José Mourinho's eagerness to return to Chelsea this summer would not be deflected even if the European Cup holders fail to qualify for next season's Champions League, with talks ongoing between the Portuguese's representative and the club's hierarchy.
Despite Mourinho's very public courting of his former club in the aftermath of Real Madrid's Champions League exit, there remains the possibility that Paris Saint-Germain will compete for his signature should, as expected, Carlo Ancelotti opt for the Bernabéu in June. Chelsea, too, continue to sound out candidates. Yet Mourinho is understood to be confident he will return to the club where he spent a trophy-laden if turbulent spell of a little over three seasons until the autumn of 2007.
The possibility that Chelsea, currently third in the Premier League under the interim stewardship of Rafael Benítez, may not qualify for next year's Champions League had been mooted as a potential obstacle to the 50-year-old's return. While that would have serious implications for the club's attempts to balance the books ahead of the implementation of Uefa's financial fair play rules, sources close to the negotiations have suggested Mourinho would actually not be dissuaded from coming should the side finish outside the top four and be condemned to Europa League football. Indeed, he could consider it an even greater challenge.
Yet, having reconciled with Roman Abramovich in the years since their relationship fractured so spectacularly, other obstacles still need to be cleared if his desire to return to a club "where people love me", as he stated after Real's elimination by Borussia Dortmund, is to come to fruition. His contractual tie with Real extends to 2016, and PSG have an interest in recruiting him, but principal among his concerns is the amount of power he would be permitted to wield at Chelsea.
The original breakdown of his relationship with Abramovich during his previous spell at the club was born of frustrations over transfer policy, with the imposition of Avram Grant as a director of football riling the Portuguese. Yet if he was to return, Mourinho would have to accept the existing structure in place at the club, particularly given that the positions of the chief executive, Ron Gourlay, and the technical director, Michael Emenalo, are not believed to be under immediate threat. Indeed, the latter heavily influences the club's scouting and recruitment strategy and will be retained under the new regime.
It remains to be seen whether Mourinho will feel he is able to accept that hierarchy, despite the acceptance that further significant squad strengthening will take place. There is interest in Radamel Falcao at Atlético Madrid, while reinforcements will be made in central midfield and with the addition of a back-up goalkeeper. André Schürrle, the Germany forward, is due to complete a £20m move from Bayer Leverkusen at the end of the season.
Mourinho's arrival would also have implications for some of the elder statesmen in the playing staff, not least Frank Lampard, who is still awaiting the offer of a contract extension with his current deal to expire at the end of June. Mourinho may seek to keep him, as well as John Terry, who is entering the final 12 months of his deal.
While Chelsea will only publicly address the managerial situation once the season is complete, discussions have been taking place for some time behind the scenes and the hierarchy, via intermediaries, have sounded out potential replacements for Roberto Di Matteo, who in November became the fifth full-time manager sacked by Abramovich since Mourinho departed. The Portuguese is understood to be top of their list, though representatives of the Málaga manager, Manuel Pellegrini, have also been contacted.
Chelsea were impressed with the Spanish club's progress into the Champions League quarter-finals this term. The Chilean, who has previously coached at Real Madrid and Villarreal, is contracted for a further season though there is a buyout clause believed to be set at around £3.4m, and he has let it be known that working under the financial insecurity at Málaga has left him frustrated this season.
Other options mooted have been David Moyes, who is out of contract at Everton in the summer, and Atlético Madrid's Diego Simeone.
The issue was aired in the buildup to the second leg of Chelsea's Europa League second-leg against Basel with Benítez dead-batting all questions as he seeks to secure the club's third European final in six seasons.