On 18 December every major news agency in the world was ablaze reporting on the sacking of Manchester United’s Portuguese coach Mourinho. The timing of the sacking was unexpected, but the end result was not. Splits between the manager, dressing room and board had been all too obvious for a prolonged period of time, and there was only so long that United’s board were likely to accept the combination of an apparently petulant manager and a poorly performing team.
Not only is Mourinho out of the door, he’s also faced with the indignity of being replaced by someone with virtually no top-level management experience in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Norwegian was a favourite of the Old Trafford faithful in his playing days, when he was a striker with a clinical touch in front of goal, but his only foray into management outside of his native country was with Cardiff City in 2014; a brief experience which saw him relegated from the Premier League, and then sacked when he looked like he might be steering the Bluebirds toward a second successive relegation. Losing a job at one of the world’s greatest football clubs, when you still feel you have something to offer, is one thing. Having that club consider a virtual novice to be more suited to the task than you is quite another.
And after his dismissal from Chelsea in 2015 under similar circumstances, the reputation of a man who was once thought unassailable as a manager has been severely damaged. At 55 years old, José Mourinho will still believe he has plenty left in the tank to offer, and once he’s rested and reflected, he’ll be keen to prove it, too. So where’s he likely to go next?
Bizarrely, the most likely destination for José may actually be a return to where it all started to go wrong for him in the first place. General consensus is that Mourinho didn’t leave Madrid the same man as when he arrived. He’s always sulked a little, and been capable of the occasional surly response, but he also brought humour to press interviews, and had a twinkle in his eye. All of that mirth was gone when he departed Real Madrid. His time there, although it resulted in trophies, seemed to physically and mentally drain him. When he left, he did so on bad terms, and Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo were reportedly delighted to see him go. So why would he go back; especially when Ramos and Marcelo are still there?
In short, it’s because Real’s President, Florentino Perez, still wants him. Perez has always been a fan of Mourinho, and never wanted to see him leave. It should also be remembered that while there, the Portuguese tactician got the better of what many believe to be the greatest club side of all time, beating Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona to the La Liga title in a record-breaking season (109 goals scored). In the time since Mourinho’s departure, Madrid haven’t been quite the same time. Champions League triumphs often glossed over poor league performances during Zinedine Zidane’s time, and the disastrous appointment and dismissal of Julen Lopetegui has subsequently led to the hasty permanent appointment of Santiago Solari, who few believe is destined for a long reign. The general belief is that if Mourinho indicates he wants to return, Solari will be asked to make way.
Internazionale is perhaps the only club that Mourinho departed from on good terms. And his time at the San Siro was so impactful – sweeping up the domestic trophies and winning the Champions League – that the fans of the Italian outfit still display a banner in his honour at every home match. Inter Milan have not tasted glory since Mourinho left, and a return to Italy at some point is very much a possibility that would surely appeal to both parties.
The future of Benfica coach Rui Vitória has come under intense pressure in recent weeks, with club president Luís Filipe Vieira openly admitting he had decided to sack the manager after the 5-1 drubbing against Bayern Munich in November, only to have a change of heart. Mourinho had a brief spell at Benfica early in his career, but the big question here appears to be whether the Portuguese club could offer the salary and sporting ambition that Mou no doubt feels he still deserves.
The more obvious choice if José returns home is the Portuguese national team. Mourinho has made no secret of his desire to manage his country one day, but has previously said that he’d only do so when he’d reached the end of his time as an elite level club manager. Has that day already arrived? Coaching the national team would be a different challenge. He could select only the players he wished to work with. He would, presumably, be left to manage and train his side free of interference. More than any of this; it would give him a project. There is, however the small matter of waiting for the post to become vacant, which may not be so soon given the success Fernando Santos has brought to the Seleção
Of course, if Santos is staying around for a couple more years in the Portugal job, Mourinho could look to find his feet in international management by coaching another nation for a while. A stint on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean steering the fortunes of countries such as Mexico or the USA, a lucrative Middle Eastern nation or even a job in Europe cannot be ruled out, and if he wants to stay close to the British Isles, how about Ireland? The Irish have just made the uninspired decision to appoint the aging Mick McCarthy as their manager for a second time; a questionable choice, given that things didn’t end well in their first union, and one that most analysts think will not last. Mourinho would surely be a better choice.
Why the Irish? Because the Irish are associated with luck. That’s why people kiss the Blarney Stone when they visit Ireland. That’s why people pick and collect four-leaf clovers. That’s why Clover Casino uses Irish imagery to promote its range of slot games. Gamers who play online slot games surrounded by rainbows, pots of gold and lucky leprechauns are inevitably going to feel luckier, because of the historical ‘luck of the Irish’ connection. Gamers who feel lucky are likely to spend more in pursuit of that luck, and so business is better for Clover Casino. People who’ve kissed the Blarney Stone and feel lucky are less likely to be nervous about a date, or a business meeting, and so perform better in those environments. A manager who feels lucky might - just might - find some of the old spark that he used to have during his time at Porto, and Inter, and his first spell at Chelsea. Mourinho needs to get his mojo back. The luck of the Irish might just bring it to him!
Germany, China or USA?
Are there other options? Absolutely. Germany remains the one major league that Mourinho has never managed in, and should a vacancy arise at either Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich, we would expect to hear his name mentioned. Winning a league title in yet another country would be the perfect way to silence his critics. Big money offers will surely come in from clubs in China and the USA, but accepting them would be tantamount to confirming that his time at the top is over; something which we doubt appeals to Mourinho’s ego.
Real Madrid may be his most likely next move, but wherever he goes, he will surely make it interesting.