On the eve of Real Madrid's Champions League semi-final second leg against Bayern Munich, José Mourinho has given his strongest indication yet that he intends to continue at the club next season. Madrid must overturn a 2-1 deficit as Mourinho seeks to become the first man to win the European Cup with three different sides, just days after they overcame Barcelona to virtually secure the Spanish league title.
Although Mourinho never publicly stated that he was planning to depart, strategic leaks from the coach's camp in January said that he would seek a return to England at the end of the season. Those reports could be seen in effect as an advert for the coach's services, putting Premier League clubs on alert as to his availability. Since then, Mourinho has refused to be drawn on his future. Now, though, he has suggested that he will remain in charge at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Asked if he could state that he was going to carry on as Real Madrid manager, Mourinho replied: "That is not important [at the moment]. But I think so. I have a contract and I do not have any reason not to be here, but before the last game there will be sufficient time to talk to the players and the directors and decide what is best for me and for the players. In any case, it is the players that matter [not my future]."
There was a further hint when he said that success is the result of work over an extended period of time and claimed to see the same hunger in his Madrid team as he did in his previous squad at Internazionale, despite the players finding themselves at very different stages of their career. "That was the last chance for a generation of players," he said. "The semi-final [in 2010] was a day to get to the final or maybe never get there again. That's why it was so emotional and why we celebrated so much.
"I look at this group today and I see the same hope and hunger, leading me to the conclusion that it's not about it being your fifth [final] or your first, about being young or old, but about hope, about it being the Champions League, full stop. This is the year for Real Madrid.
"[Working at Madrid] is an enriching experience and that has made me a better coach. I have always wanted to work in different places, with different cultures, different clubs and different players. I hope I do not fail to live up to people's expectations. There's less than a month left: we can win two great titles, or one, or none. That's the emotion of football – that is something I like a lot.
"It is about the way we work together, the way we create empathy. It's [about] the work over the course of a season. And when the seasons are accumulated, then so much the better. It is better to be [in charge] for three, four or five years than one or two because you can do more things. This is not my first semi-final and if I was to reach the final it would not be my first. But it is the players who are out there and I have faith in them."
Mourinho admitted to having rather less faith in fortune. For a coach who has won so much, defeat weighs heavily in his discourse. There was yet another mention for Rafael Benítez's Liverpool here and for Barcelona, who knocked out Real Madrid at this stage last season. And for Howard Webb, who refereed the first leg. There was no mention of the 2010 semi-final when a relieved, 10-man Inter side saw Barcelona have a late winner ruled out, or for the 2004 semi-final when Porto knocked out Deportivo La Coruña 1-0 on aggregate after a Derlei penalty and with the Spanish side having had a man sent off in both legs; in the first, Jorge Andrade was shown a red card for playfully kicking Deco, his countryman and friend.
"I think if I look at it overall, I was not lucky in my semi-finals because I lost one [in 2005] with a goal that was not a goal – the ball did not cross the line and I didn't reach the final because of that," he said. "Another season , I lost a semi-final on penalties [to Liverpool], and penalties are more luck than anything. And last season, I lost a semi-final the way that everybody knows. I hope to win this one but I was not lucky this time either because I lost the first leg with a goal that was not a goal. It was offside."