The Big Match result: Special One Chelsea Nil

Stan Hey celebrates a football coach whose appeal spread far beyond the fans at Stamford Bridge
Click to follow
The Independent Football

His entrance on to the English stage was almost as dramatic as his exit from it was bathetic. On a gloomy spring night at Old Trafford in 2004, his Porto team had just scored the late goal that would knock Manchester United out of the Champions League, and suddenly there he was – running maniacally out on to the touchline, his long overcoat flapping, like a character from a Gothic novel. In that instant football, and the wider world, got to know the name Jose Mourinho.

Last Tuesday night, the same man sat alone, hunched over a small notebook as his richly endowed Chelsea team struggled to achieve a 1-1 draw with the lowly Norwegian side Rosenborg in front of a meagre crowd. Meanwhile, in the directors' box above, his masters finalised plans for his departure, ultimately dissatisfied with what the Portuguese impresario was putting on. The club's Russian-oligarch owner Roman Abramovich wielded the axe during the screening of a new celebratory film about Chelsea, as cover for the moment when Mourinho was "disappeared".

For three-and-a-half years Mourinho had bewitched and antagonised English and European football in equal measure, delivering a first championship to Chelsea in 50 years, and winning it a second time for good measure. He added League Cups and an FA Cup but not, fatefully, the Champions League trophy that his Porto team went on to win in 2004, a victory that exalted him to the highest ranks of football and, within a month, the manager's job at Chelsea.

At the press conference that anointed him, he displayed qualities that would endear him to the public and inflame some of them at the same time. "I'm a European champion... I'm not one of the bottle... I'm a special one." The press pounced; "the Special One" was born. What Mourinho had intended was a mixture of modesty and self-confidence befitting his slow rise from PE graduate to full-time manager. In the "Portu-glish" which would charm the pants off hardened hacks at his Chelsea press conferences, Mourinho mangled his wine analogy, and the intended notion that he was now a vintage product was lost in translation. But the label had been attached.

"The Special One" was a gift to back-page headline writers, and an instant shorthand to his detractors. The phrase even turned up, rather poignantly, on banners held by admiring fans last Thursday as he returned to Stamford Bridge to complete the last contractual rites of his departure. With a glowing endorsement from the Prime Minister, and tearful crowds mourning Mourinho's passing, we almost had a mini-Diana moment.

So how did this 44-year-old Portuguese manager come to dominate the news channels, the phone-ins and the internet chatlines after the all-too-routine football occurrence of losing his job?

Part of the explanation is probably the romance of his rise from sporting no-hoper to £6.5m-a-year success. It may also be to do with a newer cultural strand, English acceptance of the migrant worker who turns out to be better at his job than his indigenous counterparts.

As a nation we've come to admire foreigners who do well in our country; from Polish craftsmen and Asian curry millionaires to the thousands of Portuguese workers who keep Norfolk's fish and food processing industries going and to whom, I am informed, "Mourinho has been an inspiration". These people have re-sold to us the lost values of the Victorian work ethic and in some aspects, the value of community. It also helped that Mourinho was funny, good-looking and a family man, qualities that gave him a cross-over appeal to football fans of both sexes and beyond.

What was most remarkable about the past few days was the regret expressed by football managers and rival fans. Hard nuts such as Steve Bruce and Dennis Wise said he was a "breath of fresh air" and "not just a good manager but a good man". Rafael Benitez, Liverpool's Spanish coach, who twice thwarted Mourinho's European dream, and suffered abuse for it, has yet to be canvassed.

Ironically, Mourinho, like Benitez and Arsène Wenger at Arsenal – another manager with whom the Portuguese was less than cordial (he once called the Frenchman a "voyeur"' for his perceived obsession with Chelsea's methods) – represent the peaks of the involvement of foreign coaches in the English game. What they share is the syndrome whereby modest playing careers became the spur for management triumphs.

Equally, the most successful of the British managers in the past 30 years – Bob Paisley of Liverpool, Brian Clough of Derby County and Nottingham Forest and Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United – did not enjoy wild heights as players. And there was pain in their hearts that could have destroyed them had they not used it as fuel for another life within football. Paisley was dropped by Liverpool before the 1950 FA Cup Final; Clough played for England but his career was prematurely ended by a broken leg; Ferguson was moved on from his beloved Glasgow Rangers.

Mourinho's trauma was less severe but equally provocative. His father, Felix, was the goalkeeper for the local team, Vitoria Setubal – they knocked Liverpool out of the European Fairs (Uefa) Cup in 1969 – but the young Jose couldn't even make it with Setubal's second club, as a would-be midfield general.

Here, the Hollywood factor kicks in, with a script not unlike Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run?' in which the office boy ruthlessly observes his superiors, works hard and rises above them all. Mourinho's path was a five-year physical education/sports science degree at Lisbon University, where he showed a ferocious desire to learn.

Among his first football roles was as translator to Sir Bobby Robson, when the former England manager cashed in on the kudos of his 1990 World Cup semi-final to coach at Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona. Robson kept Jose by his side for six years. "He was alert, intelligent and trustworthy."

Mourinho was allowed to coach teams for friendly games and moved on to take his Uefa qualifying course in Scotland – one of the reasons he enjoys the British game. He became a club coach at Benfica just seven years ago, though he walked out after nine games, sensing boardroom treachery. He moved to a lesser club, Uniao de Lleiria, improved them, then took over at Porto – within three seasons he'd won domestic league and cup, Uefa Cup (against Martin O'Neill's Celtic) and the 2004 Champions League. "The student had become the professor!" said Sir Bobby, with affection.

So, like Benitez and Wenger, Mourinho became one of football's new technocrats, coaches who use diet, physiological preparation, intense tactical research, psychology and even philosophy. Chelsea became Mourinho's experimental group, bonding the players to him by force of will. He solved the business management conundrum that puzzles the heads of the world's biggest corporations with regard to their top employees – "how do you motivate millionaires?"

Mourinho clearly achieved this and more, if the accounts of tearful players and manly hugs at his training ground farewell last Thursday are true. It helped that he is closer in age to his players than many managers are, more an elder brother than a father figure, and that he dresses like them and shares their tastes in expensive "Chelsea tractors". But he never embraced the China White/£5,000 bet/Hollyoaks bimbo world that is often the beat of the £100,000-a-week footballer.

So, as he "waits for the phone to ring", the football and media worlds will have to get used to being without him, firstly at Old Trafford this afternoon.

Sir Alex will miss Mourinho's flattery and the expensive Portuguese wine that he brought for after-match drinking. The press will miss his eccentric quips – "pressure is not football, it is bird flu, I am worried about this dead swan in Scotland" – and post-game rants about cheating referees and optically challenged linesmen. The TV cameras will miss his operatic gestures on the touchline and the fans will miss chanting insults, using his name to scan perfectly with a chorus from Verdi's Rigoletto.

But the Norfolk workers who gut our supermarket fish and trim our Christmas turkeys will probably miss him most of all. The Portuguese even have a single word for it, saudade – the sense of loss when somebody big in your life is not there any more.

Further browsing: Read all the Chelsea news at