Such is the nature of the man, José Mourinho will always be a figure who divides opinions. His apparent arrogance, his forthright opinions and occasional petulance have all got under the skin of those on the receiving end of his psychological games in the past, but there is surely little doubt that he is one of the greatest managers of the modern era.
He may now be recognised as something of a managerial virtuoso, but the Portuguese’s road to the top was not a straightforward one. The son of a former international goalkeeper, Mourinho initially embarked upon a career as a player but brought an end to his endeavours in 1987 after accepting that he would never make it at the top level. “I’m an intelligent person,” he is quoted as saying. “I knew I was not going to go any higher. The second division was my level.”
Following the conclusion of his playing career, Mourinho went on to study sports science and became a PE teacher while looking for ways to get into the business of coaching. His first major breakthrough came with his hometown club, Vitória de Setúbal, where he took on a role training the youth team and began to work towards his coaching badges. Mourinho’s work in Setúbal greatly impressed the first team manager at the time, Manuel Fernandes, who wasted no time in making him his assistant when he was appointed as the head coach of second division side Estrela da Amadora.
However, Mourinho’s time in Amadora was short-lived, the then 29 year-old jumping at the chance to become Sir Bobby Robson’s translator when the Englishman arrived in Portugal to coach Sporting Lisbon. The two men became close friends during Robson’s time in Lisbon, Mourinho moving to Porto to continue working for the former England manager when he left the capital. Indeed, it was Robson who initially recognised Mourinho’s tactical awareness and exceptional ability to read the game, offering the future Chelsea boss the chance to take a more active role in first team affairs when he became the manager of Barcelona in 1996.
Relishing the extra responsibilities with which he was entrusted at Camp Nou, Mourinho planned training sessions and compiled reports on forthcoming opposition, reports that Robson once said were the best that he’d ever received. When his mentor departed Spain in June 1997, Mourinho stayed in Barcelona and struck up a good working relationship with the new manager, Louis van Gaal. The Dutchman increased the scope of the Portuguese’s role within the club yet further, even allowing Mourinho to take charge of the first team during minor cup competitions such as the Copa Catalunya in which he guided the Blaugrana to victory in May 2000, his first title in a coaching capacity.
With Mourinho’s stock within the European game continually rising, it was only a matter of time before he was offered his first independent managerial job. Such an opportunity materialised in the summer of 2000, “the special one” turning down Bobby Robson’s offer to become assistant manager at Newcastle United before taking the top job at Benfica. Yet his association with the Águias was fleeting, Manuel Vilarinho – a man who had pledged to bring in former player Toni as manager – being elected the club’s new president just weeks into his employment. Following a victory over city rivals Sporting Lisbon, Mourinho asked for a contract extension in order to examine Vilarinho’s loyalty to him and, when the president refused, he resigned with immediate effect less than six months into his tenure.
The following season he took over the reins at União de Leiria, guiding the club to fifth place in the Portuguese top flight – Leiria’s best ever league finish – and further building his burgeoning reputation. Mourinho’s success saw him offered the Porto job ahead of the 2002/03 season, the role that would kick-start his career at the very top level and one he accepted with relish.
Breathing new life into the careers of ageing internationals such as Jorge Costa and players struggling to fulfil their obvious talent like Maniche and Benny McCarthy, Mourinho created a tight-knit and highly motivated outfit, transforming the fortunes of his new club and spurring them on to an historic treble consisting of the league, the domestic cup and the UEFA Cup – beating Celtic 3-2 in the final. As debut seasons go, it was remarkably accomplished.
In 2003/04 Mourinho and Porto successfully defended their domestic crown with an eight-point margin, but it was in the Champions League that Os Dragões and their charismatic manager made the biggest impact. With Porto beating Manchester United, Lyon, Deportivo La Coruña and Monaco amongst others on their way to a remarkable continental triumph, it was during that European campaign that Mourinho’s reputation for efficient, pragmatic football came to the fore.
Only winning one game (the final) by more than two goals, the Portuguese champions displayed what we now recognise as the classic hallmarks of a Mourinho team; near-flawless defensive organisation and unerring efficiency on the counter-attack. This was a victory that had Mourinho’s name written all over it.
Later that summer the Portuguese arrived in London to manage Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea and, despite not ever quite achieving continental success, established the Stamford Bridge club as the predominant force in English football during his time there. Upon his arrival he declared, “Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one” and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
In both of his first two seasons in west London (2004/05 and 2005/06) Mourinho took Chelsea to the Premier League title, constructing a team that played a relatively cautious version of 4-3-3 which proved extremely effective against the rigid 4-4-2 systems deployed by such a large number of their domestic opponents. Two League Cup triumphs and the 2006/07 FA Cup were added to The Blues’ trophy cabinet before their coach left “by mutual consent” under something of a cloud just weeks into the 2007/08 campaign following a series of disputes with the board.
The following summer Massimo Moratti appointed Mourinho as Roberto Mancini’s replacement, the Italian having been sacked after failing to make sufficient headway in the Europe. During his first season in Italy the Portuèguese secured Inter’s fourth consecutive Serie A title, but elimination in the first knockout round of the Champions League saw some question his future on the peninsula.
However, the 2009/10 campaign was to see Mourinho achieve arguably his greatest feat to date, claiming an unprecedented treble consisting of the league title, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League, the first time such a feat had ever been achieved.
Regularly playing with a compact 4-2-3-1 system, it was in the Champions League that Mourinho’s style of football, in the words of Jonathan Wilson, reached its “nihilistic peak”. Doing just enough to overcome Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona with a meagre 16% possession in the second leg of the semi-final was a triumph for the former Porto manager’s pragmatism which, despite the criticism it has drawn, is clearly a tactical theory and an ideology that wins football matches.
Mourinho’s detractors argue that his football is “boring” and overly negative, also claiming that he’s had a relatively straightforward career in that he’s always been at the club’s with the healthiest bank accounts in their respective leagues, but I don’t think those arguments stand up. Very few managers have achieved anything like the serial success that he has enjoyed over the last six years and, in my mind at least, the Portuguese has – at the age of just 47 – already done enough to be considered as one of the great coaches of the last 100 years.
Whether he will be able to continue to add to his list of honours as he prepares to lead Real Madrid’s second wave of Galácticos this season remains to be seen, but José Mourinho’s incredible managerial credentials are surely now beyond doubt.