Chelsea are more hopeful than ever that Jose Mourinho can be lured back for a second spell in charge at Stamford Bridge as permanent manager next season.
The club have made Mourinho their new first-choice target to take charge next season after Pep Guardiola snubbed them in favour of a switch to Bayern Munich last month, report The Evening Standard.
Current interim first-team coach Rafael Benitez, who replaced Roberto di Matteo on a short-term contract in November, is not expected to be in the running as he boasts the worst record of any coach in the Roman Abramovich era.
Mourinho has been linked with a return to the west London club almost every season since he was sacked by them in 2007 after three impressive years in charge and he has always spoken of a desire to return.
The 50-year-old, who is certain to leave Real Madrid in the summer, won five major trophies during his time at the helm, including back-to-back Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006.
Mourinho has been revered by the players and the fans ever since, although relations with Abramovich soured during the final 18 months of his tenure and his departure became inevitable. However, the duo have been on good terms for some time now and the Chelsea hierarchy privately believe that Mourinho can be lured back.
The Portuguese is willing to listen to offers, although he will also be a target for Paris St-Germain and Manchester City should they remove Carlo Ancelotti or Roberto Mancini respectively at the end of the season.
Other contenders for the Chelsea post include Jurgen Klopp, Diego Simeone, David Moyes, Gustavo Poyet and Gianfranco Zola, while former manager Guus Hiddink continues to be linked.
One of the stumbling blocks regarding Mourinho has always been the fact that Abramovich paid the former Porto coach around £18m in compensation when he was fired and the Russian would be admitting to making an expensive mistake. That is no longer the issue but the power struggle of who makes the key decisions at the club will have to be addressed.
Mourinho will want to be in complete control of team affairs from top to bottom but Abramovich has a number of key advisors, including technical director Michael Emenalo.
It is likely the latter would have to go for Mourinho to come back, although the Nigerian is in a vulnerable position anyway due to the inconsistent form of the squad this season.
This campaign has been a major disappointment and the club will want a strong coach like Mourinho to revive their fortunes.
Chelsea spent £80m on the squad that won the Champions League last summer but they crashed out of the group stages for the first time in their history this season and trail leaders Manchester United by 16 points in the title race. They have also lost the Community Shield, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup and were beaten by Swansea in the Capital One Cup semi-final.
Chelsea are in a battle to finish in the top four after picking up just eight points from six games, while their only hopes of a trophy lie in the FA Cup, where they face a fourth-round replay against Brentford, and the Europa League, where they play Sparta Prague in the last 32.
After leaving Chelsea, Mourinho has confirmed his status as one of the best coach’s in the game. He won the treble at Inter Milan in 2010 and toppled Barcelona last season to claim Real’s first title for four years.
He still has hopes of winning the Champions League with them this term and faces Manchester United in the last 16, however relations have soured with the players and the board and Mourinho is looking forward to his next challenge. Meanwhile, Benitez is adamant Chelsea’s slump in form is not because the players have an attitude problem.
Chelsea conceded another late goal at Newcastle on Saturday to lose 3-2, putting their hopes of finishing in the top four at risk. It is the fourth time in the last six League games that Chelsea have paid the price for slack defending in the closing stages after losing 1-0 to QPR and letting two-goal leads slip against Southampton and Reading to only get a point.
When asked after the game if he was happy with the attitude of the players at the moment, Benitez told Chelsea TV: “It is fine. You can’t react the way we did in the second half with a bad attitude. The attitude is good but we have to learn. It’s not just about showing this attitude and character, it’s also to know what to do during the game.
“We have to manage the game better when we are leading — you can’t lose this advantage.
“We couldn’t score the third goal but you have to control the game. It is something we have to learn. We have to be pushing and keep the shape of the team.”