MADRID • Santiago Solari took his first training session and then faced the media as interim Real Madrid coach yesterday, calling on his hurting players to show character in their first match after the sacking of Julen Lopetegui.
Solari has 14 days to stake a claim to a permanent role according to Spanish football rules, starting with the Copa del Rey last-32 trip to third division club Melilla today.
The European champions must then decide whether to appoint him permanently or find another coach to replace Lopetegui, who was sacked on Monday after the weekend's 5-1 LaLiga rout at Barcelona.
With Dani Carvajal, Marcelo, Mariano Diaz and Rafael Varane sidelined though injury, Solari called up his former charges Javi Sanchez, Alex, Fran Garcia, Sergio Lopez and Adrian de la Fuente from the B team, Castilla.
The former Los Blancos midfielder will almost certainly use the trip to the Spanish enclave on the north coast of Morocco to give minutes to some fringe players.
But he is also aware of the need for a positive result for a team who have gone eight hours without scoring, and lost five and won only one of their past seven matches.
He said: "The idea is to go to Melilla and play with two b****.
READY TO BOUNCE BACK
The idea is to go to Melilla and play with two b**** (show character). The group are hurting, but very eager to get started and to turn the situation around. It's a group of champions and warriors.
SANTIAGO SOLARI, interim Real Madrid coach, on what the plan is today for his first match in charge.
"The group are hurting, but very eager to get started and to turn the situation around. It's a group of champions and warriors."
The Argentinian was asked if he was the new Zinedine Zidane, who stepped up from the B team after Rafael Benitez's January 2016 sacking and led Real to three straight Champions League triumphs.
But Solari is not encouraging comparisons with the Frenchman.
"Leave Zidane in peace, he's one of the biggest Madrid legends," he said. "There are no adjectives to describe him. He must be left alone in his greatness."
Solari, who joined from rivals Atletico Madrid, played with Zidane in Real's midfield from 2001 to 2005, before moving to Inter Milan. He returned in 2013 to take charge of one of the youth teams before being promoted to the B team in 2016.
The 42-year-old has not ruled out taking on the challenge of a squad that has weakened over the past three years and becoming Lopetegui's permanent successor.
He said: "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."
He should be at the helm for the home league game with Real Valladolid on Saturday and next week's European trip to Viktoria Plzen.
Real have sounded out former Chelsea and Juventus coach Antonio Conte but initial talks have stalled. Belgium boss Roberto Martinez and the club's former midfielder Guti have also been linked.
Conte's lawsuit against the Blues over his sacking is thought to be an impediment, while the Real dressing room is not receptive to his disciplinarian and abrasive style.
Real captain Sergio Ramos had made it clear that he did not welcome the prospect. Asked about the prospect of a manager like Conte with mano dura - an iron fist - arriving at the Bernabeu, he replied: "Respect is earned, not imposed."
Although he did not name them, he was clearly referring to Vicente del Bosque, Carlo Ancelotti and Zidane - none of whom is authoritarian and who all had a close relationship with the squad - when he added: "We have had success with coaches that I don't need to name but you all know. Sometimes knowing how to manage a dressing room is more important than technical ability."
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN