CHELSEA face a race to get Zinedine Zidane appointed as their next manager as Real Madrid and Juventus are circling.
The French boss is the man the Blues want to replace Maurizio Sarri and all parties were willing to wait until the end of the season to make the change.
But Real’s shock exit from the Champions League, with the 4-1 meltdown against Ajax in the Bernabeu, means things are moving behind the scenes in Madrid.
Zidane, 46, has been approached by Real president Florentino Perez about a return to the club he led to three consecutive Champions League triumphs.
But Perez was one of the main reasons Zidane left his post last summer and he will not return whilst he runs the club.
Ramon Calderon, the former Real president, is gaining support behind the scenes at the Bernabeu and he could force a presidential election.
If he were to get back in power, Zidane WOULD seriously consider snubbing Chelsea for a return to Spain.
Zidane is close to agreeing a deal with Chelsea to take over, but any move to rush the change had been put on hold after Sarri’s upturn in fortunes.
Chelsea lost the Carabao Cup final on penalties to Man City but the club were delighted with how Sarri dealt with the fallout of keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refusing to be substituted.
The Blues then beat London rivals Spurs and and Fulham to bring themselves back into the race for the top four.
MORE CHELSEA STORIES
Chelsea are also going well in the Europa League with a last-16 tie against Dynamo Kiev this evening.
Sarri is under no illusions that his job is still under threat but the club have taken note of how he has turned things around.
But the movements at Real and Juve could persuade them to move quickly for top target Zidane.
Santiago Solari is currently caretaker boss at Real until the end of the season but is under increasing pressure after the club’s worst run of results in nine years.
And it is not only Real courting Zidane, with Juventus starting to plan for life without Massimiliano Allegri.
Zidane has never made a secret of his desire to manage Juve at some point in his career, having played more than 150 times for them.
Juve boss Allegri – another who could interest Real – will discuss his future with chairman Andrea Agnelli this week.
He has told close pals that he wants to move on to another challenge after winning four straight Serie A titles.
Allegri was interested in a move to Barcelona before current manager Ernesto Valverde signed a new deal.
It is understood that Allegri is very keen on working in the Premier League is he missed out on the Real job.
Chelsea’s transfer ban is also a major stumbling block for Zidane, who wants the freedom to transform the squad.
Blues top brass have appealed the two-year ban on signing players after being found guilty of at least 29 breaches during the signing of foreign minors.