Come Home, Special One
Dear Special One:
I'm not one of those lapdogs in the English press who have slobbered over you since you first proclaimed your Specialness upon arriving in London in 2004, but today I write to you with a mixture of awe and reverence.
That you have already started the countdown to your next job with three years still left on your Real Madrid contract takes such cojones that I cannot help but be impressed. I mean, even LeBron toyed with our emotions for only a few months before deciding to rip the heart out of Cleveland and take his talents to South Beach.
It was just so you swaggering into London last weekend, ostensibly to scout Tottenham for Real's upcoming Champions League quarterfinal match, only to spend most of your time fueling speculation that you were ready to return to the Premiership. "I miss England and my next job will be in England," you told the British tabloid, The Sun. "And I think England wants me back, no?"
Yes, Special One, England wants you back all right.
You are the only true galactico of managers, a global icon who generates the kind of buzz normally reserved for the Messis and Ronaldos. Wherever you've been, from Portugal to England to Italy, you delivered titles, headlines, headaches and more titles. You're brilliant, witty, charismatic, egomaniacal, narcissistic, preeningly insufferable. You even made John Terry cry well before he missed thatpenalty.
What club wouldn't happily sell its soul -- and several thousand more tickets -- to have you prowling the sideline in your gray cashmere coat and cravat-du-jour? If you play your cards right -- and when haven't you? -- you could set up a LeBronesque bidding circus for your services and then announce your decision in a prime-time, 60-minute Special One Special. You could even line up two Grays to host it -- Jim and Andy -- the night your contract expires in 2014.
Or 2012, if for some reason Real Madrid tires of your act. And you know it will if you don't bring the club Barcelona's head on a La Liga or Champions League plate. Don't forget that the reason Real made you the highest paid manager in the world is that you accomplished the two things the club values more than life itself: beating Barca and winning in Europe.
And there's already simmering tensions between you and Real's director of soccer, Jorge Valdano, that go back to 2007 when he memorably described the defensive style played by your Chelsea team as "s--- on a stick." It didn't help your relationship when early in the season you lost your high-scoring striker, Gonzalo Higuain, to injury and feuded in the press with Valdano, who was opposed to your buying a high-priced replacement. After weeks of public wrangling, you prevailed, but at what cost? The player you took on loan from Manchester City, Emmanuel Adebayour, has pretty much been "s--- on a stick."
So it's no surprise that you're weighing your next move. The problem is that after Chelsea, Inter and Real, you've set the bar so high, your options are limited.
It's like Brad Pitt dumping Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie, and now he's stuck. His next step is destined to be down the hotness ladder. Still, your resume -- 17 titles, seven years, three different countries -- will always attract eye-lash batting suitors. Can you imagine the nerve-shredding tension as the soccer world waited to see which team you would bless next?
Of course, there are only a handful of them in England that could meet all your criteria: salary ($19 million), transfer budget (infinity), Champions League soccer (sorry, Liverpool), autonomy (total), cosmopolitan lifestyle (let's face it, after living in London, Milan and Madrid, your wife is not about to go to Birmingham). Fortunately for you, it just so happens that there are several candidates who meet your special needs. Let me lay them out for you.
I know that bookmaker William Hill sees your old club Chelsea as your most likely destination, setting the odds at 11/4 for a special return to Stamford Bridge. And granted, Roman Abramovich rues the day that he let you go because his aesthetic sensibilities trumped his better judgment. If you've seen the monument to wretched excess that is Roman's new yacht, you know what a total aberration that decision was for him.
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Personally I don't think he ever gave you enough credit. You brought home Chelsea's first league title in half a century in just your first season before defending it the following year. Back to back Specialness, and what was your reward? Abramovich continually reminding you who was boss by controlling the club's transfer policy.
You showed great restraint when Andriy Shevchenko suddenly rocked up at the Bridge for about $50 million and you were "encouraged" to play him. While the Ukranian was a complete washout on the field, he served another purpose as Roman's faithful locker-room mole. It is no wonder that you began to mock Roman's advice and let him know, in no uncertain terms, what you thought of him appointing Avram Grant as director of soccer.
Still, I know you have strong emotional ties to the Bridge. After all, "my Chelsea boys" as you like to refer to Frank Lampard and John Terry, are still in blue and the spectacular Brazilian addition, David Luiz, is your kind of stud. Together, they epitomize a vintage Mourinho team -- combative, cold-blooded, confident, and if last year's Playstation effort is anything to go by, dare I say, exciting.
Since you left the Bridge, Avram Grant, Big Phil Scolari and Guus Hiddink have all tried to inject some verve into Chelsea's style, but none won a league title and only Hiddink lifted a trophy -- the FA Cup -- before negotiating their fat exit packages. Carlo Ancelotti had a double-winning season in 2009-10 that looked worthy of you, but IN 2011 his team collapsed like a kite in a windstorm after a strong start, and now he's making goo-goo eyes at AC Milan.
All in all, it sounds pretty tempting, yes? Of course, you've always fancied yourself a been-there, done-that kind of guy, so it's likely that Chelsea is no longer enough of a challenge for you. It's possible you'd rather go to a club where you hadn't already left your indelible mark, a club like, say ... Manchester United.
Jose -- if I can call you by your earthly name -- if ever there was a project to match your grandiose ambition, it would be succeeding the greatest UK manager of the last 25 years at the most successful English club of the modern era. Plus, I know you respect and admire Sir Alex as he may be the only man alive more skilled than you when it comes to playing mind games with referees, opponents and journalists.
Unlike any other manager in captivity, you wouldn't be daunted by Ferguson's record, either. You have both won two European Cups, but Fergie took 34 while you knocked it out in 10. The problem, as I see it, is that whoever takes over for Sir Alex will be seen as the curator of the SAF Museum and you've always been a guy who builds a team in his own image. And how much building can you really do at a club that is currently $966.4 million in debt?
With the specter of the billionaires in light blue across town, could the Red Devils put enough money in your pocket to make it work? After all, I'm sure you noticed that when their crosstown rivals were spending freely, United could barely scrape together enough pennies to hang on to Wayne Rooney and they were already forced to sell off Christiano Ronaldo to your current employer. If City are the shiny new McMansion on the block, United might be the one around the corner, about to be repossessed.
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Fergie's impending retirement -- he's 69 and once he gets his hands on United's 19th trophy and finishes crushing Liverpool's spirit -- can't be far off. When he goes, the club may well embrace a long-overdue spell of Dickensian austerity. If you want to work at a broke club, you could just join Mallorca and stay in Spain.
But that's probably being unfair. United is worthy of your legacy, even if the city's shops might be a little too tacky for your tastes. Old Trafford is one of England's best and storied grounds, the team has guts, pride and youth. And even though Rafa Benitez is long gone, I'm sure that you could find a way to get under King Kenny's skin at Anfield.
You'd have a job with prestige, glamour and be in the EPL's catbird seat. It could be amazing. It could be the pinnacle of your career. Or, it could be as large a train wreck as when Benitez tried to fill your soft leather shoes at Inter.
Jose, I've got more advice for you, but in homage to your approach, I'm going to tease this out. I'll be thinking of you. Until later this week
David Hirshey has been covering soccer for more than 30 years and has written about the sport for The New York Times, Time, ESPN The Magazine and Deadspin. He is the co-author of "The ESPN World Cup Companion" and played himself (almost convincingly) in the acclaimed soccer documentary "Once in a Lifetime."