Jose Mourinho: The Jose way

He seems uniquely unqualified for the most glamorous position in English football. He shows no talent for drinking himself into the headlines. He has a discreet relationship with a married woman, his wife. He doesn't even own a sheepskin coat. He's handsome, rich and arrogant enough to be brought low by the tabloid press, but still his legend grows. Could defeat for his team today change all that?

This afternoon, at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, in the first major football final of the season, the television cameras will keep cutting away from the play to capture the smouldering reactions of a Portuguese man on the sidelines. Jose Mario dos Santos Mourinho Félix, manager of Chelsea, is the central figure in the most intriguing storyline of the soap opera that is British sport: can Roman Abramovich, the club's Russian owner, use his billions to transform the perennially fashionable but oft-failing Chelsea into the biggest club in the game? Mourinho is suddenly the most fascinating man in football. But if you didn't know he was a manager, you would think from his maturely handsome, semi-shaven appearance that he belonged not in a sports ground but in an under-lit European art-house film - part of the complicated love interest, perhaps, or the brooding detective with the quizzical half-smile. He really is a most unlikely representative of what used to be the sheepskin-coat-wearing class

This afternoon, at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, in the first major football final of the season, the television cameras will keep cutting away from the play to capture the smouldering reactions of a Portuguese man on the sidelines. Jose Mario dos Santos Mourinho Félix, manager of Chelsea, is the central figure in the most intriguing storyline of the soap opera that is British sport: can Roman Abramovich, the club's Russian owner, use his billions to transform the perennially fashionable but oft-failing Chelsea into the biggest club in the game? Mourinho is suddenly the most fascinating man in football. But if you didn't know he was a manager, you would think from his maturely handsome, semi-shaven appearance that he belonged not in a sports ground but in an under-lit European art-house film - part of the complicated love interest, perhaps, or the brooding detective with the quizzical half-smile. He really is a most unlikely representative of what used to be the sheepskin-coat-wearing classes.

The contradictions don't end there. In a game where most participants communicate only in clichés, he can be interesting in four languages. In a sport where reading books is a sign of deviancy, he is educated. In arenas where "Jesus Christ" is an oath, he is religious. And, in this laddish world, where a refusal to urinate in the street is regarded as a sign of undue sophistication, he is genuinely cultured.

And there's more. Happily married, with no hint of panting calls to FA secretaries or massages from anyone other than physiotherapists; abstemious, with no nightclub tabs that run into four figures, he is, at 42, also successful enough to be paid a basic salary of £5m a year, photogenic enough to be hired by American Express to front its advertising, a sufficiently mainstream celebrity to be impersonated by Alistair McGowan, and so articulate that his one-liners make Groucho Marx seem as tongue-tied as Harpo. "And to think," says one of his mentors, Sir Bobby Robson, a former England and Newcastle United manager, "he was just a schoolteacher when I met him."

The man who will begin to learn this afternoon if he can deliver success to Roman Abramovich's platinum-plated Chelsea was born in Setubal in 1963. His mother was from a clan that prospered under the right-wing dictatorship of Salazar; and his father, Félix, the son of a fisherman, was a professional footballer who duly went into club management. Jose grew up determined to be a player, but although he became a professional with his father's club, Rio Ave, it was soon apparent that he did not have the talent to prosper.

His mother enrolled him on a business course, but Jose had other ideas. After one day he switched to physical education, and so became the kind of school PE teacher that teenage girls' fantasies are made of. "Until he arrived no girls ever wanted to do PE, but suddenly nobody was asking for a doctor's sick note," a former pupil once breathlessly recalled. He married Tami (they started dating when she was 17 and now have two children), attended football courses, and became youth coach at Vitoria Setubal and assistant coach at Estrela da Amadora. It was hardly the big time. Then, in 1992, came his first break. Robson was appointed manager at Sporting Lisbon, and he wanted a local coach who spoke good English. Mourinho landed the job, and at Lisbon airport he met the man who was to help change his life. Robson appreciated Mourinho's translations, and when the Englishman moved on to Barcelona he took the young, Spanish-speaking coach with him. Some big city characters wondered who was this handsome unknown always following the famous manager, and there were even rumours (absurd to anyone who knows either man) that they were gay lovers.

But it wasn't pillow talk that Mourinho shared with Robson, it was accurate analysis of opposing players. In addition, for he was liked by the Barcelona team and young enough to be one of them, he offered reliable readings of the men. In return, Mourinho learnt much from the older man, a process that continued under Robson's Dutch successor, Louis van Gaal. After three more years at Barcelona, Mourinho was ready to manage his own club. He went to Benfica, to Uniao de Leiria, and thence, in 2002 to Porto, where he found himself directly managing players of real quality for the first time. His team made a discovery, too. Their new manager brought a good deal of science to what had always been regarded as the art of coaching. At school, Mourinho was bored by literature, but did well at maths. He adored the recording and calculation of things, and for him that meant not just the game's tactics, but the psychology and organisation of players. Sudden, enormous, success followed - two league championships, one cup, the Uefa Cup and then, last year, the European Cup.

It was not only for this record that he was hired by Abramovich to transform the Russian's gold into silverware. It was for his smarts (when banned from the touchline once he equipped himself with a BlackBerry-like device, went into the stands, and with two assistants, sent a steady flow of instructions to the bench.) It was for his thorough preparations (he writes letters to his players setting out what he wants them to achieve, and has sent substitutes on to the pitch with diagrammatic notes for his team.) And it was for the self-belief he exudes through every pore. "I don't have to control Mr Abramovich," he has said, "He has to control me." This quotability - "A coach who sees only football is weak" - has made him a firm favourite with the notoriously fickle tabloids.

Abramovich expects delivery. And so far, so good. Chelsea, who have not won this country's league championship for 50 years, are now at the top of the table. They are one good game away from the European Cup semi-finals, and today they play Liverpool in the Carling Cup final. This will be Mourinho's first big trophy test. Last Sunday, Chelsea were knocked out of the FA Cup, and the verbal skirmishes he has engaged in recently are signs of the pressure he is under. He used the word 'cheat' after some argy-bargy in a game with Manchester United, refused to shake hands with Blackburn boss Mark Hughes, and an altercation in the Barcelona tunnel last Wednesday ended with him being kicked in the back, a still-ongoing dispute over Chelsea's complaint that the Spanish side's manager spoke illegally to the referee, and Mourinho's first taste of a back-page roasting. He has responded feistily; not for nothing was he once compared to George Clooney.

If he wins this afternoon, he'll be starring in one of British sport's occasional feel-good stories. But if he loses, he won't just look like the character in the moody European movie who gets pitched over the cliff by the man he thought was his friend - he'll be playing the part for real.

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