Real Madrid’s search for a successor to Zinedine Zidane is about to enter its third week, but we are still no closer to knowing who will be sitting on the Bernabeu bench for the 2018-19 season.
Zidane’s departure on June 31 certainly seems to have taken the Madrid hierarchy by surprise — with no clear idea having yet emerged of the preferred profile for a new coach, never mind club president Florentino Perez publicly confirming which candidates are actually being considered.
Nevertheless, many different names have been mentioned in the speculation, with new potential candidates popping up on a daily basis. Indeed, on Monday, Marca came up with an impressively creative “A to Z” graphic covering almost all the letters of the alphabet.
MARCA (@marca) June
We’ve not gone that far. Instead we have grouped the top candidates into different categories.
The primary candidates
Almost before Zidane’s farewell news conference had ended, three names were immediately pushed into the frame, all of whom are employed elsewhere. Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino quickly spoke enigmatically about allowing fate to take its course; Germany’s Joachim Low immediately ruled himself out; Juventus’ Massimiliano Allegri kept quiet.
Chelsea’s Antonio Conte (almost certain to depart this summer) was also added to the list of candidates, as was Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp. Both have the personalities and past achievements to merit a place on a shortlist, but both have avoided sharing their thoughts on the possibility of moving to Spain.
The former players
Former Madrid player Guti, currently in charge of the club’s under-18 side, quickly emerged as the consensus “in-house” candidate for the vacancy. A usefully timed veterans game at the Bernabeu allowed Fernando Morientes, Julio Baptista and Paco Pavon to back their former teammate and remind everyone how promoting Zidane from within had led to three consecutive Champions League victories.
Other ex-Madrid players mentioned include Clarence Seedorf, fresh from taking Deportivo La Coruna down last season; Michael Laudrup is available, although his playing CV outshines his experience as a coach; Quique Sanchez-Flores has a Bernabeu background, but is now more associated with Atletico Madrid; while Michel’s opportunity has surely passed at this point.
Fernando Hierro is a plausible call, having reportedly patched up a previously difficult relationship with Perez — although his current role with Spain at the World Cup complicates matters. “There has been zero contact with Madrid,” Hierro said on El Larguero radio show on Monday night. “I’m focused on my World Cup and do not look any further… [But] everyone knows what Madrid means for me.”
Ex-Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger openly pondered the “totally crazy challenge” of taking over at Madrid, although it is a decade now since Perez last offered him the job. Claudio Ranieri knows La Liga from spells in charge of Atletico and Valencia, but is another whose time seems to have passed.
Nottingham Forest manager Aitor Karanka is an ex-Madrid player with experience on the Bernabeu bench, although as Jose Mourinho’s former assistant he would have plenty of bridges to mend with the dressing room. Mourinho himself remains popular with the club hierarchy, but the Manchester United manager will surely not return to the Spanish capital until Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo have moved on.
The interesting calls
Outgoing Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri has the tactical nous, but maybe not the big name, to keep the Bernabeu’s star players under control. Laying down the law has never been a problem for “Big” Phil Scolari, who has also coached the likes of Ronaldo and Neymar at international level.
Brazil boss Tite was also mentioned last weekend in his country’s media, but quickly shut that down by saying the report was “a lie.”
The wild cards
Marcelo Bielsa and Andre Villas-Boas have both been fashionable at different times in recent years, but neither are seen as realistic candidates for what is arguably the biggest job in club football.
Bild made maybe the most startling claim of all by saying that Hoffenheim’s 30-year-old manager Julian Nagelsmann had turned down the chance to manage his elders Ramos and Ronaldo.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan