Real Madrid have set their sights on Tottenham's Mauricio Pochettino as the top candidate to be their new manager in the wake of Zinedine Zidane's resignation, according to multiple reports from both Spain and England.
Pochettino signed a new contract five-year contract with Tottenham last week, but The Guardian and Indepedent both reported that the Premier League club are still preparing for Real Madrid to try to lure the Argentine to the Bernabeu.
Sources close to Tottenham told ESPN FC blogger Ben Pearce that there is no specific buyout clause in Pochettino's new contract that would allow him to leave for another club, nor is there any informal verbal agreement that would facilitate a departure, despite some initial rumours to the contrary.
Nevertheless, Marca reported Spurs chairman Daniel Levy would be willing to negotiate a termination of Pochettino's deal if and when Perez comes calling.
The reports linking Pochettino to Madrid existed well before Zidane announced his exit just days after leading Madrid to the Champions League title for the third consecutive season.
In January, Pochettino refused to rule out managing Real Madrid in the future -- though he said he would never be able to manage Barcelona after both playing for and managing their local rivals Espanyol.
"My commitment is massive in this club," Pochettino said of Tottenham at the time. "I am working like I am going to be here forever. But in the end, it is like the players, you never know what is going to happen in football."
After retiring as an Espanyol player in 2006, he took over the reins of the Catalan club in 2009 and managed there until moving to England with Southampton in January 2013.
He helped Saints finish eighth in his first full season in charge and then joined Tottenham. After a fifth-place finish in his first season he qualified Spurs for the Champions League by finishing third in 2015-16, and improved that to second in 2016-17.
After finishing third this past season, Pochettino came close to issuing an ultimatum to Levy by calling for the club to dramatically change strategies, raising speculation he was prepared to leave London this summer.
However, he still signed the new contract 10 days later and said he and Levy shared "the same philosophies to achieve long-term, sustainable success."
Former Real Madrid player and coach Jose Luis Camacho was the Espanyol manager who signed Pochettino in 1994, and sees his former player as a perfect candidate for the Bernabeu hotseat.
"I brought him from Argentina as a player, and know him very well," Camacho told the El Larguero radio show. "He is ready and I see him as perfect."
Another who knows Pochettino well from Espanyol is Pablo Zabaleta, who won the 2006 Copa del Rey together at the Barcelona-based club.
"Pochettino is doing a great job in England,' Zabaleta told Esports Cope. "He recently extended his contract at Tottenham, is happy, but if a chance comes to coach one of the top teams, he'll do it... Madrid is the best club in the world."
Former Madrid coach Fabio Capello told Sky Sports Italy that Madrid could look to youth team coach Guti, while his fellow Italians Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri should also be seen as contenders for the vacancy.
"I believe it could be Guti, as again Florentino will make the choice, something he did before with Zidane," Capello said. "There is just one big manager free at the moment, Antonio Conte, and I would add Sarri to. Pochettino is a coach who knows Spain, he plays a certain style, and could be another candidate."