“I don’t like Italian football and it doesn’t like me.”
Those were the words of Jose Mourinho a little over two weeks ago; the Inter Milan manager exposing his deep frustration with life in Serie A. When Mourinho laid bare his feelings to Sky television in that now infamous interview, he was really issuing the biggest SOS since Rihanna hit the charts.
“Come and get me,” said Mourinho to the big fish of the Premier League, the Portuguese manager’s real footballing home. With Rafa Benitez struggling to stay afloat in the deep blue sea that is the world’s toughest league, Liverpool may be first to surface.
After another disastrous draw against Fulham on Sunday, Liverpool’s chances of securing the final Champions League spot are now non-existent, a situation well below par for such a proud footballing institution whose tradition demands European Cup football. Benitez’s departure looks imminent.
So does Mourinho’s. Despite beating former club Chelsea in last month’s Champions League quarter-final showdown, Mourinho has voiced his discontent at Inter Milan on numerous occasions. He is not loved in the same way that he was in England. His humour does not receive the same applause. His touchline antics do not receive the same interest. This has been hard to digest for Mourinho.
There is little doubt that if Mourinho was to return to the Premier League in the summer, his arrival would prompt mass media attention and a glut of welcoming headlines. He stirred that much respect during his record-breaking spell at Chelsea, particularly among the media.
With the Premier League being his most desirable destination, Mourinho must now decide on the most attractive location. A chance of winning silverware is a must for Mourinho, probably limiting the selection to England’s top six clubs.
With Carlo Ancelotti on the brink of the title and with Mourinho’s relationship being bitter with owner Roman Ambramovich, Chelsea appears not to be an option. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger will certainly not be leaving their respective clubs any time soon, while Roberto Mancini looks likely to steer Man City to a tremendous finish of fourth place—surely a guarantee of job safety.
That leaves Spurs and Liverpool, and Harry Redknapp is hardly likely to say goodbye to White Hart Lane after another excellent season in which the club are still in the race for fourth and have reached an FA Cup semi-final.
As well as being a sinking ship that needs a new helmsman, Liverpool’s tradition and fanbase make it an extremely attractive proposition for Mourinho, a manager who cares deeply about having a good relationship with supporters. When Chelsea won its second title under the Special One, he threw his winners medal into the Stamford Bridge crowd after the trophy presentation.
And, despite clashing in the heat of that infamous Champions League semi-final clash in 2005, Liverpool fans would surely take strongly to Mourinho. They have supported Benitez through all the travails of this wholly embarrassing season for Liverpool, but many supporters now see this summer as the time for change.
Benitez’s tactical acumen is undoubted; his steering of Liverpool to the Champions League in his first season under extremely limited resources was truly remarkable. The fact that Liverpool then reached the final again in 2007 proved Benitez to be the master of the two-legged tie. And, even as Liverpool have struggled his season, this exceptional side to Benitez has been highlighted through the club’s progression to the Europa League semi-finals.
The Premier League, on the other hand, has proved much harder to conquer for Benitez. Only last season, when Liverpool finished second, has Benitez guided the club to within touching distance of winning its first league title in 20 years. It has simply not been good enough, even after taking into account the financial troubles the club has suffered and the hopeless Americans who have caused havoc in the boardroom.
When Liverpool have hit a barren run of form, Benitez has seemed incapable of using a personal touch to lift his players psychologically. It is football, football, football with Benitez, never anything else. When Fernando Torres came into training the morning after finding out his wife was pregnant, Benitez merely congratulated the Spaniard on his goal the previous weekend.
Steven Gerrard has always said that one of his main aims at Liverpool is to eventually get a “well done off Rafa.” Such negativity cannot always be beneficial, and Benitez’s tactics have often reflected his cautious side. It has worked wonders in tight European ties, but in Premier League games at home to sides who sit back and defend caution needs to be thrown to the wind. The team sheet has too often resembled a suicide note.
Strange substitutions have also cast a dark cloud over Benitez’s reign. Last weekend’s bizarre withdrawal of Fernando Torres was just one example of Benitez’s obsession with statistics and fatigue levels. Could the Liverpool manager not sense the urgency to get a winning goal against Birmingham? Could Benitez not see the need to keep all Liverpool’s best players on the pitch? Liverpool fans certainly could.
It is time for a new type of manager to come to Liverpool, for the inspirational leader that is Jose Mourinho to walk through Anfield’s doors and take on a challenge he will surely relish: taking Liverpool Football Club back to the top of its “fuckin perch.”