Chelsea v Birmingham

Mourinho builds an unbreakable bond

Midfielder Tiago on the secret of his compatriot's success: 'He's one of us - and he wins'

"Tell the players where I am; I want them to look at me before the game." Text message sent by Jose Mourinho to his coaching staff

"Tell the players where I am; I want them to look at me before the game." Text message sent by Jose Mourinho to his coaching staff

The Chelsea manager was then still at Porto. The message was sent before the semi-final of the 2003 Uefa Cup. Mourinho had been banished to the stands after manhandling a Lazio player in the first leg, but couldn't bear to think his players might feel he'd abandoned them. It was all about the bond he had created.

Almost two years later Mourinho is holding court inside Chelsea's new training ground at Cobham, Surrey. Forty feet away, under one of the domes erected at the spectacular new complex, stands the midfielder Tiago Mendes. He, too, is talking about the bond. And, for once, a Chelsea player is prepared to reveal what he calls "one of the secrets" of Mourinho's astonishing success. "He's like a friend to us," Tiago says with a smile, and a shrug. "He's one of us."

That was evident in the rich warmth Mourinho, a youthful 42, displayed as he embraced his players following another semi-final victory. This time it was with Chelsea, against Manchester United, in the Carling Cup semi-final at Old Trafford last Wednesday. "We just have this fantastic group who feel great together," Tiago says.

Much has been made of the lack of dissent within Chelsea's squad from those players who have been "rotated". Largely that has to do, as Mourinho himself offers, with their hunger for success. They want trophies. Rocking the boat may come later. But not now. Tiago is one of those players fighting for a place, fighting for that third midfield berth alongside Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele.

But he doesn't regard the competition - from Joe Cole and Alexei Smertin - as a struggle because "they fight the same way as me. We are all friends. We all know if I play well it's good for me but for them also, because we are top of the League and if we stay there all of us will be champions. So, yes, it's a fight but a different kind of fight". And one he has usually, it must be said, been victorious in.

Tiago was Mourinho's fourth purchase in the flurry of comings and goings following the manager's appointment last summer as he assembled a tightly bound, 23-strong squad. Out went the flab, the extravagance. In came players like Tiago, an £8m buy in a tortuous transfer from Benfica. At the time the 23-year-old was regarded as one for the future, even if he owed his signing to Steven Gerrard's late change of heart in turning down Stamford Bridge to remain, for now, at Liverpool. But the future has arrived early. Mourinho, as ever, appears able to fulfil his promise, having said he would turn Tiago, an intelligent, diligent performer, from "a good player into a great one".

The Portuguese international, already hailed as the "complete player" by his national coach, Luis Felipe Scolari, fitted seamlessly into Chelsea's team, Chelsea's ethos. Above all he is a Mourinho man and - in the big games - he has played and shown why Barcelona and Juventus had also vied for him. Instead he chose Chelsea. "In Portugal, everyone admired Mourinho," Tiago says, "because he won everything. In Portugal and in Europe. He's a coach who, I think, every player wants to work with."

But why is he so effective? "I don't know," Tiago says before, after a pause, adding: "He wins." He goes on: "I think he's very clever, he works fantastically hard, not just him but all his staff. They are fantastic people - and the players know exactly what they have to do."

The physical and mental preparation is, indeed, meticulous. Naturally Tiago, who while at Benfica inflicted one of the five defeats Mourinho suffered in 2004, in the Portuguese cup final, admits he would "like to play every week", as he did in Lisbon. But he adds: "You have to be mentally prepared to play. And here every player is prepared so that I know, when my moment comes, I will be ready. I have no problem if next week I'm out because I know the week after that I will play. So I have to be strong."

The rest, he says, is vital - partly because of the demands of Premiership football. "Here in England you play Wednesday and Saturday, so if you only play Saturday after Saturday you are physically better. Here, also, the game doesn't stop, so you have to be at 100 per cent. You can't be at 80 per cent. Players, if you are winning 1-0, they want 2-0. In Portugal if you are winning 1-0 you stop, a little bit, the game. That doesn't happen here."

The intensity does take its toll. "But if you are winning the tiredness is not the same," Tiago explains. "Only when you lose!" Mourinho, he says, makes clear what he expects from the players who are omitted. "You rest here," Tiago says, tapping the side of his head. "That's important. You rest mentally, and if your head is clear then there is no problem."

It may well be that Tiago is rested today when Chelsea face Birmingham City in the fourth round of the FA Cup. The competition is just one of four they can win this season. Such is the confidence surging through the squad that the players are even prepared to discuss the possibilities of that unprecedented quadruple.

"Yes, of course," Tiago says when asked about the chances of winning everything. "We are playing for all four trophies. At the moment our first objective is the championship. We are in the final of the Carling Cup, and the rest... let's see."

The Premiership is the main priority, and Tiago will tune in for Tuesday's match between Arsenal and Manchester United. However, he adds: "I will watch but I don't care, because we are 10 points in front. So, for us, whoever wins it is not a problem." Chelsea's focus is crystal clear. "We have to win 11 matches to be champions," Tiago says. Chelsea are probably out of sight anyway, but Tiago says that if either of their two main rivals lose this week "it will be very, very difficult for them to have any chance of finishing in first place". A draw and "they are both in a very bad position".

It is - in a first season for Mourinho and many of his players - an incredible scenario. But also one that Tiago takes in his stride. He has been unfazed by the whole experience. "We are all learning but he [Mourinho] knows what to expect here in England, so he bought the players he wants to do that."

Tiago may be one of the more unsung members of that team, but that's the way both he and the manager like it. "I don't care," Tiago says. "For me I like to see [Arjen] Robben, Didier [Drogba], Lampsy [Frank Lampard]. They are fantastic players, fantastic people. They all are and it's a pleasure to play with them."

Again he pauses before adding: "I feel well in this team." That is clear for everyone to see. The bond, at Mourinho's Chelsea, appears unbreakably strong.

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