ON Wednesday night, Jose Mourinho earned the right to be in Madrid on 22 May, when he will pit his Inter Milan team against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. He may want to familiarise himself with the city, however, as it looks increasingly likely to be his home next season.
Barcelona have not just beaten Real Madrid to the top prizes this year and last; they have done so with a style that has made the world swoon and left their bitter domestic rivals, for all the brashness of their record signings, look prosaic and ineffective.
So the way Mourinho stripped Barca of their swagger, nullified the threat of Lionel Messi, the world’s best player, and made the Catalans look decidedly ordinary, even when Inter were reduced to 10 men, will only have heightened Real’s existing appetite to lure him in the summer.
The country’s press, especially the Madrid-centric branch, all but anointed Mourinho as the successor to dead-man-walking Manuel Pellegrini on Thursday morning. Marca’s front page trumpted: “Mou, you have earned it… a place in the final… and your signing for Madrid.”
He may be unlikely to make Real out-play Barca, but their long-standing target, Arsene Wenger, tried that with Arsenal and ended up thoroughly humbled. Florentino Perez, Real’s president, may favour extravagant signings but is pragmatic enough to want supremacy first and flair later.
That Mourinho has conceded he will never coach Barca only makes a move to Real more likely. England is another possible destination, but the feeling remains that the timing is not right for the former Chelsea manager’s return to these shores.
Italy, which has not seen eye-to-eye with Mourinho despite his success at Inter, is now beginning to embrace him. Ironically, the recognition he craves has come long after he begun weighing up his exit strategy.