Imagine, just for a second, Jose Mourinho threw a curve ball this summer.
That the Manchester United manager went against his instincts and pulled off the type of signing that would leave his critics scratching their heads.
Imagine for a second, he signed Isco.
This is not to follow the tired rhetoric that Mourinho avoids creative players - the signings of Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan fly in the face of that.
As do his long-standing pursuits of Gareth Bale and Antoine Griezmann.
But after landing Sanchez in January - and dismissing the chance of any further additions up front - Mourinho’s focus will be on midfield and defense when the transfer window opens.
Finding a replacement for Michael Carrick is the priority. A holding midfielder, capable of retaining possession and building attacks from deep-lying positions.
Marouane Fellaini’s expected departure will leave another gap to fill.
Isco is not a like-for-like replacement for either. But his arrival would be as remarkable a statement of intent as Mourinho could make as he bids to halt Pep Guardiola’s domination of the Premier League.
The Spanish international has made no secret of his dissatisfaction at Real Madrid - or ongoing issues with coach Zinedine Zidane.
Manchester City has long been considered at the head of the queue if he ever left the Bernabeu - but Etihad sources insist they have dropped their interest in the 25-year-old, who was so close to joining them five years ago.
Isco has voiced his dissatisfaction at Real.
He will have no shortage of suitors if his lack of playing time at Real convinces him to search for pastures new at the end of the season. But interest from Mourinho would suggest he is truly ready to shake off the shackles.
Ready to follow the lead set by City, Liverpool, and Tottenham.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Guardiola’s midfield triumvirate of Fernandinho, David Silva, and Kevin de Bruyne has dominated opponents all season - and threatened to change the face of English football.
The idea of attack being the best form of defense has worked beautifully, with Fernandinho the only player in City’s front six who could be considered defensively-minded in the traditional sense.
By contrast, Mourinho’s attempts to construct an effective attacking unit, have too often led to compromise - particularly in the case of Pogba.
The Frenchman has never looked better than when given the freedom to attack.
But increasingly he’s been asked to carry out more defensive duties as Mourinho has tried to find the right balance in midfield.
Mourinho is determined to stop Guardiola from dominating the Premier League.
Even now the anticipation is that another holding midfielder to sit alongside Nemanja Matic will give Pogba more freedom next season.
But what if Mourinho chose another way?
The Guardiola way.
What if he signed a player to sit alongside Pogba ahead of Matic?
Isco and Pogba could be United’s answer to Silva and De Bruyne - dominating possession high up the pitch, with Matic sweeping up behind them.
It would represent a U-turn from Mourinho - a master of the counter-attack, one of the finest ‘reactive’ managers the game has seen.
Pogba's form has suffered as a result of doing more defensive duty.
That is the fundamental difference between him and his arch-rival Guardiola.
Guardiola’s philosophy is to be proactive - Mourinho’s to be reactive.
Right now, there is little doubt which philosophy is leading the way - with City going into Saturday’s derby 16 points clear of United and one win away from being crowned champions.
Guardiola’s is dependent on having the best players in the world to carry out his thrilling vision.
At Barcelona, it was Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Xavi.
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At Bayern Munich, Philipp Lahm, Xabi Alonso, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.
And at City, Silva, De Bruyne and Leroy Sane.
Mourinho’s is more dependent on his own tactical vision - the whole being more than the sum of its parts.
But perhaps the greatest tension during his time at Old Trafford is the insistence from observers that he no longer needs to follow that path.
That his underdog successes at Porto and Inter Milan are not relevant to United.
For all of Mourinho’s talk of ‘heritage’ - however recent - United fans simply do not see themselves as the outsiders.
Under Sir Alex Ferguson they were the elite.
Isco will have no shortage of suitors this summer.
And just as it is with Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, and Mauricio Pochettino, Ferguson’s philosophy was primarily that it was up to others to adapt their plans to United, rather than the other way around.
The success of City this season - and Liverpool’s coming force - suggests that is the future of football in this country.
There is still a place for Mourinho, without a doubt. Second in the league and still in the hunt for his third major trophy in two seasons is evidence enough of that.
But he is here to do more.
To win the league, the Champions League, too.
Perhaps the signing of an Isco would be a major step in that direction.