Sitting at their favourite table at Lucio restaurant on London’s Fulham Road last week, the only topic of conversation among Chelsea executives was the second coming.
The Italian restaurant is a favoured haunt among the top brass at Stamford Bridge and it has been buzzing with talk of Jose Mourinho’s imminent return.
But for all the pleasure he gave Chelsea supporters when he won two Premier League titles, the FA Cup and two Carling Cups, there is concern that a world of pain awaits.
While Roman Abramovich has already taken the decision to re-employ him, there are deep reservations at Chelsea about the Special One.
Why? Well, you could say it’s the nature of his departure from Real Madrid. Or a pattern of behaviour, dating back to some of his more controversial moments at Chelsea, that suggests he is not about to change his confrontational style of management.
He has appeared unhinged in his final few months in charge of Real, bringing the world’s biggest football club into disrepute with his behaviour to the point where virtually everyone involved with Los Blancos will be glad to see him go.
They are wondering whether the success he did enjoy in his three years at the Bernabeu has been worth the aggravation.
That’s what Abramovich has acquiesced in, preparing to re-appoint Mourinho as Chelsea coach nearly six years after he was fired following the 1-1 draw with Rosenborg in September 2007.
The decision to rehire him was taken in March on board one of the Russian’s super yachts off Marbella, at the height of Chelsea fans’ resistance to interim coach Rafa Benitez.
At the time there was a sense of panic at Stamford Bridge, with growing unrest after Benitez’s rant following the FA Cup fifth-round victory at Middlesbrough on February 27.
Abramovich had been made aware of the depth of ill-feeling towards Benitez when a small group of Chelsea supporters were ushered into the boardroom before the match with Manchester City late last year.Some suggested the return of Mourinho, reminiscing about the glorious era when he delivered the club’s first top-flight title in 50 years.
His relationship with Abramovich deteriorated in 2007, when Avram Grant was appointed director of football, but there were few signs of tension during the pre-season.
Abramovich arrived unannounced beside the pitch during a volatile game between Chelsea’s backroom staff and the media during their two-week stay in Los Angeles.
Chelsea’s owner enjoyed the occasion, delighting in the staff’s victory after Mourinho limped off and replaced himself in goal with Silvino Louro — his goalkeeping coach and a veteran of two European Cup finals with Benfica — to ensure their win.
But the mood between employer and employee soured back in England and he was gone after the Rosenborg game in September.
Yet the Portuguese coach promised he would one day return to Chelsea and that will come true shortly after Real Madrid’s final game of the season, against Osasuna, on June 1.
This time he has agreed to work with a director of football — Michael Emenalo — for Chelsea’s long-term benefit.
Emenalo has not gone to New York for Chelsea’s post-season friendlies with Manchester City, deciding to stay in London to prepare for Mourinho’s arrival. He will be the conduit between Mourinho and Abramovich in the first phase of the manager’s return to Chelsea.
There will, inevitably, be some upheaval when Mourinho begins work at the club’s Cobham training centre in Surrey towards the end of next month.
There is also some trepidation, particularly after Benitez won over the staff with his genial and engaging manner when he stopped to talk with them before matches.
For all the animosity from the stands, Benitez stabilised Chelsea. They finished third in the Premier League, they won the Europa League and he even got Fernando Torres up to 23 goals for the season.
The Spaniard got the best out of the team in a short period and earned the respect of an emerging group of players that includes Juan Mata, Oscar, Eden Hazard and, crucially, David Luiz. Mourinho has his own ideas and he is already focusing on a few key areas for when Chelsea begin moves for their top targets.
The forward line is a priority, but Mourinho also wants to prise the young defender Raphael Varane from Real Madrid in the summer.
Varane, who missed the Copa del Rey final defeat by Atletico last Friday because of a knee injury, has been outstanding during the coach’s final season.
The France defender, 20, was signed from Lens in 2011 and Mourinho will take him to Chelsea if Real offer any encouragement.
There is money to spend, with Benitez revealing last week that Chelsea are planning to make some big signings under their new coach. As ever, Abramovich will pick up the bill.
But there is a delicious irony. When Mourinho left Inter Milan in 2010 after winning the Champions League, he mocked Benitez for winning the Italian Super Cup and the Fifa Club World Cup with ‘my team’. Benitez is sure to enjoy Mourinho taking his team to the Uefa Super Cup final on August 30.
Even if the Special One has made one or two changes by then.