Jose Mourinho: Abramovich's ambitious general

Click to follow
The Independent Online

On the touchline of Anfield, the home of Liverpool and a place steeped in so much of the best in English football, an intriguing question will today be posed by arguably the most exotic sight in all of the game. As the Chelsea manager, designer stubbled, brooding, haughty, explosive, seeks to stamp his influence on every phase of the action in a blizzard of hand signals and body language that is football's answer to the Tower of Babel, some will wonder: what on earth would Bill Shankly have made of Jose Mourinho?

Would the old warhorse have recoiled at the flashy image, the evidence of self-regard, even omnipotence, of the young and indisputably glamorous guardian of Roman Abramovich's huge football investment? Or would he have saluted an utterly original presence in the old game?

Mourinho certainly provides more than a dash of the theatrical, but as Chelsea lead the Premiership by five points, as the young Portuguese coach displays an ever-increasing authority, there is fast-growing evidence that even in the least impressionable corners of English football the young interloper is creating a triumph that has more do with with substance than style.

This week, Shankly's compatriot - and until now perhaps the most committed, impassioned football man to ply his trade on these islands - Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson, admitted: "It is getting to Chelsea that is the big problem. We just have to hope Chelsea stumble." It is an accolade of astonishing weight so early in Mourinho's English campaign. But for anyone who has taken the trouble to separate the mythology of the coach from - and this is his favourite word - the "methodology", it is not so much of a surprise.

In fact, Mourinho's meteoric rise - six years ago, he was still regarded by those few in the game who knew anything of him as a madly ambitious rider of the coat-tails of his English mentor Sir Bobby Robson, a glorified interpreter at Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona - is traceable to the most fecund of all sources of coaching success.

Like Ferguson, the great Jock Stein of Celtic, who delivered Britain's first European Cup in 1967, Arsenal's Arsene Wenger, and Shankly himself, Mourinho's thirst for success on the field was never slaked by his time as a player. Indeed, Mourinho's playing aspirations, as the son of Felix, an international goalkeeper and successful coach, failed miserably. Though he now downplays the impact of what some say was the moment which made him think most deeply about his life and his future - when his father was told by the club president that if he played young Jose in the first team of Rio Ave he would lose his job - there is no doubt that his lack of fulfilment on the field became the anvil of a relentless ambition.

The idea that this drive to fulfil himself as a coach - all very well, at modestly financed Porto where he guided previously under-achieving players to the peaks of the Uefa Cup, the Champions League title and the Portuguese championship in two sensational years - would founder in the dressing room plutocracy of Stamford Bridge became the great question mark against him when he signed his £4m-a-year contract with Abramovich after landing the great European title last spring.

The theory was that superstar players would ultimately demand that Jose "I am the special one" Mourinho show them the medals he won in his scuffling days as a failed pro. The reality has been quite the opposite, with such as John Terry, perhaps the most dramatically improved player in the English game, Frank Lampard, Damien Duff and the luminous Dutchman Arjen Robben building a mountain of evidence that he does indeed have a rare insight into the dynamics of winning football.

In the process, and while building an astonishing aura around himself, Mourinho has demolished the myth that there will always be a barrier between the most talented players and coaches whose own modest achievement has only sharpened their need to win. Joe Jordan, the coach of Portsmouth, Chelsea's last victims despite a titanic effort before their own fans, had a superb career as a player with Leeds, Manchester United, AC Milan and Scotland, but this week he acknowledged the force of the man who, in his youth, could only dream of getting in the foothills of such a playing career.

Said Jordan: "It was terrible to lose to Chelsea after playing so well, but at the end of the game you had to acknowledge you had been up against something special, something you don't encounter so often these days. Chelsea have great talent and resources, but you have to admit they have something else, something put there by Jose Mourinho."

No doubt, he was shaped by powerful forces in a youth darkened by the loss of a family fortune - his mother's wealthy uncle, the owner of canneries in the fishing port of Setubal, was a loser when the socialist revolution unseated the old dictator Salazar - and later he was deeply saddened by the mysterious death of his sister Theresa, who was said to have had problems with drugs. The goal of succeeding in football quite simply took over his life; it became an issue with his mother, who had suggested Jose was wasting his time in a business in which he had no natural aptitude despite all those hours he had spent kicking a football around the orange groves of the family home in Setubal.

Now it is as though a veil has been cast over Mourinho. He is fiercely protective of his family life with his wife of 20 years, Tami, and children Matilde, nine, and Jose Junior, five, something that he underlined in his moment of triumph after the European Cup final in Gelsenkirchen last spring. Instead of joining his players, he embraced his family and stole off into the night.

Later, he spoke of a burgeoning personal empire: "I've had great success in winning the Uefa Cup and now the Champions League so quickly, but though I know I'm going to have a bad year sometime, I would be very sad if, in 10 years' time, these were the only great trophies I have won. When I say that, I know many good managers can go 30 or 40 years without this success. I'm aware of this, and because of it I want to enjoy this night."

For many inside football, the key to Mourinho is sheer intellectual power. He enjoys the good life, but sees it as merely a reflection of success. "I have a good car, but only one at a time. I like good holidays with my family, I like us to live in a nice place [Eton Square], but as a football man the most important thing is to be working with the right people and with the right approach to things," he says.

Some say Mourinho's defining moment was when his Porto team won the Portuguese League cup for the second year running and then overwhelmed Monaco for the European Champions title last May. Perhaps, though, hisseminal moment had come in Lisbon four years earlier when, after just nine matches, he walked out on the famous Benfica club. "It wasn't right," said Mourinho. "I could have stayed around, but I knew my work could not prosper there. My ideas could not develop."

Other football men might have lingered amid the prestige and the "potential" of a great club. But Mourinho saw no life, no momentum, so he moved to Porto and rewrote the map of European football and his own life. When the Chelsea owner interviewed Mourinho on his yacht moored in Monte Carlo, he had had 24 hours to read a document sent to him by his prospective coach. It was a stunning appraisal of the situation of the club that had become the richest in the game.

Recently, some English football writers put to Mourinho some theories about the course of this season which is being so dominated by Chelsea. They spoke of a renaissance at Arsenal and a rally by Manchester United. Mourinho frowned - his frown is not the least of his world-class attributes - and snapped: "Do not tell me about your movie. I am in a movie of my own." If you looked hard, there was apparently the beginnings of a smile. Shankly, you have to believe, would have seen a football man deserving of only the greatest respect.


Born: 26 January 1963, christened Jose Mario Santos Mourinho Felix. Son of former Portugal goalkeeper Felix Mourinho.

Family: Married to Tami, with two children, Matilde (9) and Jose Jr (5).

Career: 1992-7: works for Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon and Porto and Barcelona. 2000-2001 coach at Benfica and Uniao de Leiria. 2002-04 at Porto, winning triple crown of domestic league and cup and Uefa cup in 2003. Joins Chelsea on three-year contract, June 2004.

He says...: "Do not tell me your movie. I am in a movie of my own."

They say...: "There's a bit of the young Clough about him. For a start, he's good-looking and, like me, he doesn't believe in the star system." - Brian Clough