By Matt Barlow
Last updated at 11:58 PM on 28th April 2011
Sir Alex Ferguson recently gave an interview to an Italian newspaper in which he appeared to offer some degree of consent to the idea of Jose Mourinho one day succeeding him as manager of Manchester United.
'I'm a great friend of Jose and we often speak of his future,' said Ferguson. 'I can understand his desire to come back to England. Here there is more freedom for a manager, in the sense of media attention, without Marca and the radio programmes at midnight he gets constantly in Madrid. But it's a difficult one for me to tell him when this position will become available.'
Mourinho has flirted freely with English football this year. He almost became England manager. He remains close to Roman Abramovich and wouldn't rule out a return to Chelsea. He adores this country.
Anglophile: Jose Mourinho won two consecutive Premier League title with Chelsea and regularly mentions his love for the country
His preferred career path, however, appeared to involve staying at the Bernabeu and knocking Barcelona from their perch before moving to Old Trafford and then the Portuguese national team. It explained his enthusiasm for appearing on MUTV, United's in-house television channel.
Then came Hell Clasico, a snarling excuse for a football match, dripping in acrimony, witnessed first-hand by Ferguson as he scouted potential opponents for the Champions League final.
Mourinho was its architect in so many ways, from his goading pre-match comments, which enraged Pep Guardiola, to his negative tactical game plan, which never gave football a chance to rise above the nastiness.
Of course, Barcelona were culpable, too, especially Academy Award nominees Daniel Alves, Pedro and Sergio Busquets. But Mourinho wanted a game with a confused rhythm and that's what he got.
Ugly spectacle: Dani Alves was one of a number of players guilty of exaggerating injury
Peering down from the overspill press seats in the fourth tier, no-one knew where to focus in the chaos.
After all, so few of the key issues featured the ball and there were no television monitors for replays.
Injuries were feigned and exaggerated, officials mobbed, missiles thrown from the stands and a pitch invasion by a fan dressed in complete Real Madrid kit.
This is without the posturing sideshow of both managers, which peaked in the aftermath of Pepe's red card in the 61st minute when Mourinho launched into his full repertoire of sarcastic mimes before being ordered from the touchline.
Or the fracas in the mouth of the tunnel at half-time a rolling maul of shirts, shorts, suits, ties and fluorescent bibs. There were reports in the Catalan press of racist abuse aimed at Alves.
Just as the dust threatened to settle, Mourinho swept into the press conference to recycle his conspiracy theories about Barcelona's cosy relationship with UEFA and their referees. Rather than retreat from the crime scene, he was back to kick the corpse. The room caught its breath. The clatter of typing ceased. Entire paragraphs were deleted. Then rewritten.
Waiting in the wings? Once thought of as Sir Alex Ferguson's natural successor at Manchester United, will the club take a punt on the explosive Portuguese?
Mourinho is a skilful media operator. As the Catalan papers rejoiced in a 2-0 win on Thursday morning, Madrid papers seized on the perceived injustice. 'Why?' asked the front pages of Marca and AS.
Now, however, Real are not only coming to terms with the prospect of an emphatic beating at the hands of their fiercest rivals but have been charged by UEFA with five offences relating to Wednesday's game.
Two charges relate directly to Mourinho, for his expulsion and his post-match comments, and he is implicated in others for his role in whipping up the mentality which persuaded some fans to lob things at Lionel Messi and another to target Stark. Barcelona also confirmed they would report him to UEFA.
It promises to be an utterly graceless European exit but, for some, like legend and honorary president Alfredo di Stefano, greater shame comes from playing like 'a mouse' against Barca's 'lion'. Cristiano Ronaldo strayed into similar territory, admitting he did not enjoy such unadventurous football.
Trading places: Cristiano Ronaldo is unhappy at Real Madrid's style of football
Mourinho may have led Real into the last four of the Champions League for the first time since 2003 but the nine-time European champions and most decorated club of the 20th century are a club starting to feel uneasy about themselves. Is this what United want?
Ferguson may be no angel, but he usually behaves himself on the international circuit. Mourinho knows no other way. This impact management is in his professional fingerprint, perhaps the secret of his success. He sweeps into a new home and turns on the authorities. Remember Anders Frisk, the bans and the laundry basket at Chelsea or the handcuffs gesture at Inter Milan.
Question his methods and he refers to two European titles, more than Guardiola has won as a coach, as he pointed out following Wednesday's defeat in the Bernabeu.
'I did it with two teams that were not Barcelona,' said Mourinho. 'It was with Porto, from a country who do not win the Champions League, and a team called Inter Milan, who had not won it for 50 years and did not have the quality to win it. We won with strength, hard work, sweat and pride.'
For some clubs this twisted genius is worth the hassle. Plenty at Stamford Bridge would have him back in a flash. For others it is not worth the hassle. Real Madrid may want to give serious thought to the same question. Manchester United, too.