International stage will be the redemption of Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho guided Manchester United to an uninspiring Champions League win on Wednesday, but his future belongs outside of the club game.
Assuming he has another couple of years in the job, by the time Jose Mourinho leaves Old Trafford he will have managed around 1,000 matches over the course of two decades in club management. His success has elevated him to a level reserved only for the very best of the best, but the signs point to a very different future.
The stars may have aligned in order for Mourinho to find himself in charge of Manchester United, and it was not the path that the early years of his career suggested he would follow. Mourinho was once a young and dynamic manager, defining a new generation of continental excitement in the Premier League, but he now resembles the grouchy older figure that resents being upstaged by the younger generation.
When Manchester United appointed Mourinho in the summer of 2016, he no longer fitted the profile of the manager they wanted, but represented only the manager they needed. Failed by the stumbling decline caused by David Moyes and then Louis van Gaal following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, the club needed a proven winner to prevent losing even more ground on noisy neighbours Manchester City.
The appointment of Pep Guardiola at City made Mourinho the perfect nemesis for the Catalan, and the memorable rivalry from their time in Spain returned once again. After a year of rebuilding and remoulding, both managers are now ready to make an impact domestically and in Europe, and getting the better of the other will provide sufficient motivation to make their respective teams the best.
Now 54, Mourinho has little left to prove having won domestic titles across Europe. Guardiola is eight years his junior, but his intensity and attention to detail in the pursuit of perfection represent a physically and mentally draining approach to football management. A return to their domestic rivalry should be savoured, as it is not likely to last for any significant amount of time.
Guardiola has more perfection to find in club football, and he has the energy and desire to continue working towards his utopian vision for a few more years to come. He has taken his collective transfer spending over the €1 billion mark since taking charge of Barcelona less than a decade ago, and if it means spending that amount again and more to succeed, he will do so.
Meanwhile, Mourinho is also partial to spending the money of others, and big statement signings like Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku show that he is out to make an immediate impact. He rarely stays at a club for any significant amount of time, and while his early management career was all about his profile and progress, he appears to have peaked at club football level.
A UEFA Champions League winner at Porto and then at Inter Milan, Mourinho's subsequent promotion to Real Madrid in 2010 marked the peak of his rise, but he failed to achieve the European glory that all Real Madrid managers are judged upon. He has enjoyed domestic success and guided Manchester United to the UEFA Europa League last season, but he clearly lacks the same hunger of his earlier years.
It is only natural that his desire will wane after two decades of delivering against pressure and expectancy, and it is a completely new challenge that Mourinho needs at this stage of his career. The modern game dictates success will be achieved through spending, and the rare exceptions serve only to prove the rule. The time has come for Mourinho to enter the international stage.
Make no mistake, Mourinho is a passionate football man, a renowned figure in the game who did not have the luxury of building his profile on the back of a successful playing career. Sir Bobby Robson saw the desire and potential in his Portuguese understudy, and he proved to be the perfect tutor to educate Mourinho on the important values of the game that he himself was brought up on.
International football offers no transfer window, and success is not decided by net spend. Glory on the international stage is earned through creating a culture and philosophy over a period of time, devising a system to bring the very best out of what is available, and educating players to embrace the nationalistic passion and desire of representing your country.
Mourinho is a mind-game master, and his persona is perfectly suited for the international stage. Combined with his club level experience at the very top, his status commands respect, and there is no doubt that he could be a huge success with the support of the right country. It does not have to be Portugal, he would be welcomed in all four corners of the world, and he would be greeted with excitement and optimism.
A determined winner, this is the primary aim for Mourinho in each and every game. His negativity in certain situations would be considered a strength in the tight-knit nature of international football, while the time between international breaks will allow him the opportunity to manipulate the media and engage them into his plans without the constant focus being based on the last game or the impending next one.
Of course, Mourinho has a lot of making up to do, if he so desires, and he will never be universally popular. But his meticulous planning of the opposition would be perfectly suited for the international game, and he is at a stage in his career where he can take a break from the intensity of club football at the very highest level. In addition, the romance of international success really is the ultimate football accolade.
Recent reports and rumours have linked Mourinho with a switch to Paris Saint-Germain, but this is a club move too many. As it was at the Santiago Bernabeu, the same pressure and intensity to achieve Champions League success at any price in the French capital would serve only to cheapen the eventual glory, and it is time for Mourinho to find football again.
Deep down, Mourinho belongs outside of the madness of the modern game. He achieved his greatest success with Porto in 2004 as the underdogs triumphed through his man-management and tactical genius. It is that ability that would shine on the international stage, and while he has embraced the spotlight at the biggest clubs in the world, he knows that true glory in the modern game cannot be bought.