Of all the possibilities provoked by Jose Mourinho's latest overture to the Premier League, the most intriguing by some distance would surely be a straight job swap with Arsène Wenger.
Who would lose? Hardly Wenger, who not so long ago had the Real portfolio offered on a platter of the finest Spanish gold.
Consider the advantages implicit in a move to the Bernabeu. He would no longer have to fret over a defence that continues to look as accident-prone as his compatriot Inspector Clouseau. He would get to work with such thoroughbreds as Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil and the recently revived Kaka. For a little while at least he would be free from Doomsday analysis every time he made a substitution.
There would also be the approval of the iconic Alfredo Di Stefano, who began firing shots at the cynicism of the Special One almost before he stepped off the plane from Milan.
Mourinho would inherit a new stage at the Emirates guaranteed to give him another bracing challenge or, as he might put it, another juicy role in a movie of his own creation.
Arsenal would get a coach guaranteed to bring back a level of competitive integrity which has been dwindling steadily since their last trophy seven years ago. In that time Mourinho has won two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, two League Cups, two Serie A titles, the Italian Cup, the Champions League and the Spanish Cup. He is also top of La Liga, seven points ahead of Barcelona, widely believed to be streets ahead of any other team on earth and possibly the best club side in the history of the game.
These are not so much credentials as a series of open pay cheques and it is no wonder that for so long Mourinho was considered the inevitable replacement of Sir Alex Ferguson the moment he signalled his belief that it was time to go. That conviction lost a lot of ground last season when Mourinho's behaviour slumped to new levels of boorishness. However, who begins to match his unbroken impact since he guided Porto to the Champions League in 2004?
According to reports from Madrid, the front-runners to replace Mourinho if his relationships with club president, Florentino Perez, and some senior players continue to deteriorate are Germany's coach, Joachim Löw, and Rafa Benitez, who was sacked by Liverpool and then Internazionale after his brief and catastrophic attempt to pick up the baton put down by the Special One.
Löw has put in an impressive seven-year stint with Germany but running this particularly well-oiled national team, with its astounding record of consistency and grounded professionalism, is not quite the same as battling the remnants of the old galactico mentality. Mourinho, naturally, tackled it head-high and maybe some of the full repercussions are only now surfacing.
Still, apart from the local difficulty represented by Barcelona whenever they appear at the Bernabeu, Mourinho is already more than halfway to another stunning entry in his personal record. No one doubts his ability to bring the title home for Real and it is not the biggest reach to imagine that he might also collect his third Champions League. That would make him only the third coach in history to win the biggest prize in club football at three separate clubs.
It certainly means that when Mourinho flutters his eyes at the Premier League once again it is less a job application than an invitation to form a queue.
No leading club can be comfortably impervious to the opportunity of sure-fire success that Mourinho offers and this certainly has to include Chelsea, where the striving but still embattled Andre Villas-Boas must be most conscious of the latest love letter to English football from his former mentor. Villas-Boas talks passionately about the future he hopes to build and we are told that Roman Abramovich listens patiently. But then was any football investor ever more anxious than Abramovich to live not in the future but today?
This is the supreme promise of Mourinho. He doesn't put down building blocks. He lives on the run, agitating everyone around him, but invariably creating a sense that anything can be achieved, if not today then no later than tomorrow. In recent years this has made him the antithesis of Wenger, whose heaviest critics say that while he spins a future he neglects the present.
What no one can question is the fact that Arsenal are in desperate need of new impetus – and new certainties. On Sunday they retrieved potentially the ugliest situation since dissatisfaction first began to be expressed so bluntly in the Emirates stands. But it was hardly a performance to beguile anyone into the idea that redemption was at hand.
The defence was again appalling as Aston Villa, who disappeared at half-time, took a two-goal lead with something close to contempt. You couldn't help imagining the wrath that such inadequacy would have provoked in Mourinho. The challenge of his career came when he ordered Internazionale to "park the bus" against Barça two years ago. Yes, he freely admitted, he would play anti-football against the darlings of the game. He would demand to see how good they were. For some the outcome was close to sacrilege but Mourinho could not have cared less.
An ideal fit for the Arsenal fashioned by Arsène Wenger? No, but then such a candidate simply does not exist. Mourinho wouldn't – and almost certainly couldn't – make a new Arsenal in the image of the old one. But he would get them back into the game, he would make them serious again. And, no doubt, he would win something.
In an imperfect world, it would surely be a start.
Shake hands or simply wave goodbye to decency
It may have been a lot easier to take exception to Kenny Dalglish's contempt for a question about the relentless booing and taunting of Patrice Evra, a victim of racism, than Mark Hughes' eagerness to kick into touch what he believes to be the phoney ritual of pre-game handshakes. But it was still another bleak comment on the collapse of football's finer feelings.
Hughes' point was validated by the fact that he understood most of his Queen's Park Rangers players were planning to join their team-mate Anton Ferdinand in rejecting the hand of John Terry.
According to Hughes, the trouble with the handshaking, in any circumstances, is that it almost always lacks integrity. First the handshaking, you guess the argument goes, then the imaginary red cards, the sly digs, the diving, the grappling and any other sharp practice that comes conveniently to mind.
From this perspective, Hughes is no doubt right. Saying ditch the niceties and move straight into the real business is certainly an acknowledgement of certain realities. But then if shaking the hand of the opponent is a farce, if it is more than anything an invitation to hypocrisy, what does it says about the inherent decency and sportsmanship of our national game? Only that it is just about shot to pieces.
Ashton needs to grow up
Chris Ashton says that, along with the rest of new England rugby union, he is dedicated to creating a new image. His challenge, he says, is giving the people a more accurate perception of himself.
Hopefully, this will involve more than a bout of public relations and a few self-serving platitudes, at which in recent times he has shown a lamentably clumsy touch.
Vital, you have to think, is the end of the juvenile try celebrations and generally more mature behaviour on and off the pitch. This, he should understand, is not a matter of showing his best side but something much more fundamental to the growth of a world-class sportsman. Most of all it is about understanding who you are and the responsibilities that come with it. Put another way, it is growing up.Reuse content