Real Madrid are one of, if not the most decorated club in European football. Their rich history, rife with domestic and European glory, is testament to the club's global outreach and scouting networks. International superstars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo Nazario, Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Gareth Bale have represented Los Blancos and helped them achieve success.
Real Madrid gained major recognition in the 1950s and 1960s when they won the European Cup (now known as the Champions League) an unprecedented six times. Real Madrid's successes also meant that they attracted some of the best managers from across the globe.
Some former players such as Zinedine Zidane and Alfredo di Stefano have returned to manage the club they once played for, bringing glory with them. Zidane became the first manager in history to complete the Champions League three-peat, winning back-to-back in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
It is safe to say the job comes under immense pressure from chairman Florentino Perez and the board, as well as unrelenting fans who demand the most. While we have seen managers grasp this opportunity with both hands, there have been some who did not get up to speed.
This article takes a brief look at five managers who passed-up the opportunity to manage Real Madrid.
Top managers who refused the Real Madrid coaching gig
#5 Antonio Conte
Antonio Conte began his managerial career as Siena's assistant coach before becoming full-time manager at Arezzo in 2006. Since then, the Italian has had a largely successful career managing in Serie A and the Premier League. Conte was also coach of the Italian national side between 2014-16.
Following a spell with Chelsea between 2016-18 in which Conte won the Premier League, he was one of the hottest properties in the coach's market in world football.
Known for his fiery and passionate approach, Conte was shortlisted by a few big clubs in Europe as a potential candidate - Real Madrid being one of them.
However, when Conte was approached by Real Madrid to become their manager in 2018, he refused. There was speculation as to what the true reason was, but Conte was adamant he needed a break after a long run as manager.
Antonio Conte was deemed the ideal successor for Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid. However, due to mismatching timelines and situations, we did not get to see it happen as we had hoped.
#4 Massimiliano Allegri
Massimiliano Allegri has established himself as an astute manager with tactical knowledge and efficient man-management skills. He managed the likes of Sassuolo and AC Milan before taking over as Juventus manager in 2014 for his first spell in charge.
Allegri won Serie A five times with Juve and the Coppa Italia four times. He took them to the UEFA Champions League final twice (2015, 2017), losing out on both occasions. He was named the best coach in Serie A for the remarkable 2016-17 season he had with Juventus.
Before his return to management with Juventus in 2021, Allegri admitted he was approached by Real Madrid to be their manager. Los Blancos were keen on bringing the Italian to Spain to replace the outgoing Zinedine Zidane. However, Allegri declined. He picked Juve instead, explaining his decision by saying:
“I must thank Real Madrid president for the opportunity he gave me. I picked Juventus because of my love for this club and because I believe in this young team."
He thanked Real Madrid subtly, by saying:
“I thank the other clubs who had made an offer to me, but I woke up in the morning and called Andrea [Agnelli], asking him for a meeting. I am grateful he allowed me to return to coaching and win, which is what matters the most. I watched many games during my time off, especially at the end of the second year."
Hinting at one of the big reasons for his return to Juve, Allegri concluded:
“I begin a new chapter at Juventus, this team is made of many young players who need to develop. There are also experienced players, such as Ronaldo, Chiellini and Bonucci. These three must be an added value for the club and the team, bringing experience and technique on the pitch, but they must also be role models for the young players. What we did will remain in history. Two years ago we decided to part ways, now we start from scratch to achieve our goals."
Cristiano Ronaldo's incredible transfer from Real Madrid to Juventus seems to have tipped the scale in the Old Lady's favor. Allegri is currently Juventus' manager and will hope to build a squad to challenge for a Champions League spot next season.
#3 Julian Nagelsmann
Julian Nagelsmann caught the average football fan's eye while managing at 1899 Hoffenheim in Germany. He was appointed by the club aged just 28, making him the youngest manager in Bundesliga history.
From 17th and seven points from safety in February, Nagelsmann rescued Hoffenheim to finish a spot above the relegation zone at the end of his first season.
Hoffenheim continued their strong run of form into the next season as they finished an incredible fourth in the Bundesliga. They also qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history.
Following that, he had a two-year spell at RB Leipzig where Nagelsmann became the youngest coach to win a Champions League knockout fixture. He is currently in charge of Bayern Munich having made an astronomical ascent to the top of German football.
Nagelsmann revealed last year that he rejected Real Madrid in 2018, citing linguistic barriers as well as time constraints as his reasons. Nagelsmann said:
"I said that it made no sense at the time. It would only have been three weeks until the start of training, I could barely speak Spanish. That would not have been enough for me or Madrid."
In hindsight, it seems like the smartest move for both Nagelsmann and Real Madrid, with both parties tasting success in good quantities since then.
#2 Mauricio Pochettino
Former Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino was Real Madrid chairman Florentino Perez's first choice to become their manager in the summer of 2018. However, Los Blancos faced stiff competition from Spurs' local rivals Manchester United.
The Argentine manager made a name for himself with Spurs, creating an exciting side with a blend of youth and experience. Poch is often credited with developing Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son, who are currently the mainstays of the Spurs' offense.
However, Pochettino was Real Madrid's top choice to become manager in 2018, but declined. He cited Spurs' young and upcoming squad, combined with their stadium redevelopment, as the main reasons for turning Los Blancos down. When asked why he didn't join Real Madrid, Pochettino said:
"I was happy at Tottenham and I signed a contract, and we [his staff and Spurs] finished very well. The relationship is impeccable."
The Argentine was sacked by Spurs and now manages Paris Saint-Germain. In hindsight, he may not have many complaints considering the squad he has at his disposal with the likes of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar. What he could have done at Real Madrid, though, will forever remain a football fantasy story.
#1 Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger enjoyed more than two decades of top quality Premier League football competition during his 22-year tenure as Arsenal manager. He is the only manager in modern history to go an entire Premier League season unbeaten (2003-04).
In the present day, the Frenchman works as the Head of Global Operations for FIFA. Here is a quote by a regretful Wenger made in hindsight:
Like any other top quality manager experienced, Arsene Wenger, too, was courted by Real Madrid to become their manager. Wenger revealed in 2019 that the Spanish giants approached him more than once throughout his career. Wenger explained why he stayed with the Gunners, saying:
"I've turned down Real Madrid more than once. I must say now it's over for me. I feel if you ask any manager in the world, would you be interested in coaching Real Madrid? Everybody would say yes - it's the biggest club in the world."
When asked whether his love for Arsenal played a part in his decision, Wenger added:
"Yes, we live always to our values. It was in the middle of a process where we built the stadium, we had to pay it back, I guaranteed I would stay and I am quite happy with my decision."
Going by his statements, it is likely that the first instance was in the early 2000s when Los Blancos were peaking with their Galacticos squad. The second one seems to be after his tenure at Arsenal was over, in 2018, when Madrid were on the lookout for someone to replace Zidane.
However, Arsenal fans worldwide will be grateful for Wenger's loyalty and service to the club during his time in charge.