José Mourinho knew he was taking a gamble by dropping Iker Casillas for the game against Málaga but he could not have expected it to backfire so spectacularly. Casillas, the Spain No1 who had not been left out of a Real Madrid team for an important fixture for 10 years, sat on the bench – in ridiculous red and black socks drawn up above his knees – and watched as the reserve goalkeeper Antonio Adán conceded three goals (two of them from the Manchester City reject Roque Santa Cruz) in Málaga's 3-2 win.
Mourinho said the decision was "purely technical" and, asked whether he believed Adán was the better keeper, he said: "In my opinion? Of course.
"The coach analyses the situation and analyses the players available, chooses the team to play. You can invent all the stories you like but it's a purely technical decision and nothing more."
Adán could do little to prevent Málaga's first and third goals but was perhaps guilty of leaving his near post exposed for their second, when a first-time shot from Santa Cruz squeezed past him.
But in a couple of weeks no one will remember how Adán played, only that Casillas was dropped and that Real lost. In that respect, this could turn out to be Mourinho's Ruud Gullit moment? In August 1999 the then Newcastle United manager dropped the captain, Alan Shearer, for the derby against Sunderland. Newcastle lost 2-1. Gullit left the club three days later.
Casillas, too, is the club captain and the Real defender Sergio Ramos was only one of several players who was surprised by the 31-year-old's omission. "Of course [I was surprised], he is usually the captain of this team and I think he will remain so as he is a great goalkeeper."
The decision to drop one of the best goalkeepers in the world, although his form has been unusually uneven this season, is particularly intriguing as it comes only a week after Mourinho had a heated discussion with the Marca journalist, Antón Meana, in which he referred to having "three rotten eggs" in the squad.
It was supposed to be a private conversation but one got the feeling Mourinho did not mind it reaching the public, which it did a day later when Marca published a full account of the confrontation during which the manager is alleged to have said to Meana: "In the footballing world, me and my people are at the top and in the world of journalism you are a piece of crap."
Mourinho is becoming more and more erratic. There is almost a sense he does not care if Real fire him or not. A few weeks ago Mourinho had offered the fans the chance to vent any frustration with him by coming out at the Bernabéu 40 minutes before the derby against Atlético – a reaction to jeers during a Copa del Rey tie against lower league Alcoyano a few days earlier. Only 5,000 fans were there at the time so it was difficult to judge how the majority of Real fans were feeling but Mourinho was certainly not backing down from a confrontation.
Still, they qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League from a very difficult group without too much trouble and if it is one thing Real crave this season, it is success in Europe.
Also, it is difficult to see who would replace Mourinho if Real decide that enough is enough. The Germany manager, Joachim Löw, said this week that he is not interested in taking over at the Bernabéu and Arsène Wenger, a long-term target, is unlikely to leave Arsenal. Rafael Benítez dropped a somewhat strange hint that he is thinking about taking over at the Spanish champions but, considering he is on a short-term contract at Chelsea, he would not be available until the summer anyway.
So, just like last season when details of unrest between Mourinho and Casillas/Ramos appeared in the press, an uneasy truce is likely to be forthcoming. There does not seem to be any other options. And despite all the problems last season, Real won the league and were one spectacular Bayern Munich performance away from reaching the Champions League final last season.
Expect Mourinho to fight on, and to be in charge of Real when the Champions League resumes in February. Sir Alex Ferguson will have noted the result against Málaga and the furore over Casillas, but he will also be fully aware that it will count for nothing when his Manchester United faces the enigma that is José Mourinho on 12 February.