By the high standards of José Mourinho, the past three years have been an unmitigated disaster.
In fact, every sour point in Mourinho’s managerial career resurfaced during his chaotic spell at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Whether it was a fall-out with the president (Benfica), a physical clash with a rival coach (União de Leiria), brutal mind games (Porto), despicable accusations (Chelsea) or a fraught relationship with the national press (Internazionale), Mourinho encountered, and encouraged, all of the above-mentioned at Madrid.
The fact that 2012/2013 was the first season that Mourinho did not win a trophy for 11 seasons was a fitting epitaph for the period – a farcry from the Portuguese initially bonding with Florentino Pérez over his longing for another Champions League.
Ultimately, Mourinho’s spell at Madrid was a failure – La Décima was not secured in three attempts.
Of course, many will argue that Mourinho came up against one of the best teams of all-time, Barcelona, but, in truth, only 2010/2011 can be used as an excuse for Mourinho.
After all, in 2011/2012, Madrid won La Liga and avoided Barcelona in the Champions League and with Mourinho putting a clear emphasis on the Champions League in 2012/2013, again, a markedly weaker Barcelona were again avoided.
Ironically, though, one of the positives that Mourinho will point to in his reign is that in his 16 brutal El Clásicos as Madrid manager, he lost just six times.
Also, there has been clear progression at the Bernabéu since that 5-0 defeat on 29 November, 2010, with Madrid reaching three Champions League semi-finals in a row and progressing past the quarter-final stage for the first time since 2003.
The signs were all there that Mourinho would eventually deliver: ousting Jorge Valdano as technical director; close relations with Pérez; being the first coach to have his name chanted at the Bernabéu; an entente with traditional Madrid figures over his philosophy; and outlasting Josep Guardiola.
However, 20 January, 2012 should have tolled the bell.
Between Sergio Ramos questioning Mourinho’s on the field perceptions over set-pieces – given that the Portuguese has never played football at the highest level – and Iker Casillas disputing Mourinho’s statement that the Spanish members of the squad were protected by the media, this was an irrevocable split.
Many have since painted the picture that it came down to age-old Iberian rivalry but, in truth, even the Portuguese members of the squad – who Mourinho has certainly elevated, be it Pepe or Fábio Coentrão – soon grew exasperated with Mourinho.
Still, there is no doubt that had Mourinho won the 2011/2012 Champions League – placing him alongside Bob Paisley as the only manager to win three European Cups – he would have walked.
It all comes down to Béla Guttmann’s theory that three years is the absolute maximum one can stay at the club and in Mourinho’s experience, two seasons usually is enough to achieve his objectives.
It has always soured, somewhat, in the third season – as evident with a fairly modest haul of an FA Cup and League Cup with Chelsea in 2006/2007.
Instead, Mourinho stayed put at the Bernabéu and while his recovery post-Christmas was remarkable – given squad morale and a new low in hierarchical and media relations – Mourinho’s failure to capture La Décima will be an eternal blot on his record.
Sure, the pressure was immense but it could be argued, to an extent, that winning Internazionale’s first European Cup for 45 years, in 2010, was just as draining – albeit, they were not among the tournament favourites like Madrid.
Still, while much has been made of the appearance and health strains Guardiola endured as Barcelona manager, the same can be said of Mourinho since he joined Madrid.
At Internazionale, Mourinho still harboured the glint in his eye, the tie that was slightly loosened and the trim physique; at Madrid, Mourinho has looked weathered, bloated and, in his casual bomber jackets, far from the trailblazing figure he once was.
In truth, if ever Mourinho needed a reinvigorating break from football – just like in 2007, after leaving Chelsea – it is now.
In fact, such is the growing predictability of Mourinho, the likes of Jürgen Klopp have become the new benchmark for charisma and tactical ingenuity and Mourinho was never seriously in the frame for the Manchester United job.
The Mourinho Bible, which has been such a pivotal part to his success, may need some revisions.
However, unlike other managers, there remains a safehaven for Mourinho to rebuild: Chelsea – an unimaginable thought just six months ago.
Sure, Mourinho has always been linked with Chelsea in the five occasions the job has become vacant since he departed in 2007, but there was never anything in it but feint fan hope.
Clearly, the dynamic of convenience has shifted: Mourinho needs Chelsea and the associated warmth and sanctuary just as much as the fans pine for the return of the Special One.
Citing the rocky bench of Stamford Bridge as a safehaven may seem an ironic statement, but given that the last manager under Roman Abramovich to serve beyond two seasons was Mourinho, it is not as far-fetched as it seems.
The Russian holds a long-standing admiration for Mourinho – evident in Abramovich purchasing a rare £2 million 612 Scaglietti Ferrari for Mourinho just days after their parting – and Abramovich looks as though he is willing to put their previous differences behind them in the hope of replicating and furthering the success of 2005-2007.
To some, it is a recipe for disaster; for others, there is a genuine belief that Mourinho could build yet another dynasty at Stamford Bridge.
After all, given that, out of Chelsea’s current 24-man first-team squad, only Petr Čech, Henrique Hilário, Paulo Ferreira, Ashley Cole, John Terry, John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard played under the Portuguese, there is genuine excitement among the likes of Branislav Ivanović and Eden Hazard in having the opportunity to work with the Special One.
The unexpected awarding of a one-year contract extension to Lampard already shows the influence Mourinho is exercising and with a £100 million expected summer spree, returning home could be the perfect tonic for Mourinho to reclaim not only his hunger but, also, his crown as the world’s greatest manager.