Clashes with Abramovich bring Mourinho's Bridge tumbling down

Conflict and drama surrounded him from arrival to acrimonious exit. Sam Wallace looks back at an extraordinary reign
Click to follow
The Independent Online

His departure was always likely to be an occasion of great drama but Jose Mourinho managed to make his exit from Chelsea an affair so spectacular that no one at the club will ever forget it. When the mobile phones of the club's officials began chirping with the news late last night even they were not aware that the most successful manager in the history of their club had quit Stamford Bridge for good.

History will remember him as the man who claimed on his first day in the job to be the "Special One" and in the three years and three months that followed, Mourinho rarely passed up the chance to court controversy or to portray himself as the victim of forces beyond his control. Those forces took many different guises: Uefa, Arsÿne Wenger, the Premier League fixture schedulers, the Swedish referee Anders Frisk and, once, the South Central ambulance service in Berkshire. But it was the forces within his own club that Mourinho eventually found impossible to resist.

His reign at Chelsea was one of extraordinary success: two Premier League titles in consecutive years, the FA Cup and two Carling Cups. But it was done in the shadow of an implacable boss in Roman Abramovich, whose personality clash with his manager proved fatal. The remarkable aspect of that story is that we know a great deal about Mourinho's persona and nothing at all about that of his Russian employer.

It was that relationship that was at the heart of the Chelsea enigma. Mourinho was the proud, outspoken son of a moderately wealthy Portuguese family who had spent almost two decades in the backrooms of Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona. The son of a former manager, Felix, who was once sacked on Christmas Day, Mourinho knew the hardships of a life in football management. He had also suffered the humiliations of being low in the hierarchy of big clubs. As the Uefa coaching grandee Andy Roxburgh said, Mourinho was "an overnight sensation 20 years in the making".

That experience of life at the rough end of football, of lowly jobs as a coach or translator also meant that by the time Mourinho arrived at Chelsea his sense of injustice was finely honed. Even the most innocuous slights were taken to heart, money was always a major issue, as were issues like respect and control of the club.

In his first season, Mourinho won his battles over a new contract, he delivered the club's first championship in 50 years - in their centenary year - and it seemed that Abramovich had made the most inspired signing of all.

However, Chelsea's volcanic Portuguese coach was not the only self-made man at the club. Whatever influence he believed he wielded, it never compared to Abramovich's absolute power. The Russian had cut his teeth in a much more brutal world, a brilliant opportunist within the Kremlin who not only gained control of the oil company Sibneft but also kept on the right side of Vladimir Putin to make sure he kept his wealth and his liberty.

Abramovich began to fall out of love with Mourinho around the mid-point of the manager's second season at the club and by the end of the last campaign they were not even talking. That relationship began to deteriorate in the autumn of last year and very soon Abramovich was not making his customary appearances in the dressing room after games.

Mourinho launched a thinly-veiled attack on the club for their failure to back him in the January transfer window after a Carling Cup win over Wycombe Wanderers.

At times it was easy to see what made Mourinho such a difficult character to deal with. He found it physically impossible not to have the last word in any argument with the Press and those inside the club said that his temper was no different when it came to the players.

Individuals fell in and out of favour with him. When he walked out last night he was back at odds with Joe Cole, barely speaking to the injured Michael Ballack and, of course, completely out of love with Andrei Shevchenko.

He could be funny, mischievous and extremely quotable but it was always done on his terms. If there were jokes to be cracked with the Press then Mourinho preferred it to be him who was cracking them. However, he never let his guard down, not even in a football match between the Chelsea staff and the Press team during the summer's tour of America. Mourinho played in goal and took his duties extremely seriously - unfortunately his promises of a re-match will never be realised.

Wherever he went he was followed by his coterie of Portuguese coaches that joined him at the club when he came to Chelsea in the summer of 2004. His assistant Baltemar Brito was a former tough-tackling Brazilian centre-half who played under Mourinho's father. Silvinho Louro, his goalkeeping coach, was a former Portugal international. Between them, they were the muscle alongside the slightly built Mourinho on the Chelsea bench. And then there were the prodigies, Rui Faria and Andre Villas Boas - the " mini-Mourinhos" who made up the rest of his staff.

The more successful Mourinho became, the more difficult he found it to be dictated to by a man - in Abramovich - who he believed knew nothing about the real business of winning football matches. Mourinho's Chelsea teams were formidable match-winning machines. Immaculately-drilled and ruthless with none of the chaos that, on some occasions, characterised even the best English sides they were rarely beautiful to watch. But they fulfilled the dreams of a club who had been dominated by Manchester United and Arsenal for so long.

Had Mourinho been in charge of one of Abramovich's oil or aluminium companies, the Russian would no doubt have hailed him as one of the great captains of industry. He was efficient, methodical and hugely successful. But a life spent fighting in the politics and intrigue of modern Russia meant that, with his most expensive toy, Abramovich wanted a thing of beauty. He wanted the great expansive football and he did not want a demanding, overbearing manager in charge.

There is no doubt where the sentiments of the Chelsea support lie - in moments of crisis they have always chanted Mourinho's name rather than Abramovich's. In the realpolitik world of Premier League football, of billionaires and vaulting ambition, there was only likely to be one winner. But Jose Mourinho is only 44 and if this was his first act in English football then the second could be even more spectacular.

Comments