The last few months of 2012 have been some of the most miserable for Real Madrid in the club’s recent history. As Los Blancos could not win their last game of the year against Malaga, succumbing 3-2 to the Andalucians, questions marks are being thrown into the air as to why the team have now slipped a full 16 points behind league leaders Barcelona, after having cruised steadily to their 32nd league title last term.

The Spanish crown is now almost certainly going back to Catalonia. Wearing pre-match shirts that displayed “Anims” and a picture of Tito Vilanova, after their coach underwent another procedure to remove the cancer that affected his parotid gland, Barcelona showed no hesitation in disposing of Real Valladolid 3-1.

The pressure was understandably all on Real Madrid’s shoulders. Jose Mourinho’s side just had to slash the gap back to 13 points in the hope that 2013 will be a better year for them. However, their ambitions quickly turned sour as the reigning champions could not cut the mustard against a dedicated Malaga side, leaving La Rosaleda with nothing but sadness.

But the biggest surprise of the night was the omission of team captain Iker Casillas at the expense of understudy Antonio Adan. Real Madrid’s number 13 certainly did not impress when given the chance, and after declaring war on the fans’ number one figure, Mourinho is hardly doing his best to keep his job. As a matter of fact, it seems more certain than ever that he will be leaving the club in June – if not before.

What looks even more obvious is that the coach no longer commands the obedience of his dressing room. Ever since replacing Manuel Pellegrini in May 2010, Mourinho has had his fair share of quarrels with Real Madrid’s big names, including Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Mesut Ozil.

Speaking after the game against Malaga, the former Inter boss stood by his decision to exclude World Cup-winning skipper Casillas, even going as far as to state that Adan is a better option. “It was the coach’s decision. I analysed the situation and chose the team. You [the press] can invent whatever you want, but the decision is purely technical. It is my opinion and I am the one who chose him after listening to my assistants”, asserted Mourinho.

The Portuguese rarely seems anything other than confident, but he did not trick anyone into thinking that the decision to drop Casillas is related to footballing matters. The manager and his skipper rarely see eye-to-eye, and Mourinho has particularly disliked Casillas’ good relationship with Barcelona figures such as Carles Puyol and Xavi.

The man from Setubal has always known how to make an impact on a dressing room. He is still highly regarded by his former players John Terry and Didier Drogba, embracing a crying Marco Materazzi outside the Santiago Bernabeu after winning the Champions League with Inter in 2010 speaks volumes as to just how much he influenced the former Italy international.

But to Mourinho’s eyes, his current crop of players do not support him the way they should. His players have never been vocal like their boss and do not tend to point out refereeing mistakes or poor conditions whenever things do not go their way.

A first incident occurred when Sergio Ramos refused to let the players take the blame for a 1-0 defeat to Sevilla back in September. Mourinho famously declared that he had "no team", while Ramos responded that the time was not appropriate for criticism to be levelled. The player was subsequently benched for the following game in a 3-2 home win against Manchester City. Differences between the two continued to surface and Ramos’ display of Mesut Ozil’s shirt underneath his own, as the German was struggling for form, in a 5-1 win against Deportivo La Coruna, was the latest act of war between the manager and the centre-back.

And the same has happened with Iker Casillas now. Speculation of unrest between captain and manager surfaced as the goalkeeper headed to the bench and did not lead his side onto the pitch at La Rosaleda.

Despite this however, Casillas has not been vocal about his differences with Mourinho. When asked about his boss at the start of the month, the custodian gave the right answer: “When he is angry it is rightly so because we might not have done well on the pitch.”
It was the perfect response on Casillas’ part, blaming the squad for the team’s failures this season. Jorge Valdano, the former sporting director who fell victim to the power struggle between himself and Mourinho during the latter’s first season at Real Madrid, saw in the goalkeeper’s exclusion nothing more than an act of strength from the Portuguese. “It is a display of power, it is decision to impose his will upon a legend of the club.” Even president Florentino Perez was puzzled by his coach’s decision and looked shocked after learning the news.

However, the club remain committed at the moment to the two-time Champions League winning coach. Speaking at Alfredo di Stefano’s insignia award ceremony earlier this month, Perez showed his manager a vote of confidence despite his decreasing popularity amongst Madridistas. “We have built a dream team with the ability to overcome any challenge and we have the best manager in the world, who demands the highest standards from his team. He has been on the receiving end of unfair criticism and damaging comments and some have affected his dignity as a person. Mourinho has my recognition, my confidence in his work and my affection.”

This position was confirmed by Los Blancos director of public relations Emilio Butragueno, who declared that Casillas’ confinement to the bench was the coach’s decision, and should be respected. “It is a technical decision of the coach that we respect", said the former Real Madrid striker.

In some quarters it has been speculated that the controversial decision was deliberately taken by Mourinho to move him closer to the exit door. The coach appears aware that his cycle in the Spanish capital may be coming to an end and has long been linked with landing at Paris Saint-Germain following his Spanish stint. Interest in him has been confirmed by PSG chief Sheikh Bin Abdul Rahman Al-Thani, who commented on 18th December: “Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho are objectives for Paris Saint-Germain, of course."

What is clear is that the Real Madrid hierarchy are sticking with their coach at the moment. However, it may be all change in the summer as presidential elections are to be held. Florentino Perez is still expected to win, but with a growing list of voices jeering Mourinho at every home game and with an increasing gap between his man and the players, a decision to part ways with the “Special One” looks to be very likely to be taken in the near future.