With Rafael Benitez’s tenure at Chelsea looking increasingly unlikely to last beyond the end of the season, there has already been plenty of speculation about who his successor might be. There is a shortage of candidates as Roman Abramovich has already hired and fired the majority of a select group of qualified and attainable managers. While others, such as Pep Guardiola, appear to have been put off by Abramovich’s ruthlessness and alleged interference in footballing affairs.
A return to West London for Jose Mourinho appears to be a growing possibility. The ‘Special One’ is at the centre of our attention a fortnight ago as his Real Madrid side hosted Manchester United in the first leg of their Champions League super-tie.
Mourinho’s popularity in the Spanish capital is at an all time low and few can see him staying at Real beyond the end of this season, or even beyond a Champions League exit. The the La Liga title is already out of reach due to the relentless form of Barcelona and uncharacteristic mid-season lethargy from a Mourinho team, emphasised by the fact that Real sit third in the table, an unthinkable four points behind their city-rivals Atletico Madrid.
Mourinho’s status as one of, if not the world’s best manager is safe. However, due to his failure to secure a Champions League title at Real to this point and more often than not coming off second best to Barcelona, his stock is perhaps not as high as it was when he arrived in Madrid off the back of a stunning treble with Inter. His options are not as plentiful as they may have been in the past.
Most Chelsea fans have dreamt of a day when a return for the Special One may become possible again. In the immediate aftermath of his departure the idea of a return while Roman Abramovich remained at the helm would have been dismissed as ludicrous. However, with only one title in what will have been five full seasons without Mourinho, and more worryingly what is looking like becoming a second successive season outside the top two, Abramovich might be thinking that the grass isn’t always greener.
Despite the fact Abramovich got the elusive Champions League title he craved, ultimately it was the weakest Chelsea team since Mourinho’s arrival in 2004 that managed to win it. In past Champions League campaigns you would rarely see Chelsea on the back foot for 90 minutes, let alone the majority of the group and knockout stages.
If Chelsea had gone on to win the Champions League, in the early Mourinho seasons or under Avram Grant or Guus Hiddink, few could have argued that Chelsea were the best team in Europe at that time. But last season’s victory was more akin to the victory of Mourinho’s Porto in 2004, backs often against the wall, and a little bit of luck here, there and everywhere. While finally conquering Europe was a great relief, it didn’t change the fact Chelsea were the weakest they had been for a long time.
The first steps to solving the problem were taken in the summer, with the signings of young and talented players such as Hazard, Oscar, and Azpilicueta. However, as was demonstrated by his sacking, Roberto Di Matteo was never seen as the man to revitalise Chelsea, while Rafael Benitez’s pantomime villain status at Stamford Bridge meant was doomed from day one and with Chelsea are far from guaranteed to finish in the top four his position is becoming increasingly vulnerable.
With realistic options very limited, one might go as far as saying the job would appear to be Mourinho’s if he wants it. David Moyes stands as the bookies’ favourite for the job, but it is hard to believe that Roman Abramovich would go for Moyes over Mourinho, which leaves us to ponder whether Mourinho would actually want to return to Chelsea.
Since his 2007 departure Mourinho has often spoken of his love for English football and in recent times dropped hints that he will be returning sooner rather than later. There has long been speculation that Mourinho would like to replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, however, if his return to England is to be imminent, it is too soon for that possibility. Elsewhere, Arsene Wenger may be facing more criticism than ever before, but it is still hard to see him and Arsenal parting ways in the near future, ruling out that prospect.
This leaves Manchester City and Chelsea as the only potential destinations for the Special One. Roberto Mancini’s future cannot be completely secure following successive group stage exits from the Champions League and a feeble title defence to this point. If City were to decide it is time for a change they would be a good fit for Mourinho. He would be provided with the funds to improve what is already a strong squad, while Mancini’s failings in the Champions League would provide him the opportunity to significantly exceed his predecessor’s achievements, a Mourinho hallmark.
However there remains one rather large problem. The men in charge of deciding who manages Manchester City are chief executive, Ferran Soriano and sporting director, Txiki Begiristain. While in charge of Barcelona in 2008, the duo chose not to hire Mourinho having supposedly interviewed him for the vacant managerial role. Their decision was thought to be based around Mourinho’s personality rather than any doubts he could bring trophies to the Nou Camp.
While Mourinho has further proved his pedigree since 2008 adding Serie A and La Liga titles to his resume, along with a second Champions League title at Inter, his controversial style has remained and for this reason it is hard to see why Soriano and Begiristain would view him any differently now to how they did then.
This leaves Mourinho’s beloved Chelsea as the only English club that would desire his services and meet his demands. It seems to make perfect sense for Mourinho to return to Chelsea; the fans would love it, it appears his ‘friend’ Roman Abramovich wouldn’t be opposed to it, with his number one target Guardiola tied to Bayern Munich for the foreseeable future.
Mourinho’s return would see the resumption of his enthralling rivalries with Ferguson and Wenger, and the birth of an equally interesting rivalry with one time employee Andre Villas-Boas. With every passing day and every new quote from Mourinho, a return to Stamford Bridge appears more and more likely. With titles and perhaps more significantly Chelsea title challenges lacking in recent times, it is hard to imagine any Chelsea fan or any genuine fans of the Premier League opposing the return of the Special One – life is quite simply more exciting with Jose around.
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