FOOTBALL SOLARI OPEN TO TAKING MADRID JOB FULL-TIME
▶ Interim manager and former Real player refuses to rule himself out of the running to replace sacked Lopetegui
Santiago Solari has refused to rule out turning his temporary stint into a full-time role after being placed in charge of Real Madrid following Julen Lopetegui’s sacking on Monday.
The Argentine, who enjoyed a successful playing career at the Bernabeu at the start of the century, will lead Madrid in their match against third-tier Melilla in the Copa del Rey today.
Solari has been promoted on an interim basis from his role in charge of Real Madrid Castilla, the Spanish giant’s B team, for the first leg, last-32 encounter on the tiny Spanish city off the north coast of Africa.
Lopetegui was relieved of his duties after Sunday’s 5-1 defeat to arch-rivals Barcelona in the first clasico of the season.
Spanish league rules mean the 42-year-old Argentine can only manage as an interim for two weeks.
His audition for the long-term role begins with the seemingly simple task of dispatching Melilla, who sit second in Segunda Division B Group 4, and he refused to rule himself out of the running on the eve of the contest.
“I’m going to go into things very positively,” Solari said at his opening press conference yesterday.
“I will do everything I can. It’s a great opportunity and it’s a great club. I don’t just say that now as coach of the first team. I’ve been here with other teams, I’ve played and sweated in the shirt of this club.
“Madrid is bigger than all of us but it touches us all with its greatness. I want to be a part of it.”
Solari, who won two La Ligas and one Uefa Champions League at Madrid from 200005, led training yesterday as speculation over who will be appointed as Lopetegui’s permanent successor continues.
The former Spain manager lost his job after a run of five defeats in seven games, culminating in a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of La Liga leaders Barcelona at Camp Nou which leaves Madrid ninth in the table.
The likes of former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Tottenham Hotspur’s Mauricio Pochettino have all been linked to the vacancy, while talks to lure former Juventus and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte to the Bernabeu have stalled.
The National understands that Madrid’s preference has switched to Roberto Martinez, the Spaniard in charge of the Belgium national team.
Solari could yet land the post full-time, though, if the club decide to promote from within their own coaching system.
Lopetegui succeeded Zinedine Zidane as Real Madrid manager – the former France midfielder having also managed the club’s B team before being taking over from Rafa Benitez in January 2016.
Zidane left in the summer after winning three Uefa Champions League titles in a row and Solari is not ready to draw comparisons just yet.
“With respect to Zinedine Zidane, he is one of the greatest things we have had at the club,” he said.
“All of the adjectives you can think of are not enough to describe Zizou, he is very calm, a great coach and nobody can be compared to him.”
After taking his first training session, Solari got the feeling he is about to start working with a squad wanting to set the record straight.
“They are a bit hurt,” he added. “They really want to change things and turn things around, it is a group of hard workers and players who have won a lot of things for this club.
“It is not the easiest situation but I saw them in a mood to turn things around and change things.”
Melilla will be massive underdogs heading into the round-of-32 clash but manager Luis Carrion is targeting more upset for the 19-time Copa del Rey winners.
“I do not want it to look arrogant but our goal is to fight to go through,” he said.
“The draw gave us Madrid and the goal is to beat them – we have to think big.
“We play against a better team but the idea is not going to change.
“The harder the challenge, the braver we must be. We do not have to be suicidal, but we have to be brave and try to get what we want to happen on the pitch.”
Real Madrid’s interim manager Santiago Solari takes charge of his first first-team training session ahead of a Copa del Rey tie against Spanish third-tier outfit Melilla tonight