José Mourinho has alerted elite Premier League clubs, principal among them his former employers Chelsea, to his potential availability in the summer by reiterating a desire to work in England again.
The Real Madrid head coach's position at the Bernabéu has come under intense scrutiny in recent months as his side have slipped 18 points behind Barcelona and even trail their city rivals Atlético by seven points to leave the defence of the title effectively wrecked by the turn of the year. That has prompted suggestions he will leave the club at the end of the season but, while his standing has suffered in Spain as Real have stuttered, his reputation in England remains buoyant.
A summer of change beckons with a number of high-profile clubs potentially looking for new managers. One of those will be Chelsea, who sacked Roberto Di Matteo in November and have employed Rafael Benítez on an interim basis until May, and while the prospect of turning back to Mourinho – who won two Premier League titles in three glittering seasons at the club before leaving in the autumn of 2007 – would have felt unthinkable a few years ago when his relationship with Roman Abramovich was so fractured, now that scenario feels less improbable.
The two have reconciled since and, on the basis that he could well depart Real in the summer, he will be under consideration when Chelsea start to address who should be Di Matteo's long-term successor, a process that will gather pace most likely after the closure of the current transfer window. The club remain keen on Pep Guardiola, though they accept that he may see his own future elsewhere when he returns from a year-long sabbatical.
Mourinho's desire to return to England would appear to offer some encouragement. Speaking in a video message of congratulation recorded for the launch of the Football Association's 150th anniversary on Wednesday, the two-time European Cup winning manager said: "My memories from English football could not be better. It was my first experience outside of Portugal – I was still a very young coach when I left Portugal to go to England. But there couldn't be a better place to go. In England you feel the real passion for the game. You also don't feel what we feel in almost every other country which is the passion for clubs. In England, it's not just about passion for clubs, it's mainly about passion for football – and you feel it.
"So, my memories are great. I loved it from the first to the last day. I don't regret my last day because after that I was lucky enough to enjoy Italy and to have and enjoy some success there and also in Spain, so I don't regret the day I left. But I know that one day I will come back because English football means a lot to myself … Of course, it's impossible, but I feel everybody involved in the game should experience English football because it's a special feeling. You really enjoy being a football professional there."
The Portuguese was in the country earlier this week having watched Real's opponents in next month's knockout phase, Manchester United, defeat Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday and attended a League Managers' Association seminar stretched across two days at St George's Park. He has since returned to Spain to prepare for Tuesday's Copa del Rey quarter-final against Valencia, a game in which Cristiano Ronaldo returns after suspension having confirmed in an interview with fifa.com that he does not know what his own future will hold after his contract with Real expires in 2015. "I want to see out my contract at Real, I'm very clear about that," he said. "After that, well, I don't know what'll happen."
The FA will launch their programme for a year of celebrations on Wednesday in London, an event that will be attended by former England players and managers, including Fabio Capello, and have confirmed Pelé as the guest of honour at their inaugural FA England awards next month, as well as for the friendly against Brazil at Wembley on 6 February.
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image: © Ronnie Macdonald