On Monday night, Real Madrid announced the sacking of manager Julen Lopetegui days after the 5-1 hammering by arch rivals Barcelona.
The result at the Camp Nou proved the final nail in the coffin for the former Spain head coach, who presided over a series of unwanted records during his brief spell in charge at Madrid, who are ninth in La Liga, seven points behind leaders Barca.
With Lopetegui shown the exit, and Santiago Solari, coach of B team Castilla, placed in temporary charge, focus now turns to finding a long-term replacement for the reigning European champions.
Here are five candidates that could be in the running.
Arsenal’s greatest ever manager, like Conte, has been out of work since leaving the London club after 22 years in the summer. The Frenchman recently revealed that he is targeting a return to management in the new year, so why not bring that forward for one of the biggest clubs in the world?
Wenger has long been a target of Real Madrid, and was coveted by the Spanish giants on more than one occasion during his peak Arsenal years.
He would garner immediate respect from the dressing room, is the sort of non-confrontational figure that seems to excel in the current Madrid environment (Zinedine Zidane and Carlo Ancelotti), and his trademark attacking football would be welcomed by both players and fans.
Perhaps past his best, but Wenger fits the Real Madrid mould and his availability will surely appeal to the club.
The most obvious option, not only because of his proven pedigree, but also because talks have already taken place between the Italian and Real Madrid. Conte has achieved in each of his three high-profile roles – leading Juventus to three successive Serie A titles, taking an unheralded Italy to the European Championships quarter-finals, and winning a Premier League and FA Cup in two seasons at Chelsea.
Out of work since his acrimonious departure from Chelsea in the summer, Conte had initially shot straight to the top of Real Madrid president Florentino Perez’s list of Lopetegui replacements.
However, reports have claimed discussions between Conte and club have already broken down after senior players made their opposition to the Italian’s appointment known, while there were also suggestions the two parties could not come to an agreement over money.
Despite the current stand-off, Conte is the sort of elite-level manager Real Madrid crave and his arrival would, at the least, get the club’s disastrous league season back on track.
Tottenham Hotspur fans may not want to believe it, but Pochettino could very well be in the running for the Real Madrid vacancy. While Pochettino is seemingly content and the Premier League club themselves will provide stiff resistance, the Argentine was Perez’s first-choice in the summer to initially replace Zidane.
Could the Madrid president revive his interest in the Spurs manager? It would be entirely plausible, given how Zidane’s eventual successor turned out to be a disastrous appointment.
Pochettino’s employment at Tottenham would make this pursuit complicated and expensive for Madrid but that has never stopped the club before when their sights are set on a key target.
Pochettino’s chances of moving to Madrid would likely increase further were the club to stick with Solari until the end of the season and appoint a full-time manager next summer. This, at present, seems unlikely but Pochettino moving to Madrid mid-season would not be completely left-field.
A few years ago it would have seemed crazy to put Martinez on a list of potential Real Madrid candidates. The Spaniard was sacked by Everton in May 2016 with the club 12th in the Premier League and fans having turned against him. Prior to his spell at Everton, Martinez’s managerial experience extended to stints at Swansea City and Wigan Athletic, albeit leading the latter to a remarkable FA Cup triumph in 2013 (while still getting relegated the same season).
However, after impressing in his current role as Belgium manager, Martinez has gone some way to restoring his reputation as a talented, attack-minded manager. He led Belgium to third-place at the 2018 World Cup, while the squad’s star players, including Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, have spoken in glowing terms about their national team coach – proving he can handle big egos.
The fact he is Spanish – despite spending most of his playing and coaching career in the UK – could also work in his favour. Would still be a surprise appointment, but not as surprising as it might have been a few years ago.
Going along the theme of Real Madrid legends being groomed in the system for the top job, a la Zidane, Guti appears top of that list.
The former midfielder spent 15 years as a Madrid player, winning five La Liga titles and three Uefa Champions Leagues, and is an all-time fan favourite, both for his contributions to the team and as a local boy.
Guti began his coaching career with the Real Madrid youth teams, with whom he spent five years, before joining Turkish giants Besiktas as assistant manager to Senol Gunes in the summer.
Like Zidane, Guti would gain the instant respect of the squad, and would be given far more support and patience from Madrid’s demanding supporters than other managers have been afforded.
Arguably, this opportunity has come too soon for a coach of little-to-no senior management experience. But the same could’ve been said for Zidane and that seemed to work out alright.
As Real Madrid begin their search for a 19th manager in 20 years, here are the other 18 men to occupy the dugout since 1998:
This article was firstly published on The National.