Thursday 21 September 2017

Mourinho the man to breathe vitality into Liverpool's stale corpse

James Lawton

James Lawton

At the end of a dismaying and diminishing season, a bright light beckons Liverpool. Whether they will respond to it, show the nerve to pay Rafa Benitez his £16m after acknowledging that he has never been further away from the future he offered when so astonishingly winning the Champions League five years ago, is far from clear; but then what is at Anfield these days?

There is, however, no doubt about the identity of the man holding the light. With increasing candour, Jose Mourinho is announcing that he craves again the passions and the fury of the Premier League.

He made English football his theatre; he felt the warmth of the audience; and even that section of it which poured down scorn was also agreeing that his presence had been both a key and dramatic element in the football life of his adopted country.

"I don't like Italian football," he proclaims now. "And it doesn't like me. So it is quite simple."

Real Madrid, where the respected coach Manuel Pellegrini already carries the burden of failure in his greatest imperative -- success in the Champions League after last summer's spending orgy -- is probably the most obvious next staging post of Mourinho's career. This will be especially so if he can deliver the European prize for Inter Milan after their serial run of Italian league titles, a possibility that has sharpened since the brilliant triumph over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last month.

Real Madrid is of course no mean stage for the extrovert Portuguese. It offers supreme kudos and a budget to meet any coach's dreams. But Real Madrid operate in Spain, not England, the place where the Mourinho brand still blazes in neon more brightly than anywhere else in the football landscape. In his early days at Chelsea he impatiently stopped an interrogator who was painting a scenario that didn't quite suit the Special One.

It involved, after all, the possibility that he might not achieve all his goals in his first season at Stamford Bridge. "Don't give me your movie," snapped Mourinho. "I have a movie of my own -- and I'm the star."

What would Anfield give for such arrogant buoyancy now?

There is no doubt that there is a large measure of respect and affection still lingering for Benitez. The glory of Istanbul dies hard, heaven knows, but in the more realistic sections of the Liverpool following there is a pained recognition that Benitez has had his time to make a team that could build on that first dramatic success and that, as they now struggle to retain a foothold in the Champions League, it has passed.

Do Liverpool have a chance of landing Mourinho if they can dredge up the necessary finances? There are compelling arguments to say that they do.

While rumours persist that Manchester United see Mourinho as the dynamic successor to Alex Ferguson when he decides to go, the football man likely to be least inhibited or intimidated by the weight of the legacy, there is still not much of a clue about when the old warhorse is likely to gallop off over the horizon.

At Chelsea, where he would be given a rapturous welcome if he was to return -- as we saw so recently even when he was plundering the club's strong belief that it was their year to win the Champions League -- it is inconceivable that Roman Abramovich would make the public admission that he was wrong to first marginalise, then sack the man who delivered two Premier League titles as his opening statements to English football.

Arsenal, whatever the fate of their highest ambitions, belongs to Arsene Wenger as long as he wants them. Where else would provide a fitting home for Mourinho? The more you look at Liverpool the more you see the possibilities of Mourinho sating his ego.

Imagine the impact of a Liverpool revival under Mourinho. It is not as though he would be without some players of formidable ability. Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano (the most impressive defensive midfielder in the last World Cup) and Pepe Reina represent a hard core of excellence waiting -- in Gerrard's case it seems with ever dwindling optimism -- for the sense that they are part of a team with genuine prospects at the highest level.

If Mourinho still wants massed, fervent belief in his messianic powers, where better for him than a Liverpool where Bill Shankly, all these years after his glory, is still spoken of not as a mere football man but someone who changed the life and the expectations of a great city?

appetite

That there is still such an appetite in Mourinho, one that will not be assuaged if his second Champions League win comes later this spring, is plain enough.

He is much liked by the fans of Inter, but elsewhere in Italy there is no doubt the force of his personality is much less appreciated, infinitely less, certainly, than it was in England so far beyond the boundaries of Stamford Bridge.

"Italians do not really love football for its own sake," he said early in his Milan phase. "They like the contorni well enough, but not so much the football."

Contorni means the extras that come with the main dish and Mourinho was referring to the controversy and the intrigues of the game that occupies most intensely so many Italian fans when they sip their espresso and digestive.

"It is a different view of the game and I do not like it," says Mourinho.

An extraordinary statement, maybe, from a man who can whip up intrigue faster than the author of the 'Da Vinci Code', but then this is Mourinho weaving his charisma, plucking headlines out of the air as though they are white rabbits.

Imagine Mourinho throwing down again the gauntlet at the feet of Ferguson and Wenger and whoever happens to hold the Chelsea job from which he was banished. The effect on English football would of course be electric. At Liverpool, you have to guess, it would be like the dawn of their old life.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport