Jose Mourinho could be about to embark on a new journey in football management as he opens the door to a job on the international stage, rather than at club level.
The Portuguese coach has been out of the managerial hot seat since Manchester United relieved him of his duties in December, following a turbulent first half of the 2018/19 season.
Friction in the camp – most notably his soured relationship with Paul Pogba – as well as poor results on the field, with the Red Devils enduring their worst start to a season for 28 years, culminated in his eventual dismissal from the Old Trafford dugout.
But his recent comments, in an interview with Eleven Sports, have brought to light the possibility that his next coaching venture could be in international football: “Right now, I see myself more at a national team than with a new club.”
With that, should a move to international football materialise, how could Fifa’s top five national teams line up under Mourinho?
Mourinho has never kept secret his ambition to one day take the Portuguese reigns, intimating in 2013 a desire to do so: “I would love to be the national team coach one day. I think the Portuguese people are waiting for that to happen.”
Well, his latest comments could pave the way for a marriage between Mourinho and his homeland, but how would he set his stalls out with the Navigators’ current crop?
Mourinho has tended to utilise a 4-2-3-1 across his career, which could work out perfectly for Portugal. Rui Patricio would operate as the sweeper ‘keeper in front of a strong centre-back partnership of Pepe – a man he knows exceptionally well from their Real Madrid days – and Ruben Dias.
With an excellent passing range, Dias is a more modern centre-back, and so, alongside Pepe, the duo could form a formidable, no-nonsense-contemporary defensive duo, allowing Joao Cancelo and Raphael Guerreiro to push forward and aid in the final third.
William Carvalho and Ruben Neves would be the creator-destroyer double pivot; Neves playing similarly to that of Esteban Cambiasso during the famous 2009/10 Inter Milan treble-winning season, dictating the tempo of play while looking to sit back and instigate attacking moves.
Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes will be the inside forwards, but also functioning as almost defensive wingers, dropping back and helping shift the formation to a 4-4-1-1 when out of possession, particularly the former, who has had to operate on a similar level under Pep Guardiola at Man City.
Joao Felix will be Mourinho’s No. 10 fulcrum – similar to Mesut Ozil or Wesley Sneijder under Mourinho – looking to collect the ball between the lines and find openings for Cristiano Ronaldo, who has reinvented himself as a deadly No. 9 at Juventus.
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In that same interview in 2013, Mourinho also sparked excitement on these shores when he refused to pour cold water on the possibility of managing the Three Lions at some stage in his career: “I can never say never [about managing England].”
Well, how would that look? England aren’t as blessed in the central midfield department as they have been over the years, so Mourinho would likely stick with a 4-2-3-1. Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson would be the industrious double pivot, covering the spaces near to the bylines when Trent Alexander-Arnold and Danny Rose – a former target of Mourinho – stride forward.
Jordan Pickford will be the man between the sticks, while Harry Maguire – another man Mourinho desperately tried to sign last summer – will accompany Joe Gomez in the heart of the defence, forming a physically imposing, yet competent ball-playing centre-back duo – something Mourinho heavily bemoaned the lack of at United.
In the advanced playmaker role, James Maddison could step into the equation here, offering a far more visionary and creative outlet than say, Jesse Lingard or Dele Alli, while Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho will offer precision on the wings to assist Harry Kane through the middle.
During the latter stages of his Man Utd tenure, Mourinho lamented the lack of “mad dog” spirit in his camp, and questioned the younger player’s ‘character and maturity’, so a move here could potentially have severe ramifications for United’s current contingent in the England ranks.
With no language barrier, a move here could be ideal for both parties, though in a footballing sense, it could be disastrous. The improvised philosophy and Samba style of Selecao silk is almost diametrically at odds with the systematised and mechanical playing style of Mourinho – a clash of ideologies here may not work.
But were he to hypothetically take charge, how could Brazil line up? With a strong central midfield and potent attackers, Mourinho may adopt a 4-3-3. Alisson, of course, will be the sweeper ‘keeper at the back, while Marquinhos and Thiago Silva will hold the fort in front of the Liverpool shot-stopper.
On the defensive flanks, Eder Militao will play a role similar to that of say, Javier Zanetti at Inter, or Cesar Azpilicueta at Chelsea: offering competent defensive stability, but also providing a versatility that could see him slot in at various positions, possibly even central midfield, a la Zanetti.
Alex Sandro will be the explosion on the left – reminiscent of Maicon or Marcelo – while a midfield composition of Fabinho, Arthur and Allan will complete an all-round middle of the park trident. Fabinho playing a Sami Khedira-esque role, Arthur playing almost as a Xabi Alonso, operating as a deep-lying playmaker, and Allan taking up the box-to-box midfield burden – a role Mourinho tried to perfect with Pogba.
On the wings, Neymar – for all his off-field drama – is essentially undroppable, while Willian – who has expressed a desire to work with Mourinho again one day – will look to replicate his 2014/15 domestic double season form under the Portuguese. Roberto Firmino will be the spearhead up top.
Potentially the most interesting of the lot. Would Mourinho drop Pogba? Well, considering his form at international level, that would be exceptionally hard to do, so Mourinho may have to bite the bullet with this one; though, given how strained his relationship with Pogba became at United, epitomised by his infamous “virus” rant and his recent “His Excellency” comments, Pogba may find his place on the bench.
As for the formation, he will likely go with his tried-and-tested 4-3-1-2 to accommodate the strikers. In goal, Hugo Lloris will keep his starting berth, with Benjamin Pavard and Ferland Mendy operating as floated full-backs, while Raphael Varane and Issa Diop – a defensive “monster”, according to Mourinho – will meanly lock up the defence.
N’Golo Kante will, of course, be Mourinho’s Claude Makelele, while Blaise Matuidi will be his Dejan Stankovic pushing forward, and Moussa Sissoko, the box-to-box engine.
Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann will form a strike partnership up top, while Nabil Fekir could be his No 10, but also pushing out to the right, and Mbappe to the left to form a 4-2-3-1 should Mourinho want to revert to a more familiar playing style.
Roberto Martinez has heavily indoctrinated a 3-4-3 with Belgium, and well, given how Mourinho utilised a three-at-the-back system across stages of his United tenure, he may stick rather than twist here, though the formation may be tweaked to a 3-4-1-2, or 3-5-2 as demonstrated during his Man Utd days. And, of course, he will certainly be buoyed by the plethora of quality centre-backs on offer.
Thibaut Courtois will start in goal, with a centre-back triumvirate of Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany and Toby Alderweireld – another United target – protecting the Real gloveman. On the flanks, Thomas Meunier takes up the right wing-back slot, while Yannick Carrasco slots in on the other side. Mourinho often had problems with his full-backs at United, notably playing Ashley Young at left wing-back at times, so, he will certainly have the requisite experience to deploy Carrasco in a similar fashion.
Youri Tielemans and Axel Witsel will be the two men in central midfield, dictating and procuring the ball – as well as breaking up play – while Kevin De Bruyne will be his No. 10, just behind a front two of Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku. Hazard, of course, is best positioned out wide, and in transitions, he will certainly drift, but United often played two up top when using a three-at-the-back system, so that will likely be the case here as well.