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José Mourinho moving to the Saudi Pro League is inevitable

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. José Mourinho is in talks to join Al Shabab in Saudi Arabia, and we can’t say that we didn’t see it coming.

Both the Portuguese manager, who was sacked by AS Roma on Tuesday, six months before the end of his contract, and his agent Jorge Mendes had been discussing this eventuality. “The Special One” himself said in October that he believed he would coach in the Gulf country one day, while Mendes recently admitted that “it was just a matter of time” before it happened. It’s almost as if they knew that the opportunity for the two-time Champions League winner to join the Saudi Pro League would arise again quickly. And it has.

Mourinho moving to Saudi Arabia makes a lot of sense. It might not happen just yet, if the discussions with Al Shabab break down, or if a big-enough national team or an intriguing-enough European club prove more persuasive. But like Mendes said, whether it’s now, this summer or next year, it’s almost inevitable. There are a few reasons for that.

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First, to continue its growth, the Saudi league needs the biggest names possible. Mourinho, who turns 61 at the end of the month, has been sacked from his past five jobs (Roma, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid) and his standing has arguably never been lower in Europe, but in some parts of the world, and especially in Saudi Arabia, his arrival would be seen as a coup. His name recognition would raise the profile of the domestic championship even more. He is box office off the field, which is vital considering the recent absence of success on it.

Last summer, when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Public Investment Fund (PIF) launched their massive spending spree in the transfer window, they tried to bring Mourinho to the Saudi Pro League. He eventually decided to stay in the Italian capital, but Mendes placed two other of his clients there (Jorge Jesus at Al Hilal for a second stint and Luis Castro at Al Nassr) and many of his players, too. Financially, a move would work. While Mourinho was one of the highest-paid managers in Europe at Roma, one source told ESPN he was earning €10 million a year before tax, Mendes assured him in various conversations that he would easily make more by moving to the Gulf.

The primary reason why Saudi Arabia has a great opportunity to land Mourinho sooner rather than later is that his stock has fallen dramatically in European football. Despite the odd surprise of silverware (winning the Europa League at United and the Europa Conference League in Rome), Mourinho has gone from disappointment to disappointment, controversy to controversy. His brand of football, once lauded, is now seen as archaic.

Despite heavy investment and support from Roma’s owners (they boast the third-highest wage bill in Serie A), the poor quality of football produced by his team and the failure to qualify for the Champions League (finishing sixth the past two seasons and currently languishing in ninth) has damaged even his once-illustrious image. The majority of the most important clubs in Europe’s Big Five leagues won’t fancy the gamble of hiring Mourinho, because it is a gamble these days: The risk of sacking him is considerably greater than the odds of achieving actual on-field success.

Maybe Mourinho wants something different, too. He has been in this game a long time; the famous Champions League win with Porto that put him on the managerial map happened 20 years ago. “He is as feisty and committed as ever, but I think he is also ready for something different,” said a source who knows him well.

Mourinho’s frustration in Italy this season was plain to see. He got himself sent off numerous times, argued with opposition coaches and players, quarreled with the media and eventually fell out with his own bosses. He has always been like this, but the negativity surrounding him is now outweighing whatever positives he might bring to the dugout.

To make a fresh start, Saudi Arabia could be the right place for him, unless there is an offer to restore his reputation elsewhere in Europe. The likelihood of that happening, though, is lower than ever.

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