By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
The knives are sharpening. As the weeks go by, Jose Mourinho appears to be losing more and more friends at Real Madrid, and recent rumours are not of the Portuguese moving on of his own accord - but of a "divorce" between club and coach. The Mayans claimed the world would end this year - and the Madrid media haven't given 'Mou' much longer.
The latest reports in Marca maintain that the Portuguese will depart in the summer - whatever happens over the next few months in La Liga. But, as at his previous three clubs, it is the Champions League which is likely to determine Mourinho's Madrid future.
At Porto, the Setubal-born boss moved on after claiming the Champions League, and at Chelsea, it was his failure to win Europe's premier club competition which irked owner Roman Abramovich. Eventually, their relationship soured and the pair parted company. At Inter, Mourinho marched off again after leading the Italians to glory on the Continent for the first time in 45 years, drawing a line under his second season in Milan by winning an historic treble.
But success has come at a price. Many fans are underwhelmed by Mourinho's brand of pragmatic play, while the Portuguese has antagonized the Madrid media and upset his own club by criticising B-team coach Alberto Toril and claiming that he lacks support at institutional level. Real's reputation has also suffered over the last three years as well, with Madrid losing their tag as Spain's 'gentlemanly' club. Mourinho has won La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Supercopa so far in little over two seasons, but patience is running out. And there's still no Decima.
President Perez is under pressure from some sectors of the press, the club's fanbase and socios to make a stand ahead of the summer elections. Florentino may yet be unrivalled in his bid to return to power at the Santiago Bernabeu, but the construction magnate is eager to count on the support of fans and media men alike in a second mandate - and that could mean Mourinho moving on before the side's socios head to the polls.
La Liga looks lost already. With 14 rounds of the competition disputed, the capital club trail Barcelona by 11 points and such a deficit has never been made up before in a Primera Division title race. It's a far cry from last season's singular title triumph, when Madrid amassed an amazing 100 points and struck a record 121 goals, too.
The Champions League, then, assumes added importance for both Madrid and for Mourinho. Coaches with inferior numbers to the Portuguese have had to pack their bags before the end of the season at the Bernabeu, but Perez knows the former Chelsea and Inter boss could yet bring success in Europe, even after the team's unconvincing run to the last 16 in Group D, in which they came close to losing at home to Manchester City and looked second best in two games (a loss and a draw) against Borussia Dortmund.
So a summer move may suit all parties and winning the Champions League could be Mourinho's last hurrah at the Bernabeu - just like it was at Porto and Inter. Alternatively, if relations can be smoothed over in the coming months and the Portuguese does stay and see out his contract, which was renewed just last summer and expires in 2016, he will probably need to bring home La Decima this term.
So as Madrid mull over whether to stick or twist with their controversial coach, it looks like Champions League or bust for a much-maligned Mourinho.
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