Winning the Europa League was supposed to be his latest step on the way as the Porto coach, Andre Villas-Boas, followed the trail blazed by Jose Mourinho at the Portuguese giants. Yet, like so many of his feats in this extraordinary season for the remarkable young coach, Porto are finding it is even better than before.
Records have tumbled at every turn for Villas-Boas, first brought into the club in the 1990s by the late Sir Bobby Robson – to whom Villas-Boas dedicated Wednesday's 1-0 Europa League final win over Braga, along with Sir Bobby's widow, Lady Elsie. In the 33-year-old's debut season he has so far led his club to three trophies (league, Europa League and Portuguese Super Cup), their first-ever unbeaten league campaign and has broken the run of 14 successive league wins set by Antonio Oliveira's side in 1996-97.
The latest feather in Villas-Boas's cap is perhaps the most impressive, after Porto's victory at the Aviva Stadium saw him supplant Gianluca Vialli as the youngest coach to lift a European club trophy. Vialli was three months older when he guided Chelsea to Cup-Winners' Cup victory over Stuttgart in 1998.
"We already had the national championship in the cabinet," said the Brazilian striker Hulk, "but winning a European trophy is something that's respected worldwide, and throughout all the European leagues. This is historic for all the people involved."
Villas-Boas shuns the more iconoclastic tendencies of Mourinho, but gives his players the strength to believe they can move mountains. "It's a hugely proud moment, and a tremendously happy one, because on my [33rd] birthday I managed to lift a European trophy," captain Helton said with a grin, referring to the 15kg weight of the former Uefa Cup trophy. The father figure of the Porto dressing room, the goalkeeper paints a picture of an egalitarian camp. "It's great, because I don't see myself so much as the captain," he said, "but as a good team-mate with all the rest. We're always together, so being part of a dressing room like that is very gratifying."
In the corridors at the Aviva Stadium, the infectious joy of the whole Porto staff was evident. Just as with the celebrations after the two wins at Benfica that clinched the league and delivered Villas-Boas's side to Sunday's Portuguese Cup final against Guimaraes, it contained the sense of a closely bonded group who revel in each other's company. When the long-standing general manager, Acacio Valentim, emerged from the tunnel to direct affairs, it was with his trademark floppy locks freshly shaved off. It is a very different mood to that of the Mourinho era when Porto followed Uefa Cup success in 2003 with the Champions League a year later.
"He's our friend, not just our coach," was Helton's description of Villas-Boas. "We're happy to have him with us, because he gives us the freedom to work." With both president Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa and Villas-Boas himself insisting that the coach will stay to lead Porto into the Champions League next season, it is little wonder that the likes of Hulk, who has a €100m (£88m) buyout clause, and Falcao, the scorer of the winner in the Eoropa League final, are queuing up to pledge their own futures to the club. "I will be," Hulk flatly replied when asked if he would remain at Porto next season.
"You have to go into this sort of competition with positive thoughts," he said. "Porto have great players, a great staff and great leadership at the club. We now have the capability to play a great Champions League."
"I don't want this night to ever end," added Falcao, "because this isn't something that happens all the time in your footballing life. But we're still hungry, we're all working together for the same end." He then downplayed his record of 17 goals in a European campaign this season as "anecdotal". Sunday's final is already in the sights of Villas-Boas's relentless side. "There's still one [game] to go," cautioned Falcao. Porto seem unlikely to rest for a while yet.
Vintage Porto coaches
Andre Villas-Boas Name Jose Mourinho
None Playing career Limited lower league
Porto Birthplace Setubal
32 Age at first managerial job 37
Academica, Porto Clubs Benfica, Un de Leiria, Porto, Chelsea, Internazionale, Real Madrid
P15 W14 D1 L0 F43 A11 Home league record in first full season at Porto P17 W16 D1 L0 F45 A12
League First domestic trophy League
Europa League First European trophy Uefa CupReuse content