22 May ~ For seven of the past 15 years, the winner of the European Footballer of the Year award has made his way to the Bernabéu. It is as if, season on season, the Real Madrid president, whoever he may be, takes his summer shopping list from France Football, buying into a marketing opportunity first with the concept of a player actually fitting into a system proving merely an afterthought.
This summer, were he a player, José Mourinho would almost certainly be first in line to get his hands on the Ballon d'Or. Having just tied up another Serie A title with Inter and a week after winning the Coppa Italia, Mourinho will be at the Bernabéu tonight seeking to lift his first Champions League trophy since his days at Porto. Mourinho is already revered by Real fans for his bus parking job in the previous round, thus saving them from seeing Barcelona trot out in the Champions League final (and worse still, win it) at the Bernabéu. Win or lose tonight, the assumption is that Mourinho is more than likely going to make the Bernabéu a home from home from the summer onwards as the Real board line him up as Manuel Pellegrini's replacement.
Given the Madrid public's appetite for attractive football, Mourinho seems an unlikely choice to take the helm. But then again, the one trophy desperately sought by the fans is also the one you sense is also first on the list of Mourinho's priorities each season. Compromise, therefore, seems to be the order of the day. With Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká and Karim Benzema in the side, Real will be playing in an expansive style next season should Mourinho be in charge or not. People may be inclined to forget the early days of Mourinho's tenure at Stamford Bridge, when Damien Duff and Arjen Robben ran defences ragged but given the choice between watching a Ronaldo flick or a Walter Samuel reducer, one gets the impression Mourinho would probably just about favour the latter.
In many ways, managing Real is one of the most thankless tasks in world football. Mourinho is likely be given no more than two seasons to bring the Champions League to the Bernabéu for the first time since 2001-02. In the interim, an astonishing eight managers have come and gone (with Pellegrini expected to become the ninth). Indeed, Real have not got past the second-round stage for six seasons. Quite why they have this preordained sense of entitlement to Europe's biggest prize is strange to comprehend for most fans. But it is simply a fact of life Mourinho will have to embrace if he is to succeed. As if this wasn't enough to contend with, it has traditionally been the president who cherry picks the new transfers. It wasn't so long ago, after all, that Mourinho was locked in a power struggle with a hands-on owner. Adam Bushby