(Reuters) - For more than a decade, Jose Mourinho has been one of the select few coaches whose names invariably crop up when a vacancy arises at one of Europe’s elite clubs.
But after his unhappy two years at Manchester United, the Portuguese may have fallen off that privileged merry-go-round.
Until recently Mourinho was regarded as a master tactician and supreme motivator and with 20 major trophies as a manager, including two at United, a reliable provider of silverware.
But all that is in danger of being tarnished by United’s fall from grace and his incessant moaning about his own players.
The man who once labeled himself the Special One and livened up news conferences by accusing his opponents of playing 19th century football or of rivals of being “specialists in losing” and similar jibes, now seems more like a grumpy old man.
He leaves Old Trafford with United 19 points off the top of the Premier League and playing a brand of football that has been left behind by the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool.
It is hard to imagine his name being in the mix with the likes of Massimiliano Allegri, Diego Simeone, Thomas Tuchel, Juergen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino or Maurizio Sarri next time one of the top jobs come up.
Mourinho’s dogmatically defensive tactics look outdated compared to Pochettino’s progressive pressing game at Tottenham Hotspur, Klopp’s so-called “heavy metal football” that has put Liverpool top of the Premier League, Sarri’s intricate passing patterns at Chelsea or Allegri’s versatility at Juventus.
And if a club wants a win-at-all-costs approach, then Atletico Madrid’s Simeone, rather than Mourinho, is probably the man to turn to.
So where does Mourinho go next?
The 55-year-old could conceivably follow in the footsteps of Italian Carlo Ancelotti who has carved a new niche for himself.
When Ancelotti was fired by Bayern Munich early last season, he had, like Mourinho, just about done the rounds of Europe’s top clubs, having coached Paris St Germain, Chelsea, Real Madrid and AC Milan.
Ancelotti has now moved on and reinvented himself at Napoli, a club with big potential and a fanatical following but still trying to make the step from challenging the top sides to actually winning titles.
But even if Mourinho’s pride allowed him to go to a club outside the elite, there are still hurdles to overcome.
Ancelotti is known as one of the game’s gentlemen, an excellent motivator who lives in harmony with his club and can rotate his team without anyone complaining.
Mourinho, on the other hand, has burned bridges with his public criticism of United’s younger players and his fallout with 90-million pounds French midfielder Paul Pogba, never mind his constant sniping at match officials.
The first thing Mourinho should probably do is take a break, give himself a rest from a game he no longer seems to enjoy — and also give the game a rest from him.
After that, he can turn to his agent Jorge Mendes, one of the best-connected men in football, to find him a new challenge.
One option that stands out is Mourinho’s former club Inter Milan, who have big ambitions under new Chinese ownership to challenge Juventus’ dominance of Italian football.
Mourinho won a Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia treble in 2010 during his previous stint at the club.
Eleven coaches have been employed since he left and Inter have not won a trophy for seven years.
Other options open to him would include a national team — although his own Portugal are well-served with Fernando Santos until at least Euro 2020 — and there is always the temptation of a money-making move to China.
He is still revered in his homeland although that is probably too small for him.
“Portuguese football can’t afford the likes of Leonardo Jardim, Paulo Fonseca or Mourinho,” Jose Pereira, head of the Portuguese coach’s association, told RTP television.
“They don’t have the money to pay these coaches”
Writing by Brian Homewood; editing by Martyn Herman