Mourinho said he wasn’t happy with Madrid’s elimination in the Champions League, but the team deserved respect for what it had achieved until now.
“Let’s see when another team can do this again. I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said. “Ask players if they would take three Champions League titles and then be eliminated (in the early rounds) the next year. They would all take that. Now it’s time to move on. It’s life.”
Mourinho, who has been working as a commentator recently, coached Madrid from 2010-13, helping the team win one Spanish League, one Copa del Rey and one Spanish Super Cup.
He has been rumored to be the top candidate for the Madrid job ever since he was fired by Manchester United last year. The Spanish club wasn’t even in crisis at the time, still contending in the Spanish League, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.
Now, after consecutive losses to Barcelona and the defeat against Ajax, the team has only the Spanish League to play for. But Madrid trails leader Barcelona by 12 points and is five behind second-place Atletico Madrid with 12 matches left. However, Madrid has an eight-point cushion on fifth-place Alaves, the first team outside the Champions League spots for next season.
Madrid president Florentino Perez has always been fond of Mourinho, but the Portuguese coach is certainly not the only candidate to replace Solari.
There is also talk about a possible return of former France great Zinedine Zidane, who quit while on top after leading Madrid to three straight Champions League titles. Other names being mentioned include Juergen Klopp, Mauricio Pochettino, Joachim Loew and Antonio Conte, who was highly touted to replace Julen Lopetegui when the former Spain coach was fired a few months into his job with Madrid this season. Some even want the club to consider former star Raul Gonzalez, who has just started coaching one of Madrid’s youth squads.
It was Solari who eventually took over from Lopetegui, initially in an interim basis. He was given the full-time job — with a contract until 2021 — after being able to put the team back on track despite a dismal start to the season.
The former Argentina and Madrid player has led the team to 21 wins, eight losses and two draws in 31 matches in all competitions. He helped it win the Club World Cup in December, but will almost certainly leave without another trophy.
Solari said after the loss to Ajax he hadn’t accepted the job only to surrender when things got difficult, and also said he wasn’t worried about all the talk by Mourinho.
“Real Madrid,” he said, “has always had more candidates than Julia Roberts.”