Why Mourinho is the man for Chelsea

He is friendly, hardworking and very ambitious. Ronald Atkin assesses a manager born to lead
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The Independent Football

Leaning against the dug-out, arms folded, eyes a'smoulder and coat collar upturned. Jose Mourinho is the very essence of thinking girl's crumpet. If required, you feel, he could abseil effortlessly into a maiden's bedroom bearing a box of Milk Tray. Right now, though, the 41-year-old coach of Porto is not the suitor but, instead, the man being sought by just about every leading club in Europe.

Mourinho has been installed 5-4 favourite by William Hill to become the next Chelsea manager. He is fancied by Liverpool and Tottenham and, because of his long-standing friendship with Sir Bobby Robson, the name of Newcastle, notwithstanding their denial, is added to the list of interested Premiership clubs. The two Milan clubs and Juventus like the look of him and Real Madrid, in the throes of another managerial change, may be the ones to persuade him to stay in Iberia. Truly, Mourinho has blossomed into the flavour of the season.

Having been careful about making the correct loyalty noises to Porto, who are in their domestic cup final, who will retain the Portuguese League title if they win today's home game with Alverca and who remain in contention for a place in next month's Champions' League final, Mourinho is frank about his interest in managing what he calls "one of England's great sides". Not bad for someone labelled as having risen without trace until he took over a failing Porto two years ago.

The son of a Portugal international goalkeeper, Mourinho graduated with a degree in physical education and was an unremarkable midfielder with Vitoria Setubal and Sesimbra. His career gathered impetus when in 1993, at the age of 29, he took on the job of translator for Robson when Sir Bobby became manager of Sporting Lisbon. Mourinho stayed in that role as Robson travelled on to Porto and Barcelona, and became assistant to the next Nou Camp manager, Louis Van Gaal.

In the opinion of Antonio Tadeia, sports editor of the Portuguese national newspaper Record, who has known Mourinho for 10 years, it was this which established the foundation for his success. "He takes into his work a perfect mix, the friendly character of Robson and the work rate of Van Gaal," said Tadeia.

In 2000, Benfica made Mourinho manager and he won five and drew two of his nine games in charge. But the club's new president announced an intention to release Mourinho at the end of the season. When Benfica beat close rivals Sporting Lisbon 3-0, Mourinho confronted the president and demanded an immediate extension to his contract. When this was refused, he walked out, alienating Benfica's fans, who still refer to him as "the blackmailer".

Next he joined a mid-table club, Leiria, but after 19 games in charge there, Mourinho found his destiny at Porto in January 2002. At the time Porto were fifth in the League, their worst position in 26 years. Two years later they are poised to win their second straight league and cup double and, perhaps, a second successive European crown. "The key has been two years of hard work with the same players and coaching staff," Mourinho explained. "We have a tactical philosophy we follow so religiously that at times I think we could play blindfolded. And what we lack in big names we make up for with our team spirit and organisation. I started with a team formed of players who had poor salaries and had never won trophies. Now we have made history."

Mourinho also made himself a lot of money with Porto's Uefa Cup final win over Celtic a year ago, having insisted on a clause being included in his contract on joining the club which guaranteed a huge bonus for European success. "Nobody at the club took him seriously," said Tadeia, "so it cost them a lot. I thought he would leave Porto at the end of last season, because he had offers. But there is one thing that may make him stay. He wants to be the only coach in Portuguese football history to win three league titles in a row since Jimmy Hagan did it with Benfica in 1971-73.

"But if he goes to England, or another country, I think he can repeat his success, because he is very good at what he does. He is probably the most ambitious guy I have ever known. He is very competent and knows it. People in this country sometimes think he is arrogant and vain. We have on Portuguese TV a version of Spitting Image, and the Mourinho character is portrayed as someone who always carries a mirror in his hand. But his players will work for him until they drop, and nobody bothers him."

Not even Sir Alex Ferguson. After Manchester United's acrimonious exit to Porto and Ferguson's refusal to shake his hand, Mourinho dismissed his rival thus: "He has a bad attitude, based on poor vision." One Porto director said: "He has done so brilliantly for us that we will not prevent him following his heart and leaving for England." And the president, Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa, praised Mourinho as "a man born to lead".

None of this comes as a surprise to Robson, the man Mourinho nominates "my second father". The Newcastle manager said: "Jose worked with me for six years and two with Van Gaal, so he spent eight years with two quite decent managers. He was clever, he listened, he learned, he wrote down, and he remembered. Now he has done well. He's a great guy and he knows football." As England's fans may be about to find out.


Fabio Capello: The Roma coach and inspiration behind the great Milan side of the 1990s has already indicated his desire to move to England, and his suave style and immaculate pedigree make him a powerful candidate.

Ottmar Hitzfeld: One of Europe's most respected coaches, but he has been struggling at Bayern Munich, where his job is under threat. A claim that he turned down a Chelsea approach was denied by chief executive Peter Kenyon.

Carlo Ancelotti: If Roman Abramovich wants the very best he could do much worse than Ancelotti, who coaches reigning European champions Milan and also won the trophy as a player. Ancelotti commands great respect but also has a reputation for a somewhat dull style.

Martin O'Neill: Supposedly not on the Chelsea shortlist, the Celtic manager has proved he knows what it takes to win at home and in Europe. O'Neill is linked with every top job and has yet to bite - but the lure of unparalleled wealth in west London may prove too tempting.

Didier Deschamps: This opportunity has possibly come a season too soon for the former Chelsea midfielder - but if his Monaco side knock Chelsea out and win the Champions' League, Russian eyes may look the Frenchman's way.