Real Madrid stars Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos denied on Thursday reports that they had demanded that the club fire coach Jose Mourinho before next season.
The league champions have seen their performances improve at the halfway point in the season, but have won little respite from reports of tension in the dressing room.
Top sports paper Marca, a pro-Real daily, splashed a claim that Casillas and Ramos had given the club management an ultimatum at a meeting on Tuesday, headlined “It’s Mou or us.”
Casillas and Ramos, two influential members of the Real squad who have reportedly clashed with the Portuguese coach, rejected the report and president Florentino Perez branded it an attempt to “destabilize” the club.
“No kind of ultimatum was ever made by us concerning our coach” at the meeting, the two players said in a statement. “We want to demonstrate our support for our coach, Jose Mourinho, to whom we owe the utmost respect.”
Marca said the two had told club Perez that several players were ready to leave the club if Mourinho remained in charge for next season.
Mourinho kept Casillas — a hero of Real Madrid and the Spanish national teams that won the last World Cup and two European championships — on the bench for two recent matches.
The coach said it was a question of the goalkeeper’s form, but the move was widely interpreted as a bid by Mourinho to assert his authority over Casillas, whom he reportedly sees as a dissenter in the dressing room.
Casillas is now out of action with a fractured thumb.
Ramos was left on the bench following a defeat by Sevilla, and later appeared to defy Mourinho by visibly wearing under his strip the name of his teammate Mesut Ozil, who was being sidelined from the squad.
Perez, a construction magnate, said he had met on Tuesday with Casillas and Ramos as well as Real Madrid director general Jose Angel Sanchez, but denied the details reported by Marca.
“What was published is simply a lie,” Perez told a news conference at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
“The meeting was to agree on the bonuses to be given players for various competitions. It is completely false that during this meeting we received such an ultimatum,” he said.
The editor of Marca, Oscar Campillo, acknowledged there may not have been an “ultimatum” as such, but stood by the story that various Real players were thinking of leaving if Mourinho stayed.
Over recent months the Spanish media has been full of reports of a rift in the dressing room between Mourinho and heavyweights such as Casillas and Ramos complaining about his aloof style.
Last week Marca reported that star striker Cristiano Ronaldo clashed with Mourinho after the Portuguese coach criticized his performance in the final minutes of the side’s 2-0 win over Valencia in the first leg of their Spanish Cup quarter-final tie.
A poll published in the newspaper earlier this month said Real Madrid supporters have also started to lose faith in Mourinho: 54.4 percent said he should stay next season and 41.8 percent said it was time for him to go.
Real won the Spanish league last year, but are lagging in third this season with 40 points, 15 behind their arch-rivals, league leaders Barcelona, and seven behind city rivals Atletico.
Mourinho has admitted the league title is out of reach this season, but Real have qualified for the semi-finals of the Spanish Cup, where they will face Barcelona, and host Manchester United on Feb. 13 in the first leg of the Champions League quarter finals.