LONDON: If it had happened a few days previously, the departure of Jose Mourinho from Tottenham Hotspur might have been the football story of the year so far.
For obvious reasons it was overshadowed but it still remains significant and not just for a big-name coach being fired from a big European club, a founding member of the ill-fated, short-lived European Super League no less.
Mourinho remains football box office, and his next move could be one of the most intriguing of his career.
And it might, just might, be significant for football in Asia, Middle East or even Saudi Arabia, now home to arguably one of the continent’s biggest and most attractive leagues.
There have been some big-name coaches at club level in Saudi Arabia over the years. In fact, a few have also been in charge of the world’s most successful national football team, Brazil. Mano Menezes is in charge of Al-Nassr, having previously coached Brazil. Back in the 1990s Luiz Felipe Scolari managed Al-Ahli before going on to win the 2002 World Cup as Brazil’s coach, and the Jeddah club had in the mid-1980s also hired the coach of the legendary 1982 Brazil World Cup team, Tele Santana.
But there has never been a coach in Saudi Arabia with anywhere near the global profile and record of Jose Mourinho. His reputation may not be quite what it was, but he is still regarded as one of the very best in the world. The former Porto, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester United coach will no doubt still believe he has a lot to offer in Europe.
“It could be a little early but if Jose wants to take a step back from the big leagues in Europe, and there is a reasonable chance he may feel that way or just want a real change, then there are limited options,” said a leading European agent who regularly deals in the Middle East told Arab News. “In Asia, Saudi Arabia and perhaps UAE and Qatar would be possible. Mourinho has some close ties with Chinese football but the financial situation there means that now is not the right time.”
The Portuguese coach was linked with two-time Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande most recently in July 2019. The amounts mentioned were insane, with a salary not far short of $1 million a week. There have been denials from China that any offer was made but with the financial situation in China now precarious and clubs being forced to adopt a total annual outlay of $190 million a season for the entire squad, staff, fees and salaries, it seems unlikely.
Mourinho’s stock has fallen a little since such talk and, after mixed spells with Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United and Spurs, the options in the big leagues of Europe are limited, if he wants a top job.
“I don’t see Mourinho back in the Premier League, I think that ship’s sailed now,” said former Liverpool star and Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher. “I struggle to think of any club, he’s been at Spurs, so he’s not going to Arsenal, he’s been at United so he’s not going to City, Liverpool wouldn’t have him.
“Would he go to a middle-of-the-table club? I just don’t see him there, I really don’t. It’s either international football or maybe Italy.”
The Portuguese boss has already done it in Italy. If international football, with the World Cup not far away, does not suit, then a new destination could give him the salary, funds, freedom and adulation that he seems to crave. The thing is, there are not that many options.
There is Major League Soccer of course, with football in the US on the up. There are some big names there and cities such as Los Angeles and New York could prove attractive.
“When I can and when the time difference allows me, I watch sometimes MLS matches,” Mourinho said in January. “I know that you have in this moment also lots of foreign players coming from Central American countries and others, but there are still good [homegrown] players coming and you give them the opportunity.”
But Saudi Arabia could be one possibility down the line.
There are, as always, the two questions. Would he come? And with three of the biggest teams in the country changing coaches this year already, would there be any interest? The agent believes that the latter is probable, with the former possible.
“We all know that coaches come and go, and the recent appointments could be short-term appointments anyway with the season ending soon. Like everything, it depends on timing.”
Mourinho is not one to build teams or develop players and stick around too long but the same can be said of many coaches who come through Riyadh or Jeddah. What he can offer is the kind of international attention that Saudi Arabian football has never had before, and that may be hard to resist.