Real fans want Laudrup amid Jose row
As Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho circles his wagons against the Spanish media with his side preparing for three season-defining games in eight days, the club's fans have suggested Swansea boss Michael Laudrup, not Paris Saint-Germain's Carlo Ancelotti or Chelsea's Rafael Benitez, is their preferred successor for next year.
Madrid are currently getting ready to take on Barcelona in next Tuesday's Copa del Rey semi-final second leg, then Barca again at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in La Liga the following Saturday and finally Manchester United at Old Trafford in their Champions League last-16 return game just three days later.
Reports emerging from France this week suggested that Ancelotti had already reached an agreement with Madrid president Florentino Perez to replace Mourinho at the Bernabeu next season, an idea which makes sense considering the Italian's previous experience in winning the Champions League and dealing with huge dressing-room and board-room egos. Meanwhile in London on Wednesday Benitez was claiming that an interview he gave to Spanish national radio, which seemed to suggest he would like to return to Madrid as coach, had been misinterpreted.
However a fans' poll conducted by AS found that a huge majority would prefer the former Blancos playmaker Laudrup to return to the club as first-team coach next season. Of more than 32,000 Madrid fans who took part in the online poll, 72% chose Laudrup, with Benitez next on 17%, and Ancelotti getting just 9% support.
Laudrup came third in a similar poll run by Marca in January - which Benitez topped - but since the Dane has led Swansea into the top half of the Premier League table and the Capital One Cup final.
These developments came as Mourinho appeared to put an end to the club's previous policy of opening up training to the press and putting forward a player a day to speak with journalists afterwards. After Perez suggested late last year that it was time to mend bridges with the media, in January Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Iker Casillas and other senior players answered questions on a daily basis. However after a series of further critical stories about Mourinho and his future, and with the season reaching its most serious point, the doors at Madrid's Valdebebas training ground have now been shut.
The sense of a club-versus-local media battle was also heightened by the widespread prominence given on Wednesday to an interview with Madrid youth-team attacker Jese, who was very critical of Mourinho in a Marca cover story which also included pointed praise for Madrid Castilla (B team) coach Alberto Toril and 'el Presi' Perez.
The popular Spanish media narrative of a split in the Madrid camp between a Portuguese faction around Mourinho, Ronaldo and the other players represented by super-agent Jorge Mendes, and a Spanish group headed by Casillas and Ramos, was also carried forward on Thursday.
A photo tweeted by the defender showing him dining with Alvaro Morata, Alvaro Arbeloa, Raul Albiol, Jose Callejon, Diego Lopez and Nacho was republished by AS, with reporter Carmen Colina pointing out that all seven players are Spanish-born, and that he had tweeted a similar photo in September, soon after he had been dropped for the team for criticising Mourinho after the 1-0 loss at Sevilla.
The reported 'feud' between Ramos and the Portuguese coach has blown up again in the last week, with Mourinho blaming the defender for United's goal in the 1-1 Champions League draw at the Bernabeu, and the Spanish international hitting back by saying he was not the type of person to single out individuals for blame after a game.