Real president Perez appeals for unity in divided club

Updated: 2013-05-08 05:51

By Reuters in Madrid (China Daily)

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 Real president Perez appeals for unity in divided club

Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho (right) has stirred up simmering divisions within the club by having a dig at popular captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas, whom he recently dropped in favor of Diego Lopez. Provided to China Daily

Sniping comments between Jose Mourinho and members of the Real Madrid squad have caused President Florentino Perez to make a rare foray into the limelight to call for unity at the club during the season run-in.

The nine-time European champion hosts Malaga in La Liga on Wednesday, in a rearranged fixture due to its involvement in the May 17 King's Cup final against Atletico Madrid.

Second-place Real must win to make leader Barcelona wait to be crowned champion, as it trails Tito Vilanova's side by 11 points with four games left.

Anything less than a victory would gift Barca a fourth league crown in five years without having to play.

Speculation over Mourinho's future has gone into overdrive since Real was denied a place in the Champions League final by Borussia Dortmund last week, and the Portuguese has done little to quash it.

Instead, Mourinho stirred up simmering divisions at the club last Friday by having a dig at popular club captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who he has dropped in favor of Diego Lopez.

The Bernabeu cheered Casillas' name when it was read out among the substitutes at the stadium before the team's 4-3 league win over Real Valladolid on Saturday. Mourinho's name was whistled by a large section of the crowd.

Pepe, a player regarded as a Mourinho favorite, and Sergio Ramos have since made comments in support of Casillas in local media.

"We have two big challenges in front of us with the Euroleague (basketball) Final Four and the King's Cup final," Perez said on Monday.

"We should be united for the fans, and give our all. Our players will do that."

Real's league challenge is effectively over, but it defends a 42-match unbeaten record in all competitions at the Bernabeu against a side suffering similar end-of-season symptoms, Malaga.

Since its Champions League quarterfinal exit, also to Dortmund, Manuel Pellegrini's side has steadily slipped out of contention for a top-four finish.

The Costa del Sol club is sixth with 53 points and is beset by rumors over the future of coach Pellegrini and possibly even its Qatari owners.

"We have to finish the year well so as not to spoil the season we have had," Malaga's Brazil forward Julio Baptista said.

"It would be a shame not to get the points that would earn us a place in Europe.

"Although it is tough, we must forget about what is happening off the pitch. There are lots of non-football related issues, but the most important are the football ones."

Third-place Atletico visits relegation-threatened Celta Vigo on Wednesday looking to make the last automatic qualification berth for the Champions League mathematically safe.

(China Daily 05/08/2013 page22)