The chaos at Stamford Bridge makes the reunion between Roman Abramovich and manager almost inevitable
Perhaps the most relevant question is what precisely has changed since those last, difficult days together when José Mourinho and Roman Abramovich came to resemble a couple who had forgotten what it was they liked about one another, still sharing the same oxygen but with none of the old joys?
Mourinho, in that political and often romanticised way of his, was certainly applying a wonderfully selective memory when he talked of working in a loving environment at Chelsea and made sure not to allow any of the more inconvenient facts to get in the way of his nostalgia.
It is true that he was adored by the supporters, afforded a rare form of reverence in those days when he had Sir Alex Ferguson on the run and looked like he wanted to take on the world. They were great times, undoubtedly, and the sense of excitement those same people will be experiencing about the prospect of him swinging back into Stamford Bridge ought to be shared, for the most part, by the rest of English football. Mourinho brings a spark that possibly nobody else possesses. He has the ability, singlehandedly, to invigorate an entire league and we could probably do with it judging by how mundane the current season has been and the feeling of anti-climax when a title race is all but done by the second week of February.
There was not a great deal of love, however, behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge during his final year, when his relationship with Abramovich broke apart and Mourinho seemed to morph before our eyes. That handsome man of charisma and wit was replaced by someone with a manic stare and dark smudges beneath his eyes. His hair became wild and bouffant. The sharply tailored black suit was replaced by a dowdy grey tracksuit. We have seen this a lot from Mourinho in his final season at Real Madrid. When he is happy, he would not look out of place on the front cover of GQ; when he is unhappy, he can resemble a man who has just missed the last bus home. He was seriously unhappy in the year or so before the final call, asking him to collect his belongings, on 20 September 2007.
The healing process has taken a long time, as it was bound to when we are talking about male pride and ego and two people who are entirely used to getting their own way. Abramovich came to resent the way Mourinho craved control. Mourinho sulked, conspired and used every trick in the book to get his way. It is a particularly thick book in Mourinho's case but this was one argument he was never going to win.
So why would Abramovich give serious consideration to bringing him back? Pragmatism, mostly. Abramovich might have an unorthodox way of showing it sometimes but his focus has never shifted from what he really wants: to see Chelsea consistently at the top. Mourinho is plainly a man who could re-energise the club and at least it shows Abramovich is willing to bend when the occasion demands it. For all his faults, it is not always the case with the super-rich that they would go back to someone who has been fired and try to find common ground.
A lot of this still seems slightly presumptuous and it is worth pointing out there are people at Stamford Bridge, acutely aware of how Mourinho operates, who are advising caution and reiterating this is a man who plans his professional life like a chess game. It cannot entirely be ruled out that his comments were strategically designed to apply pressure, force the issue and whip up even more support from the people who still chant his name. It backs Chelsea into a corner, at a time when they are looking for a new manager and a restless crowd need to be placated. For Chelsea to go elsewhere now would risk open mutiny among their supporters. Checkmate, you could say.
Abramovich does not always indulge these games but, equally, Mourinho's carefully designed words after Madrid's game against Borussia Dortmund, and the timing of it, was not a complete surprise. The Guardian has been reporting for some time that relations have soothed between the relevant people and that a feeling exists on both sides that they can be good for another once again. Mourinho has been planning his escape route for most of the season and a return to his old club is no secret given that Ferguson, on two separate occasions, has talked in press conferences about Chelsea making a better fist of next season's title race – primarily because the Manchester United manager expects his old rival to be back in charge.
If so, it is surely something to be welcomed, whatever your position on Mourinho's shortcomings, bearing in mind the way the past couple of seasons have played out and the clear sense that the two Manchester clubs are getting everything their own way.
The media would gratefully usher him back, even if that relationship was not always as cosy as Mourinho would remember either, but what the headline writers, pressbox denizens and television people want should not really be a huge consideration. The bottom line for Chelsea is whether Mourinho still has the uncommon ability that took them to back-to-back championships, accumulating a record 95 points the first time, and whether he can fumigate the club of the disenchantment that has been building up since the removal of Roberto Di Matteo on the back of winning the Champions League and appointment of Rafael Benítez. At 50, older, wiser, there is no reason to think it is beyond Mourinho. If anything, he should be a more rounded manager after his experiences at Madrid and previously Internazionale.
Mourinho is said to be lining up Radamel Falcao as a priority in the transfer market. His appointment would potentially increase the chances of Frank Lampard being offered another contract. More than that, it should refocus a group of players who must find it a blur sometimes trying to keep up with Abramovich's trigger reflex and this permanent sense that a couple of bad results might do for whoever is in charge.
In Benítez's case, they have known pretty much from the start that he is a stopgap measure, with no fully integrated plan for the future and enough bad feeling to give every home match an edge. On that basis, who can be that surprised the players have not always seemed entirely fixed on his ideas? Footballers, on the whole, want some form of security and consistency and Chelsea have been without that for too long. They finished 25 points off the top last season and are 20 adrift this time around. The old adage in management is never to go back but the timing for Mourinho, and Abramovich, could hardly be better.