Jose Mourinho to France? A strange bedfellow for Lyon but one who could be Ligue 1's next Neymar
In characteristic fashion, Jose Mourinho has been expressing his openness to working in France with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
It started last month when he was spotted in the crowd during Lille’s 0-0 draw at home to Montpellier, which he attended as a guest of Lille technical director Luís Campos. He used the occasion to remark: “I can imagine myself as a coach in Ligue 1.”
He repeated the message at a recent promotional event for watchmaker Hublot, saying he “wouldn’t be being honest” if he denied an interest in working in France. Bringing success to a club in a fifth European country – after Portugal, England, Italy and Spain – would, he said, be a “very important” achievement.
For a long time it has seemed that Paris Saint-Germain would be the only French club capable of tempting Mourinho to Ligue 1, and not least because of the massive salary they would be able to offer him.
Mourinho, who speaks fluent French, has a longstanding friendship with PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaïfi and is known to have turned down offers to move to Parc des Princes in 2011 and 2013. He was also linked with the PSG job in April 2016, shortly before he took over from Louis van Gaal at Manchester United. Mourinho has already reached one agreement with Al-Khelaïfi this year, having signed up to become a television pundit for the Qatari’s beIN Media Group in January.
Yet in Wednesday’s edition of L’Équipe, it was Lyon and Monaco that were touted as the most likely French destinations for “le Special One” – a sign both of the confidence that PSG coach Thomas Tuchel continues to enjoy despite the French champions’ humiliating Champions League exit against a rejuvenated post-Mourinho United and the extent to which Mourinho’s own stock has fallen.
Of the two clubs cited, Monaco seem the less likely future employers. Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, also represents Leonardo Jardim, who returned to become Monaco head coach in January after leaving the club last October. Architect of Monaco’s stunning 2017 Ligue 1 title triumph, Jardim has made a positive start since replacing Thierry Henry at Stade Louis II, an unbeaten run of seven matches lifting the club eight points clear of the relegation places.
Bruno Génésio, Lyon’s head coach, is currently sitting a little less comfortably. The 52-year-old Frenchman’s contract expires at the end of the season and Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas is due to announce whether he will be offered a new deal next week.
The understated Génésio has never been popular with Lyon’s hardcore supporters, who would be instantly energised by the arrival of a super-coach like Mourinho, but the team’s results this season mean he is expected to be kept on by Aulas. Lyon have reached the French Cup semi-finals, made it to the Champions League knockout rounds and are on course for a top-three finish in Ligue 1, which would take them back into Europe’s top competition next season.
In terms of playing philosophy, Mourinho would be a strange bedfellow for Lyon, where attacking football and the promotion of young players have traditionally gone hand in hand. He would also have to accept slotting into an organigramme where director of recruitment Florian Maurice and presidential advisors Bernard Lacombe and Gérard Houllier already have the ear of the all-powerful Aulas.
Speaking recently about the hypothetical arrival of a high-profile foreign coach at Lyon, Aulas said it would have to be someone prepared to accept “the decentralisation of decision-making”. Mourinho railed against his lack of influence at boardroom level at United, but there is already a boss at Lyon and it is not the man who sits in the dug-out.
Nevertheless, should he end up coming to France, Mourinho would be welcomed with open arms.
The arrival of such a world-famous coach would feed into the sense that French football is on the up, in the wake of last year’s World Cup triumph and with a bumper new Ligue 1 television rights deal worth €1.15 billion set to kick in next year. Adding Mourinho to a pot that already contains Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Mario Balotelli would only give further credence to the league’s newly adopted slogan: “The league of talents.”
“Keeping everything in proportion, it would have a Neymar effect,” said Gilles Dumas, a sports marketing consultant cited by L’Équipe. “In terms of creating conversation, Mourinho is top of the class.”
From a sporting perspective, Mourinho taking charge at a French club other than PSG would potentially be a major boon for the championship.
PSG’s European shortcomings have often been attributed to the lack of serious competition they face at home. With Mourinho at the helm of a super-charged domestic rival, be it Lyon, Monaco or someone else, the club from the capital would have to be on their toes. And, who knows, French football fans might even rediscover the joys of a proper title race.