It will be the summer of the transfer. Except this year it is the destiny of Europe's leading managers, and not just the players, that is preoccupying presidents, chief executives and agents throughout the Continent. And the stakes could not be higher. After all, here is an ultra-select bunch of men earning £3m to £5m a year who could shape the future of the world's biggest clubs and, ultimately, who wants to play for them.
To an extent Fernando Martin, the quickly beleaguered new president of Real Madrid, who is fighting off impending elections following his succession of the demoralised Florentino Perez, stated the obvious last month when he divulged the list of seven coaches he wants to draw from to lead Los Merengues.
Few would argue with the assembly of Jose Mourinho, Sven Goran Eriksson, Rafael Benitez, Fabio Capello, Carlo Ancelotti, Marcello Lippi and, of course, Arsène Wenger. The only surprise, perhaps, was that the departing PSV Eindhoven coach, Guus Huddink - another former head of Real along with Capello - was not included.
The futures of all those men (apart from Wenger, who despite overtures from everyone, even Chelsea, where they ache to copy his expansive football) are in play right now, and that has led to one of the greatest states of flux that the game has witnessed in recent years. The fact that there is also a World Cup this summer has only enhanced the sense of expectation and imminent upheaval, with several nations already jockeying for new leaders.
Indeed, almost a domino effect will be activated by the departure of one of the names from that exclusively stellar list. Eriksson is, for example, foremost in the minds of many because he will definitely be leaving the England team following the World Cup and is desperate to return to club management. The word is that he is earmarked for Inter-nazionale, who are set to dispose of Roberto Mancini following the biting disappointment of their European Cup defeat by Villarreal and their crumbling league form. The irony would be that Mancini is Eriksson's protégé and former player but that would not deter the Swede, who knows that Inter's owner, Massimo Moratti, is gearing towards heavy investment.
But then Newcastle United want Mancini, having dallied with Eriksson, if Martin O'Neill turns down a contract at St James' Park reputed to be worth at least £3m a year. Confused?
If only it were as simple as the phone poll conducted by one Italian newspaper last Thursday, which merely asked readers to cast their votes at Inter for Mourinho (il sogno, the dream), Hiddink (il giramondo, the globetrotter), Eriksson (la sopressa, the boring choice) or Mancini (la continuita).
O'Neill was the constant front-runner to succeed Eriksson with England, although that shortlist appears to have become more Anglophile with every intervention by the FA's chief executive, Brian Barwick. The smart money is now on Middlesbrough's Steve McClaren, especially after that storming Uefa Cup comeback, or Alan Curbishley, possibly with the older, guiding hand of Sir Trevor Brooking, who certainly champions the Charlton Athletic manager.
The great imponderable is the future of Mourinho. The Chelsea manager is contracted until 2010, earning £5.2m a year after tax, making him the best-paid coach in the world at the richest club, with potential bonuses to match his salary. But no one in his coterie expects Mourinho to stay at Stamford Bridge for another four years.
He certainly appears unhappy, and Real Madrid, having already courted Benitez, who has yet to sign his new contract at Liverpool, are well aware of that unhappiness, as are Milan, who may see Ancelotti decamp to the Bernabeu should Mourinho be attracted to the San Siro. Sources close to the Portuguese manager indicate that if he left Chelsea it will be to Serie A rather than La Liga that he turns.
Mourinho remains endlessly unpredictable, particularly given the tensions in his relationships with Peter Kenyon, Chelsea's chief executive, and Frank Arnesen, the director of youth development, and not least because he has not stayed anywhere for too long. But when linked with Inter recently, Mourinho emphatically stated that he would be staying at Chelsea. Juve, too, are toying with the idea of Capello's succession, especially as he has already held talks with Real and demanded that he become the club's highest-paid employee should he return. Transfer targets have also been discussed; the Italian would want to take striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for example, with him to Spain while also bidding for Liverpool's Xabi Alonso. There was a sense of fin de siècle about Juve's Champions' League exit to Arsenal, with Capello being asked in the post-match press conference whether he now intended to quit.
The managerial merry-go-round is clearly a situation that is endlessly intermeshed. Added to it are the futures of Marco van Basten, the Holland coach, and Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona, who are both being eyed by Milan, the club they used to play for and who like to employ former players. Portugal's Luiz Felipe Scolari is, meanwhile, in search of new employment and has of course made little secret of his interest in the England post. Lippi will probably stop coaching Italy after the World Cup and return to club management.
Furthermore, Ottmar Hitzfeld, the former Bayern Munich coach, is now looking for a return to management after his self-imposed sabbatical, and the former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri is also actively looking for a new club.
And then there is Glenn Hoddle. Word is that the former England manager may not stay at Wolverhampton Wanderers beyond the summer. Who knows, perhaps a Hoddle- to-Madrid bandwagon could be started. Stranger things have happened.Reuse content