Mourinho's flirtations with Chelsea near end game
Real Madrid's Champions League campaign had only just ended in defeat when Jose Mourinho spotted an opportunity to send out a calling-card to future employers.
''The Ego'' had landed - directly in front of a camera.
Even though Madrid can still end a mediocre season - mediocre by its high standards, anyway - with the Copa del Rey title, Mourinho is laying the ground work for divorce, dropping heavy hints about a return to the English Premier League.
''In Spain the situation is a little bit different (to England) because some people hate me and many of them are in this room,'' Mourinho said Tuesday after Madrid was eliminated from the Champions League semifinals by Borussia Dortmund.
Mourinho voiced his disdain for many in Spain while seemingly plotting a reconciliation with the old English flame he has never got over, Chelsea.
''I love to be where people love me to be,'' Mourinho said when pressed on his future plans, laying on a charm offensive in front of dozens of journalists, including a pack of English scribes.
''I know in England I am loved. I know,'' he said in the self-assured manner of the self-styled ''Special One'' who arrived in Britain in 2004. ''I know I am loved by the fans. I am loved by the media that treats me in a fair way, criticizing me when they have to, but giving me credit when I deserve it.
''I know I am loved by some clubs, especially one.''
Fans in west London were stunned when Mourinho's relationship with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich broke down in 2007 after three trophy-laden years that elevated the club and manager to the upper echelons of football.
Each of his successors - seven permanent or caretaker managers in six years - has been judged against Mourinho's achievements and allure.
Few, if any, have succeeded in matching his success or charisma - particularly not Rafa Benitez.
Installed as interim manager in November despite fan opposition that turned his early matches into a cauldron of hatred, Benitez's reign, which is due to end this month, has underlined the need for a unifying figure to serve as the permanent manager.
Even if that means reuniting Mourinho and Abramovich with unpredictable consequences.
''One day, naturally, I have to be back,'' Mourinho said last month in London. ''Chelsea is in my heart.''
Either Mourinho has been the master of deception and the months of overtures to Chelsea are an elaborate disguise for a post-Madrid job elsewhere, or the Portuguese coach really will be stepping back into the dugout at Stamford Bridge after six years.
The players are bracing for the return of the colorful leader who delivered two Premier League titles and a collection of domestic cups.
''Everyone who loves Chelsea hopes Mourinho will return,'' Chelsea defender Bransilav Ivanovic was quoted as telling Serbian newspaper Vecernje Novosti.
Chelsea hasn't been close to winning the Premier League since Carlo Ancelotti delivered the title in 2010, and even securing one of the four Champions League spots is hanging in the balance as this season enters its closing weeks.
''With (Mourinho) we can be stronger as a club,''Ivanovic said in the Serbian interview last week. ''It would add another dimension to Chelsea, and it would be sure to help us become one of the main contenders for the title.''
Over the last few years, Mourinho has retained his swagger while appearing to tone down some the bravado, engaging in fewer conflicts with rivals and referees.
It's unlikely football would witness a repeat of the frenzied dash down the touchline by Mourinho at Manchester United in 2004 before winning the Champions League with FC Porto. When Mourinho's Madrid won at United in March, he even quietly headed toward the dressing room before the final whistle blew and then heaped praise on the losers.
Back at Madrid, some are trying to play down the impact of Mourinho's potential departure.
''It doesn't matter to me. What matters to me is Real Madrid and myself,'' Cristiano Ronaldo said. ''Decisions about players and coaches do not matter to me. If Real Madrid is happy with him, why not (keep Mourinho)?
''To me, he is a great coach. But he is the person who knows his own future, whether he and his family are comfortable. These are decisions we have to respect and that's all.''
There shouldn't be long to find out Mourinho's next move.
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris