Upsurge in form makes Barça back off plans to parachute in Mourinho

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The Independent Online

Frank Rijkaard could be sitting on top of La Liga tonight, or he could be about to make way for Jose Mourinho at the end of the season – such is the fragile nature of his position at Barcelona. Reliable sources at the Nou Camp have confirmed that after a poor first half to what is Rijkaard's fifth season at the club, plans were put in place to replace the Dutch coach at the end of the season with former Chelsea manager Mourinho taking over.

Mourinho is believed to have met with people representing Barça in January shortly after they were beaten at home by Real Madrid. He is understood to have presented his plans should he become the new head coach this June and even outlined possible signings, including Chelsea's Frank Lampard, and departures, including former Stamford Bridge favourite Eidur Gudjohnsen.

With his dream job apparently about to become available Mourinho has since turned down offers to coach French sides Lyons and Marseilles and rejected the advances of Valencia. But while Barcelona's "plan B" was being finely-tuned "plan A" was being given the kiss of life by their resurgence in form and the collapse of Real Madrid, who have lost their last three matches.

The Barcelona president, Joan Laporta, who will remain in office until 2010, wants his legacy to be one of successful stability and as a demonstration of that would prefer Rijkaard to have been his only coach during his time in charge.

Only the kind of failure that Barcelona appeared to be heading towards in January would lead him to look elsewhere – hence the January offensive for Mourinho. Tonight a win for Barça and a defeat for Real Madrid will see Barcelona return to the top of the table. They are also in the semi-finals of the Spanish Cup and on the verge of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League at the expense of Celtic.

Mourinho will be waiting should that treble fade out. Such is the belief that it will be the Portuguese should Rijkaard leave, speculation has already began as to who might be his No 2.

A former favourite would be needed to appease anti-Mourinho fans and Barça's former captain Luis Enrique has emerged as a leading contender. Last night he admitted he would jump at the chance saying: "Returning to Barcelona as Mourinho's assistant would be marvellous. I know him, not as the fans know him but from what he is like in the dressing room. He is deeply committed and he gives so much psychologically to a team. The proof of that is the way the Chelsea players came out to defend him after he left the club."

Yesterday Rijkaard ducked any questions about his future by insisting his No 2 Johan Neeskens attend the pre-match press conference. Rijkaard will face questions after Barça's match with Atletico Madrid tonight– sitting pretty or hanging by a thread again, depending on results.

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