Jose Mourinho is considering an approach to replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. The Portuguese manager - also the principal candidate to succeed Louis van Gaal at Manchester United - has been asked by third parties to avoid committing himself to a new job while Wenger's future at the north London club remains unresolved.
Wenger, who has one year remaining on his Arsenal contract, has grown increasingly irritated by criticism of his achievements at the club. A rebellious section of Arsenal's support is pressing American owner Stan Kroenke to force the 66-year-old to stand down and appoint a more modern-minded coach.
Supporter dismay over Wenger's failure to adapt what was once a transformational managerial method to the current reality of Premier League competition comes amidst complaints from within Arsenal's dressing room over an absence of leadership. Players joining Arsenal from other leading clubs have found themselves bemused by Wenger's failure to devise the kind of opponent-focused tactical strategies that are now standard elsewhere; the Frenchman holding to a belief that when Arsenal play “their football” well they will overcome all opponents.
The deficiencies of Wenger's methods have been brought into greater focus by a season in which the English title is poised to be taken by either Leicester City or Tottenham Hotspur - two clubs whose resources in terms of personnel and finances are clearly weaker than Arsenal's. Eliminated from both Champions League and FA Cup last week, Wenger's team remains 11 points adrift of Leicester with just eight Premier League matches left to play.
Mourinho was approached by a third party claiming to represent Arsenal at the beginning of this month, following successive losses to severely understrength Manchester United and Swansea City sides. The former Chelsea manager was asked if he would be interested in working at Arsenal should Wenger's position be made vacant, and to hold off on making a decision on other offers until May.
A free agent since being dismissed by Roman Abramovich less than half a season after winning the Premier League, Mourinho has been sounded out by AS Roma, Internazionale and Manchester United about potential vacancies at the three clubs. The 53-year-old is attracted to the potential opportunity at Old Trafford, but has yet to be formally offered a position as Van Gaal's successor or entered into any agreement with United. The prospect of crossing London to manage replace Wenger also appeals to him.
At first glance, Arsenal would appear a more compelling proposition than United. The London club has a stronger playing squad requiring “just two or three additions”, and including two players Mourinho has won titles with at previous employers - Petr Cech and Mesut Ozil. Arsenal are better placed to qualify for next season's Champions League, while Mourinho and his family could continue to live in their central London home.
Though all of the above would be of importance were Mourinho to be presented with a choice between the two clubs, other factors will also come into play. According to a close friend of the double Champions League winning coach, Mourinho would want to be convinced of the degree of boardroom support for his management after being badly let down at Chelsea over Abramovich's promised “long-term” commitment to him.
Mourinho would also prefer control over all matters relevant to on-field success at his next place of employment. Friends emphasise that while Arsenal might appear a less risky position than a United that has exhibited top-to-bottom problems since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, the challenge of restoring such a club to dominance may ultimately hold the greatest appeal. Such is Mourinho's desire to begin a new project that whichever club is first to make a concrete offer can expect to hold the advantage in securing his signature.
Mourinho is often depicted as the antithesis of Wenger's “scholarly” style of management. The greater contrast lies in their relative success since becoming direct rivals in England. Mourinho has delivered three Premier League titles from his five completed seasons managing in England - the same number has Wenger has won in 20 years at Arsenal. The Portuguese's first title arrived at the expense of Wenger's 'Invincibles' team, initiating what is expected to soon become a sequence of 12 unsuccessful campaigns for the Frenchman.