More questions than answers for Mourinho after Rayo stroll

Posted by Rob Train

There were a a number of subplots to Real Madrid's pedestrian 2-0 win over Rayo Vallecano on Sunday night. The one that most piqued the interest of the Spanish media was Jose Mourinho's off-the-cuff response to a question from an intrepid Canal-plus reporter, who asked whether he might be in interested in translating his brand of management to Ligue 1. "It's a possibility, but I do not know when," replied the Real coach. "I cannot say when. Why not?"

It was a curious response, coming just days after the Portuguese schemer claimed his next job would be in England. His likely destination would, of course, be Paris Saint-Germain, the only club in the French top flight with the finances to cover the exorbitant wages of Mourinho and his back-room staff.

It seems inevitable Mourinho and Real will part company at the end of the season. Talk of a locker-room rift refuses to go away and Sergio Ramos responded to the manager's tacit, though nameless, criticism of his positioning for Danny Welbeck's goal in the Champions League tie against Manchester United last week by archly stating: "I was brought up not to point the finger at my colleagues."

"Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho are objectives for Paris Saint-Germain, of course," PSG president Sheikh Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said in December. "PSG are one of the best clubs in the world. Ever since day one, our goal has been to win the Champions League. We are already one of the best teams in France, and it's our goal to become one of the best in Europe and the world, too."

Certainly PSG is Mourinho's equal in terms of ambition and it would quite a coup for the Ligue 1 side to land both the Portuguese coach and Ronaldo. The money is there, as PSG has proven with the signings of Javier Pastore, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and more recently Lucas Moura. The addition of Ronaldo would certainly give PSG the finest forward line in the world. Whether or not Mourinho could keep order in a locker room containing Ibrahimovic is doubtful given his handling of notable firebrand Iker Casillas, his deputy Ramos and company at Real Madrid.

But PSG's pipe dreams aside, Ramos saw his name go into the referee's book twice in the space of a minute to earn his 16th sending off in a Real Madrid shirt. At just 27, Ramos has already broken the club and Liga record for career sendings-off and is now just two short of the all-time record held by former Czech international Tomas Repka, who made Ramos look like a girl scout. Authorities almost had to invent a new color of card for the bruising defender, whose antics included more than just verbal assaults on match officials.

Perhaps Ramos did not stick quite as closely to Wellbeck as he would ordinarily have done because he was one caution from missing the second leg. Although his sending off Sunday was harsh, the former Sevilla defender is not quite as untouchable in the Bernabeu hierarchy as he once was, having been shunted back out on to the right of defense to make way for Raphael Varane Sunday.

The French defender is blossoming into a fine central defender under Mourinho's tutelage, having been recommended to the club by Zinedine Zidane and picked up from Lens after just a few first-team appearances. Quite what Antonio Adan, at the club since 1997, makes of Varane's fast-tracking is anybody's guess. The Spanish goalkeeper has gone from first choice to fourth in six weeks after Mourinho sent a message to Casillas by condemning the sainted one to the bench for the first time in a decade.

Adan promptly threw in a bit of a stinker at Malaga and then got sent off after five minutes against Real Sociedad.

Banished to the stands Sunday, Adan's place on the bench was taken by Jesus Fernandez, who is not even the first-choice keeper for Castilla. Promoting Adan in such circumstances was a remarkable gamble by Mourinho and one that has blown up spectacularly in his face. It will be a surprise if Adan makes another first-team appearance for Real -- Diego Lopez was snapped up not on loan but on a 4 1/2-year deal.

Alvaro Morata was handed a starting berth ahead of Karim Benzema and promptly scored Real's opener, only to be the sacrificial substitute when Ramos received his marching orders.

What happened after that was perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening. Kaka, who had looked lively in the opening exchanges and played a part in Morata's goal, reverted to a more defensive role in the absence of the resting Xabi Alonso when Real went down to 10 men.

Not only did Kaka prove his tactical dexterity after the switch -- at one stage mopping up behind Pepe as last man -- he also showed a good deal of lung capacity for a part-timer in an all-action performance that once again left this observer at least asking the 30-million-euro question.

Luka Modric, suspended for the game, will have been another uncomfortable spectator as Kaka showed what Mourinho and Real have had languishing on the bench. Far from a starter himself, the Croatian probably imagined he had seen off the challenge of Kaka to his substitute's spot. The Brazilian may yet have a say in the destiny of his side's campaign.

Real now has a rare midweek off before a Liga match against Deportivo, where Alonso will again be absent and Ramos suspended -- more question marks for Mourinho before the serious business of Barcelona and Manchester United begins again; two games that will define a season that has already been one of the most bizarre and contentious in the club's recent history.

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