Gabriele Marcotti
Thursday April 10th, 2008

Out of sight, out of mind? Hardly. José Mourinho may have retired to his Portuguese hideaway last September, but his presence still hovers over the game.

Just ask Avram Grant, his successor at Chelsea who is constantly (and unfavorably) compared to the "Special One." You'd think the fact that Chelsea is still in the running for a Premier League/Champions League double might take some of the pressure off the Israeli boss and maybe even make you wonder whether there really is an abyss between Grant and Mourinho in terms of managerial ability.

But no: One guy is a genius, the other is Forrest Gump's less likeable brother, the one who raids Johnny Cash's wardrobe.

Anyway, Mourinho was never going to stay out of the headlines, not least because he's angling for his next job. His résumé is frighteningly good: four league titles (though one of them, the one he won with FC Porto in 2003-04, may yet be stripped), four domestic cups, a UEFA Cup and a Champions League title in six full seasons of management amount to, on paper, a ticket to anywhere he wants to go.

Except the game doesn't quite work like that. Mourinho's agent and his close advisors have been shopping him around for the past six months, linking him with a variety of jobs: England, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and, most recently, Inter Milan.

Some of those links are pure agentspeak (i.e. they're made up) -- Milan and Bayern come to mind. Other ships have sailed (England). But the fact remains that Mourinho's stature inevitably places him at or near the top of any club's shopping list.

So where will he go? Maybe it's easier to rule out where he won't go. For starters, he needs a big club with lots of transfer clout or a really prestigious national team (otherwise, why bother?). With the England job off the table, you can rule out international management. England is the only top-tier nation that would hire a foreign coach and pay him top dollar (which is, ultimately what it did).

Manchester United and Arsenal aren't options either. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger aren't going anywhere. With Jürgen Klinsmann taking over at Bayern next season, that rules out the German club as well. Liverpool could conceivably be a possibility if Rafa Benítez leaves, but it's unlikely that anything will happen until the club's ownership situation sorts itself out and that won't happen for some time.

Juventus would be an intriguing choice. However, Claudio Ranieri is doing very well in the Bianconeri's first season back in the big time and it would be cruel if he were to lose his job to Mourinho twice in four years. Plus, the club still hasn't fully recovered from the trauma of the '06 Calciopoli scandal.

Mourinho's crew was pushing Milan as a possible destination. While it's true that the club needs a major rebuilding job, it's equally true that Carlo Ancelotti remains popular among players and club officials. Plus, if one of Mourinho's problems at Chelsea was that he got too much interference from above and that the owner was bored by his style of play, Milan is the wrong place for him.

The club is obsessed with entertaining soccer and being Milan manager means constantly mediating between the players and the many "suggestions" coming from the club (primarily in the form of Adriano Galliani and the ebullient owner, Silvio Berlusconi).

Real Madrid looks like a no-go for similar reasons, assuming Bernd Schuster is "let go" in the summer. If Fabio Capello was "too defensive" in winning La Liga, Mourinho's style isn't exactly Brazil '70 either. The same could be said for FC Barcelona, where the smart money is on Frank Rijkaard opting to take time off at the end of the season. Mourinho has a history both at Barça and with Barça (who can forget his virulent run-ins with his counterparts in his first two seasons at Stamford Bridge?). This looks like a long shot.

Strike Roma (no money), Valencia (just getting used to this Ronald Koeman thing) and Lyon (Mourinho at the Stade Gerland in Le Championnat is a bit like Tiger Woods joining the Senior Tour) off the list and you're left with two options.

The first is Inter, the most credible and accredited destination. Roberto Mancini is likely to move on, regardless of whether he wins his third straight title or not. The club would give Mourinho a blank checkbook and total control (at least at first).

Inter puts substance over style. And Mourinho loves a challenge. He's taken the powerhouse from a small country and won the Champions League. He's taken the nouveau riche club with little history and won the Premier League (twice). Now, for the first time, he'd be taking arguably the biggest underachiever in world soccer and turning it into a European power.

Stay tuned. But if that doesn't work out, there's always the other option: a return to Chelsea. Crazy? Probably, although Mourinho claimed recently that he still talks to chief executive Peter Kenyon and owner Roman Abramovich on a regular basis (given that the Russian billionaire speaks neither Spanish, Portuguese nor English and that Mourinho -- to my knowledge -- doesn't speak Russian, it's a mystery how they communicate, but still).

It would only happen if Abramovich cleared out his army of assistants, coaches, advisors and executives (including Kenyon), but it would give him the kind of instant popularity among Chelsea fans he lost when Mourinho was sent packing.

Stranger things have happened. Though if you're a betting man, bet on him showing up at the San Siro.

Bad news makes more headlines than good news, but sometimes it's worth hearing a feel-good story. When Manchester United met Roma last year, there was trouble at both grounds. United fans were stabbed, Roma supporters attacked and the Roman police engaged in some very heavy-handed policing.

Sadly, when the two teams met in the group stage earlier this year, there was more trouble. Four United supporters were arrested in Rome and charged with acts of violence and resisting arrest.

Now, I don't know if they are guilty or not. I haven't been in court and I wasn't there that night (we do know, however, that they chose not to ride on the official supporters' buses and, instead, wandered into an area near the Stadio Olimpico where everyone had instructed them not to go ... unless they wanted to pick a fight).

What I do know is that the 2½-year prison sentence they received was entirely out of proportion with the punishment ordinarily handed out in these situations. It seems pretty clear the courts wanted to make an example of the "Roma Four." They are fighting their own legal battles and one can only hope that, if they're innocent, justice will be served.

But back to the good news. There was no trouble at either leg of the quarterfinal. And, in fact, relations between the two sets of supporters seem to be on the mend. Roma's hardcore Ultras supporters held up a banner which read, "Freedom for the Roma 4," as a sign of solidarity.

While this received little mainstream media coverage, it does show that some issues trump the actions of a violence-loving minority.

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