JOSE MOURINHO'S future at Real Madrid rests on the outcome of the Champions League clash against Manchester United, despite an extraordinary move by club president Florentino Perez to reject claims of a player revolt against the Portuguese coach.
The former Chelsea manager is facing the end of his turbulent three-year reign at Real if United win the forthcoming last-16 tie, with assistant coach Aitor Karanka being viewed as a potential caretaker boss until the summer.
Perez staged an unscheduled press conference in Madrid yesterday to deny reports in Spanish newspaper 'Marca', a publication with close links to Real, that senior players Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos had delivered an ultimatum to the club's hierarchy .
It was claimed they had insisted that there would be an exodus of star names at the end of the season should Mourinho remain in charge.
Mourinho, who this week admitted it would be "impossible" for Real to close a 15-point gap on Barcelona to retain the La Liga title, is likely to have to face United next month without goalkeeper Casillas following confirmation that the Spain No 1 suffered a broken thumb during their Copa del Rey quarter-final against Valencia.
Rumours of discontent within the Real dressing-room have been rife this season, with Mourinho dropping Ramos for the Champions League victory against Manchester City last September, before relegating Casillas to the substitutes' bench in favour of the inexperienced Antonio Adan in recent weeks.
But despite 'Marca' claims of an ultimatum, which were defended last night by the paper's editor Oscar Campillo, Perez insisted that there has been no call by the players for Mourinho to be dismissed.
"I am breaking my rule of not talking about the day-to-day of the club in order to say that it is absolutely false," Perez said. "There is no ultimatum nor anything or the sort.
"It seems that publishing the story was more important than it being true. I know what I am saying is hard, but an ethical line has been crossed.
"If they ('Marca') want to destabilise the club, they will find me standing before them."
Although Casillas and Ramos subsequently followed Perez by issuing a five-point statement on Real's website, admitting to meeting Perez and chief executive Jose Angel Sanchez but denying any ultimatum was issued, it is understood that the club will part company with Mourinho should they be eliminated from the Champions League by United.
Sources close to Real claim that Perez has resisted the opportunity to sack Mourinho on the basis of the poor league form and dressing-room disharmony to avoid being made the scapegoat should United win the two-legged tie.
However, should Mourinho oversee a Real defeat against United, thereby ending the club's hopes of a 10th European Cup this season, Perez would be in a position of strength to terminate his contract.
While Mourinho's recent decision to drop Casillas in favour of Adan has been roundly criticised by the Madrid-based media and supporters, the injury suffered against Valencia remains a major blow ahead of the United clash.
Real's medical department revealed that Casillas suffered a "fracture at the base of the first metacarpal (thumb bone) on his left hand" during Wednesday's fixture, with the 31-year-old facing between four weeks and three months on the sidelines with the injury.
Although Casillas' replacement, Adan, has Champions League experience this season, having played in the 4-1 group stage victory against Ajax in Amsterdam, the 25-year-old was sent off just five minutes into his appearance against Real Sociedad earlier this month after giving away a penalty.
Should the injury prove less serious than initially anticipated, Casillas could return in time for the second leg against United at Old Trafford on March 5 – a game which could decide Mourinho's Real future once and for all. (© Daily Telegraph, London)