Jose Mourinho - special no more?
By Richard Buxton
The mind games and subterfuge have already begun; start spreading the news - the Special One's coming back to town.
Jose Mourinho's next career move dominates the headlines in the only way that he can, but while the prospect of the two-time Champions League winner returning to the Premier League has the potential to be enticing, his antics are in danger of losing their long-standing allure.
He insisted earlier this week that he will solider on at Real Madrid, in spite of the meek surrender of their La Liga crown to Barcelona and a Champions League defeat at the hands of Borussia Dortmund, but true to form, it was nothing more than a psychological pawn in his exit strategy.
Mourinho's overdue swagger back into the English top flight is the game's worst kept secret. His former nemesis and possibly soon-to-be predecessor in the Chelsea hot seat, Rafael Benitez, is all too aware of it, going so far as to publicly chalk it down as an inevitability.
The 'will he or won't he' charade is no longer endearing as it was before he joined the west Londoners in 2004; it is his first quirk to have already become tiresome - that in itself encapsulates why the Mourinho roadshow, entertaining as it has been, is beginning to lose its sheen.
Beneath the spotlight, there is no finer showman than Mourinho. His ability to breed a winning mentality and connect with his players is the mark of a true manageral great.
But his Bernabeu swansong has not gone according to script, with Madrid failing in both retaining the Spanish title and their pursuit of 'La Decima' - a coveted tenth European Cup.
Even when the latter was still viable, following a last 16 smash-and-grab against Manchester United, Mourinho stole focus with his premature and uncharacteristic exit just minutes from the final whistle, followed by an insistence that 'the best team lost' in his post-match TV interview.
It was a far cry from the celebratory sprint down the Old Trafford touchline that catapulted him into the consciousness of the game's populus after his Porto side's late win there a decade prior - a celebration controversially replicated on the Nou Camp turf as Inter Milan manager in 2010.
Time will tell whether his uncharacteristic humility in the aftermath of deposing United was designed to curry favour in the hope of taking the reins, with Sir Alex Ferguson reportedly considering standing down at the end of this season.
When it suits, Mourinho is still capable of those moments yet that breathtaking charisma which endeared him to Stamford Bridge faithful - the place he considers beloved - and football in general is, by no means, guaranteed if the Portuguese does return to his spiritual home.