Jose Mourinho’s dismissal as Manchester United boss on Tuesday means one of the most coveted and high-profile positions in world football is suddenly up for grabs.
Just as significantly, though, one of the most successful and controversial coaches in the game today is now available for hire.
So, who would be interested in appointing the outspoken Portuguese, who has seen his reputation as ‘The Special One’ take a battering in recent months?
Below, Goal takes a look at Mourinho’s likely suitors…
A return to San Siro would appear to make most sense for everyone concerned: Mourinho loves Inter, the fans love Mourinho, and the club is in dire need of a winning coach.
Luciano Spalletti is still in charge, of course, but there were doubts about his long-term prospects even before his side made a complete mess of qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League by being held to a 1-1 draw at home to PSV last week.
Spalletti may have won two Russian Premier League titles during his time at Zenit but the former Roma boss has never conquered Serie A and the majority of Inter fans do not believe he is the man to deliver a first Scudetto since Mourinho left for Real Madrid after the historic treble-winning campaign of 2010.
Indeed, the Corriere dello Sport summed the situation up nicely on Wednesday morning with their front-page headline: “Mourinho chased out by United and becomes the dream for Interisti”.
Inter, for their part, have played down talk of a reunion, with director Piero Ausilio commenting: “The great respect remains for Mourinho, but of course that has nothing to do with Inter’s immediate future, because Inter have a great coach and are absolutely going forward with this coach.”
As always, though, a few more setbacks could spell the end for Spalletti, and Mourinho would be the overwhelming fan favourite to take over, given he only further endeared himself to the supporters with his three-fingered salute after United’s recent victory over Juventus in Turin, a gesture he defended as a response to the insults he had been hearing towards his family and his “Inter family”.
Of course, Mourinho would not be taking over the dominant force in Italian football, as he did in 2008, but Inter are at least now in possession of Juve’s former transfer market guru Beppe Marotta and the pair could conceivably form a partnership capable of knocking the Bianconeri off their perch.
Wolves are certainly a left-field option but a move to Molineux is not as unlikely as it may seem.
After all, Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, has been working for the club in an advisory role since Fosun International took over in the summer of 2016.
Since then, a succession of Mendes’ clients have ended up at Molineux, including former Valencia and Porto coach Nuno Espirito Santo, who led the West Midlands outfit to promotion to the Premier League last season, as well as Portugal internationals Ruben Neves, Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho.
Given his pedigree, Mourinho would take some convincing that Wolves would be anything other than an embarrassing step down for a two-time Champions League winner.
However, his appointment as manager would certainly make it even easier for Mendes to attract even bigger names to the club. After all, his Gestifute agency lists the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Saul Niguez, James Rodriguez, Diego Costa, Angel di Maria and Concalo Guedes among its clients.
Furthermore, lifting a trophy with Wolves – or even taking them into the Champions League – would also represent a massive coaching achievement for Mourinho, who once mocked great rival Pep Guardiola for going to clubs where “even the kitman can be a coach and win a title”.
For now, though, it still seems unlikely, particularly as Mourinho might still be smarting from the fact that he was rather embarrassingly sacked just 10 days after Mendes felt compelled to issue a public statement claiming United were “very happy” with his client.
While he might now be of a different opinion, Mourinho has previously described his final season at Real Madrid as “the worst of my career”.
It was certainly a toxic experience for everyone involved. Even before the conclusion of the 2012-13 campaign, Mourinho stated: “I am loved by some clubs, especially one. In Spain, it is different: some people hate me, many of you in this [press] room.”
That wasn’t much of an exaggeration. Many pro-Madrid journalists celebrated in the press box after Atletico’s victory over Real in the Copa del Rey final because they knew that there was no way even Mourinho could survive a massive derby defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu.
They wanted him gone; they wanted an end to the constant climate of negativity. And they weren’t alone.
Even opponents as mild-mannered as former Barcelona icon Andres Iniesta were glad to see the back of a man who had succeeded in making the Clasico even more toxic than usual, creating divisions among compatriots that carried over into the national team.
Real fans, meanwhile, were never won over by Mourinho’s brand of football, which they deemed too negative – in spite of the fact that he oversaw a record-breaking campaign that saw Madrid beat Guardiola’s brilliant Barca side to the title with a historic haul of 100 points.
As for the players, they had long turned on Mourinho. Indeed, former captain Iker Casillas and centre-half Sergio Ramos reportedly went to Florentino Perez during that turbulent 2012-13 season and told the club president, “Either ]Mourinho] goes, or we do.”
And yet, in spite of all of the bitterness and acrimony, Perez retains the utmost respect for Mourinho and has repeatedly considered bringing him back to the Bernabeu.
The Real supremo is a fan of authoritarian coaches that can restore order in times of crisis, which is why his first choice to replace the recently dismissed Julen Lopetegui was Antonio Conte.
That obviously did not go down well with Ramos, who pointedly observed, “Respect is earned, not imposed. There are coaches with whom we’ve won titles and a coach’s ability to manage the dressing room is more important than their knowledge.”
So, while Perez might well feel Mourinho would be the right man for the job should current incumbent Santiago Solari fail to steady the ship this season, he would face an almighty battle trying to garner support for the Portuguese’s return.
Mourinho claimed before the World Cup that he was “not close at all” to realising his ambition of coaching the Portugal national team, revealing that while he had grown “tired” of club football a few years ago, his desire for day-to-day involvement in the game had been reinvigorated since taking over at Manchester United.
One wonders how he feels now, though. Certainly, since clashing with his Old Trafford employers over transfer targets during the summer, Mourinho has cut an increasingly frustrated and disillusioned figure.
The endearing playfulness, cheeky charm and knowing smiles that characterised his first spell in England with Chelsea had long since disappeared by the final few months of his time in Manchester.
In short, Mourinho no longer looked like he was enjoying the job.
Thus, taking over his native Portugal after next year’s Nations League finals could well appeal to Mourinho, while there’s also the fact that Euro 2016 winner Fernando Santos could well view a tournament triumph on home soil as the perfect time to bring down the curtain on his successful spell as Seleccao coach.
Certainly, Portuguese fans would be enamoured with the idea of their top player, Cristiano Ronaldo, being reunited with their top coach, Mourinho. The pair may have fallen out during the tail end of Mourinho’s time at Madrid but they could be drawn together by the pursuit of a common goal: World Cup glory in 2022, which would cement their respective legacies.
The Portugal job would also certainly appeal to the patriot in Mourinho: “I was not a player, I never did directly something for my country, I did it just at the club level. I want to try to give what I have to my national team.”
However, the timing doesn’t seem quite right for a man who will undoubtedly feel he still has something to prove in the club game after his damaging Old Trafford experience.
There’s no doubt that Mourinho’s departure from Old Trafford will have excited Chinese Super League clubs, who have demonstrated their willingness to spend big in order to secure high-profile coaches in recent years.
Indeed, if Mourinho goes looking for a salary as large as the one he was receiving at United, China would be the most obvious destination, given national team coach Marcello Lippi is now the highest-paid manager in the world after the Portuguese’s dismissal.
In addition, Mourinho has previously defended players for leaving Europe in exchange for the riches on offer in the CSL.
“The money is huge,” he pointed out, “and the experience can also be very interesting.”
Thus, Mourinho could be intrigued by the prospect of becoming the most high-profile pioneer in a rapidly developing and lucrative footballing environment.
Being at the centre of attention would obviously suit his ego perfectly but it is hard not to escape the suspicion that Mourinho’s decision as to where he goes next will be primarily founded upon his desire to settle scores with familiar foes in Europe.