Jose Mourinho has already chosen his next football club, according to Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas.
The 56-year-old Portuguese boss was approached by Aulas to replace the recently sacked Sylvinho, but reportedly refused to meet the Lyon chief to discuss terms, such is his confidence in his new destination.
As a result, it appears that the days of a Keane-Souness-Mourinho axis of evil on Sky Sports might already be numbered.
But where is this mystery club awaiting the imminent arrival of the serial winner, mind-game master and expert antagonist? Does his reputation still hold the same cachet it once did? Here are some realistic avenues...
The Return to Glory - Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, PSG
For many years, Mourinho was synonymous with elite clubs and competition. Despite his relative fall from grace in recent years, he remains one of the two defining managers of his generation. There are few CVs more trophy-laden than his in world football.
With domestic leagues seemingly less important than ever, and a lot of wealthy, powerful clubs chasing the same solitary goal, one of them might turn to one of the select available managers who have proved they can actually win the thing.
Bayern might be the most realistic candidate - their relentless dominance under Jupp Heynckes and Pep Guardiola has faltered a bit under Niko Kovac, and cracks have appeared at board level too. Mourinho has been learning German, would doubtlessly take the job if it was offered, and would see the move as offering a realistic chance of winning the third Champions League title he is desperate for. He’d also be getting one over Guardiola in the process, which is the sort of thing you'd imagine would reignite the flame of passion that extinguished at Manchester United.
Florentino Perez is also rumoured to remain a fan, even if Sergio Ramos is not, but Mauricio Pochettino is probably a more likely Zinedine Zidane replacement if the Frenchman departs the Bernabeu (again) anytime soon.
PSG has long looked like a fitting destination, and could be an instance where Mourinho’s pedigree in Europe might prove appealing to ambitious club suits. Thomas Tuchel seems safe for now, after an impressive start in the Champions League this season.
Project Resurrection - Tottenham, Everton, Borussia Dortmund
Mourinho was at his best at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan when working with players with a point to prove; at clubs looking to achieve something momentous for the first time. His ‘us against them’ mentality, defensive tactics and motivational approach are most effective when a dressing room organically buys into them.
That reality, coupled with his natural combustibility and recent mixed results, might mean that a team below the elite could be the optimum fit for all parties.
Links to Tottenham have increased alongside speculation about Pochettino’s future. The white half of north London is probably Mourinho’s most realistic option in the Premier League, and the Portuguese would be a glamorous successor at a time of uncertainty and potential regression at Spurs.
Everton would represent a bigger step down, and is far from likely. But Farhad Moshiri’s money might be enough to at least get Mourinho to consider replacing his compatriot Marco Silva, especially if the former is intent on staying in England and returning to his beloved Lowry Hotel in the north-west.
Borussia Dortmund - with their emphasis on youth and high-intensity football - doesn’t immediately feel like a natural fit. However, Mourinho has publicly batted his eyes at Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke and been equally vocal about his affection for the Bundesliga. BVB are arguably the best secondary club in Europe’s major leagues, and Lucien Favre is under a little pressure after an underwhelming start to 2019/20. Being the first team other than Bayern to win the title since 2012 is a challenge Mourinho would likely relish.
The Easy Ride - China (general), Nice, Portugal national team
Of course, a simpler route might be down a street paved with gold. Mourinho has already been approached with an eye-watering £89 million contract by Guangzhou Evergrande. Though he rejected that offer, the longer he remains out of the game, the more tempting a similar deal might become in the future.
The Chinese Super League is awash with clubs and businessmen that would jump at the chance to replicate Dalian Yifang’s Rafa Benitez coup, and have the money to back it up.
Nice were recently taken over by Britain’s richest man Sir Jim Ratcliffe. Mourinho would be an outlandish appointment, and take a lot of persuading, but might be attracted by a potential combination of money, competition and ambition - not to mention the French Riviera. Technical director Gilles Grimandi recently left his position, and there’s a suspicion that Ratcliffe is looking to put his own men in at the top. He did criticise Mourinho when he was United manager, however.
Mourinho has long been touted for the England job, and has talked up the possibility of international management as happening sooner rather than later. Gareth Southgate’s job security isn’t in doubt, and nor is that of Portugal boss Fernando Santos. But the latter is 65, has been in the job for five years now and already achieved a great deal, so may be tempted to move on after Euro 2020.
With club football fatigue and the top clubs potentially uninterested, Mourinho might find the prospect of managing his country in a World Cup too tempting to turn down. He’d have to work fewer hours, and could retain many of his punditry gigs too. Even his relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo has thawed.
If Aulas is right, Mourinho knows where he’s going next. There is no overwhelmingly obvious candidate, nor any guarantees on the profile of job it will be. What it is and how it goes, though, will almost certainly define his reputation and relevance in the present day – whatever his past exploits may be.
Mourinho next club odds
PSG - 4/1
Bayern - 4/1
Spurs - 5/1
Everton - 8/1
Real Madrid - 9/1
Portugal - 11/1
China (any) - 16/1
Dortmund - N/A
Nice - N/A
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