Mourinho In 50th Birthday No-Show

MADRID: Under-fire Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho again chose not to face the Madrid-based media as he celebrated his 50th birthday on Saturday but told Italian TV he was certain he would win at least one more Champions League title before he retires, reported Reuters.

Mourinho's Real side have stuttered in the first half of the season and the combative Portuguese has been at loggerheads with the Spanish press, who have been quick to seize on any sign of disharmony off the pitch.

Coverage of the Spanish champions was dominated this week by a report in Marca sports daily that club captains Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos had threatened to leave along with several teammates unless Mourinho was dismissed.

Real president Florentino Perez said the newspaper was lying and trying to destabilize the club but Marca has stuck by the story, the latest in a string of reports suggesting all is not well between the manager and some leading players.

Performances have been erratic and Real have slipped 15 points behind Primera Liga leaders Barcelona, whom they host on Wednesday in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final.

Elimination followed by defeat by Manchester United in the looming Champions League last 16 tie would almost certainly end Real's hopes of silverware this season and increase the pressure on Perez to replace Mourinho, lured at great expense from Inter Milan in 2010.

While Mourinho, who has barely spoken to reporters since the turn of the year, again opted not to give the customary news conference the day before a Real game, a television interview with him was broadcast on Saturday by Italy's RAI.

He said he did not know if he would add to the Champions League titles he won with Porto in 2004 and Inter Milan in 2010 as Real manager but a third would certainly come.

"What I cannot say is whether I will achieve it this season, but in the 15 or 20 years left in my coaching career I will do it," he said.

His first 50 years had passed very quickly, he added, before opening the door to a possible return to Inter.

"In any case, 50 is a nice number which allows you to assess all that has happened," he said.

"There are a lot of things still to be done and one may be returning to Inter, why not?"

Raphael Varane, Real's 19-year-old French centerback, was sent out instead of Mourinho to answer reporters' questions ahead of Sunday's home Primera Liga game against Getafe and he said Mourinho had the players' full support.

"We are all behind the manager who is the best in the world," said Varane.

"The media are being tough on him but he is doing a good job and all this is not necessary."

Varane added the squad had given Mourinho a signed photograph taken during the wild celebrations after they sealed the Primera Liga title by beating Athletic Bilbao last season.

Real have a number of injury problems ahead of the Getafe match and Wednesday's Copa game, with Casillas sidelined for up to three months with a broken hand and Varane's fellow centrerback Pepe still recovering from ankle surgery.

"Losing Iker could destabilize the team but I don't think it will change all that much," said Varane.

Real have brought in Diego Lopez from Sevilla as cover for Casillas and the former Spain goalkeeper was included in the squad for the Getafe game.

- mD