There was a point last season at which it seemed that the pieces were falling into place for Jose Mourinho to take over at Paris Saint-Germain.
Such conjecture started with Mourinho’s confession that he would not even his career at Manchester United, that he was “still a coach with ambitions, and with the desire to do new things.”
The PSG line of questioning continued for a number of weeks, fuelled by reports that Mourinho’s son had become a fan of the French champions, choosing to make the journey to Parc des Princes over watching his father’s team.
“Why Paris? Because there’s something special. Magic, quality, youth, it’s fantastic,” Mourinho said when asked to explain his son’s PSG fandom.
Over time, though, the links faded. Unai Emery left PSG at the end of last season, but Thomas Tuchel, not Mourinho, was hired as replacement. The Ligue 1 outfit must feel rather smug about their choice.
In Tuchel, they have a forward-thinking, modern coach who has already resolved many of the issues experienced under Emery. Meanwhile, Mourinho is a greying shadow of his former self.
The Champions League has a habit of throwing up the most compelling storylines and the last 16 clash between PSG and Man Utd, drawn on Monday, fits that bill. These are two teams, and two clubs, heading in opposite directions, following very different trajectories, and this could be the moment at which they pass each other.
The groans of United fans could be heard as soon as PSG’s name was drawn from the pot in Nyon.
It was arguably the worst draw the Old Trafford outfit could have been given, with PSG one of the favourites to go all the way in the Champions League this season. But, it is also a draw that could expose just how far behind the curve Mourinho has been left.
The 55-year-old has based his entire managerial career on a particular set of principles. Those principles, founded largely on the concept of footballing conservatism, saw him become the coach of his generation.
But, it’s been eight years since Mourinho was last a Champions League winning coach and the continental game has changed a lot in that time.
At the peak of his powers, Mourinho set the European zeitgeist. He was the game’s great organiser, and in the Champions League those who organised best won.
Now, the zeitgeist has moved on without Mourinho.
The best teams harness chaos to their advantage. Look at how Liverpool and Real Madrid made last season’s final. This season, PSG are following a similar path.
Liverpool have conceded fewer goals than any other Premier League team this season and yet their defence was put to the sword by Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar just a few weeks ago.
In stark contrast to what Mourinho has done at Man Utd, Tuchel has found a way to cradle the most potent attacking line in the European game.
Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Ashley Young and co. have had enough trouble fending off the likes of Southampton, Newcastle Brighton and West Ham this season.
How will they cope when Mbappe and Neymar are surging towards them at pace?
A lot can change between now and February, but as long as Mourinho is still in charge it’s difficult to see how Man Utd can defy the narrative to beat PSG.
They have a manager who not only has run out of answers, but a manager who has lost his grip on what is necessary to succeed at the top level of the game.
For all concerned, for Man Utd, for PSG and most acutely for Mourinho, next February’s Champions League tie will be laden with symbolism.