Jose Mourinho really, really wants another job in English football. We know this, because whenever one of the underperforming sides in the Premier League reaches a new low, Sky Sports News break into their own coverage within the hour to read out what sounds suspiciously like a press release.
In the latest instance, at the end of a weekend during which Arsenal and Tottenham both suffered disappointing results, Mourinho let it be known that he doesn’t have any sort of agreement with Florentino Perez, that he isn’t about to replace Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid and that he would like the opportunity to win the Premier League with another club.
So he's available. His phone is fully-charged and, as his communications team have helped him to stress, if you'd like to win a title, Mr Kroenke or Mr Levy, who better than him to call?
Ordinarily, Mourinho’s job prospects should be excellent. In addition to the increasing instability of Unai Emery and Mauricio Pochettino, Niko Kovac is also on unsteady ground at Bayern Munich, Lucien Favre is in trouble in Dortmund and, at the end of the current season, Thomas Tuchel may well have grown bored of bullying his way through Ligue 1 with Paris Saint-Germain.
Add in the perpetual uncertainty at Madrid and that’s six of the most desirable jobs in Europe which, if not quite available, are certainly within some sort of reach. And, yet, Mourinho is not a natural candidate for any of them. Imagine that scenario as recently as five years ago and he would surely have had his pick of those clubs. They would have been making their pitch to him. Now, with the events of the years between still fresh, he’s the one with the convincing to do.
Mourinho hasn't quite become a pariah, but he's certainly seen as a malignant agent and one that owners and chairman are increasingly reluctant to introduce into their ecosystems.
Stranger still, that situation has very little to do with football. While there’s an argument to be made about Mourinho’s playing style and how well that tallies with the kind of entertainment-first image that these commercially-minded clubs are trying to project, the greater problem – for him and them – lies in the transcendent negativity that he’s become associated with.
Mourinho is an attitude now. He’s no longer inverted wingers, double pivots and low blocks, he’s the caricature that presents itself in front of the media. He’s the contrarian on television, droning conspiratorially about referees. He’s the former players’ coach who makes sacrificial offerings of his most famous players, endlessly in pursuit of that dark genius which seemed to vanish long ago.
The virtues of such an approach are irrelevant. What matters, to those with the power to employ him at least, is that he can’t be slotted into a department and restrained by a job description. As one of the most recognisable faces in modern football, it’s just not possible to hire Mourinho without him becoming the face – and by extent identity – of a club.
That in itself isn’t a problem, because there’s sometimes great profit in that kind of relationship. Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, for instance, or between 2014 and 2018, Pochettino at Spurs. Certain coaches are able to endow an organisation with a unique charisma and create magnetism which sponsors and brands and all the other currencies which flow through modern football can help but to be drawn towards.
But Mourinho has allowed himself to become almost the antithesis of that. He’s a repellent and a liability and whether these qualities should matter is secondary to the realisation that they definitely, definitely do.
So this is the challenge for him, the obstacle to overcome. It’s a Catch 22 of sorts. He cannot occupy another elite job without first proving that he can be trusted not to abuse the visibility it affords. At the same time, however, he cannot assuage those fears without being in employment first and proving that he can pick a team and set its shape without screaming at the clouds.
It’s a fascinating dead end. It promises to grow more interesting, too, the louder Mourinho’s banging on the game’s glass windows gets and the more desperate his quest for re-entry becomes.
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