Barça made me: how Mourinho went from back-room boy to fearsome front man

Chelsea's manager returns to the Nou Camp tonight a master of his trade. <i><b>John Carlin</b></i> traces the genesis of genius
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Had it not been for the stupid joke circulating in Barcelona for a while that Jose Mourinho and Bobby Robson were gay lovers, the present Chelsea manager's four years as a member of the coaching staff at the Nou Camp might have gone completely unnoticed.

Had it not been for the stupid joke circulating in Barcelona for a while that Jose Mourinho and Bobby Robson were gay lovers, the present Chelsea manager's four years as a member of the coaching staff at the Nou Camp might have gone completely unnoticed.

The longevity of the joke is amazing. Mention Mourinho and Robson in the same breath to someone in Barcelona who is reasonably informed about football and they'll recall, either with a snicker or a grimace, that the two were supposed to have arrived together from Portugal in 1996 because they could not bear to be apart. Robson lasted a season, until he was kicked upstairs.

Then Louis Van Gaal took over, until 2000, when he was kicked out altogether. Mourinho remained all four years, a valuable asset in the eyes of both veteran managers but discreet, always, as a mouse.

Van Gaal was not loved by the Barça fans and Robson was not respected but Mourinho's success, as he himself has acknowledged, is based on the admiration he felt for both. A far cry then from the cocky character he is now, Mourinho sat at the feet of both and studiously learned. Everyone who spent time with him in those days remembers him as an intense listener, a man who sat, Hamlet-like, on the side, analysing, assimilating, judging, absorbing.

And, like Hamlet, he was cleverer than everybody else. The Nou Camp was his university and he was a model student. Never has a student triumphed more quickly and emphatically than Mourinho. What he achieved at Porto - two domestic league titles and the top two European trophies in two years - was miraculous. Either that, or - as Chelsea fans will surely attest -- the man is a genius.

What does that genius consist of? In Barcelona they have part of the answer. It has to do with Xavi, a player Mourinho greatly admires but who, in his day at Barça, was a small and spindly youth, just beginning to emerge into the first team.

The admiration is mutual. Xavi, today a wonderfully composed midfielder, speaks of how important Mourinho was in his evolution as a player. Barça insiders report Xavi saying that the Portuguese assistant coach - he was one of a number of assistants working under Van Gaal - instilled tremendous confidence in him at a time when he was badly in need of it.

And how did he instil that confidence? By speaking to Xavi at length before each game and giving him a detailed rundown of what exactly he should expect from the player marking him on the rival team and from the opposition midfield generally.

Xavi discovered that Mourinho's predictions would come uncannily true. And that had two important effects: it made him trust and respect Mourinho, and it made him much more confident going into each game. Xavi will not be surprised that he has achieved the same, but collectively, in a Chelsea team that evidently needed his touch to match Roman Abramovich's billions with results.

Practically everyone else associated with Barcelona, however, has been amazed to discover quite what a jewel they had lurking in the inner depths of the Nou Camp dressing-room.

No one in Barcelona views Mourinho's Chelsea with anything but the deepest respect. The English League is followed ever more closely in Spain, with three or four live games per weekend as standard on satellite TV, and the transformation of Chelsea into the most potent force in the Premiership has left no one in any doubt that Ronaldinho and company will have to play at their very best in order to go through to the quarter-finals of the Champions' League.

Something else that has not gone unperceived is Mourinho's evolution from mouse to preening cockerel. But the mood among fans and press in Barcelona has been respectfully subdued. They have been trying to stir things up in Madrid, with the pro-Real newspaper As characterising the Chelsea manager last week as one of those people who acts in an arrogant manner in order to disguise a deep grudge against the world. "Resentful without a cause" was the As description of Mourinho's pathology. This is not the way they have chosen to portray him in Barcelona. Rather, they derive some pride from the fact that he learned his trade at the Nou Camp and seek to make some part of his success theirs.

Should Chelsea knock Barcelona out of the Champions' League the admiration will only grow. In fact, should Chelsea win the tie there is one thing of which we may be absolutely sure: a clamour will arise in Barcelona for the prodigal to return to the fold, for Mourinho to come back and work his magic on the club where his story began.


'In Spain I was unpopular in the sense that Robson was a person with a nicer personality, calm, passive and I was the agitator. I put my head on the block for Barcelona.'

'Bobby Robson is an attacking coach. I tried to take a step back - that is, while maintaining the primacy of attacking football, I tried to organise it better, and this organisation stems directly from the defence.'

'If we did not win titles then you were in a war as the demand for success was extremely high. This created a high level of pressure; it was a case of life or death.'

'I learnt a lot working for three years under top-class coaches and a team of respected players who knew that second place in the table is a failure.'

'With [Louis] Van Gaal, all I did was the training on the pitch. This improved my work tremendously in terms of quality.'

'I love Barcelona and I know that the people love me. In the club I have in every corner a friend so it will be very, very, very emotional for me to go there.'