Ten years ago Jose Mourinho was experiencing his inaugural season as manager of Chelsea, fresh from leading his previous club, Porto, to a remarkable Champions League victory. This result was so unexpected it turned Mourinho into one of the most wanted managers in world football. It remains today one of the biggest shocks in the history of European football, and therefore, despite the success he has had since, is arguably still Mourinho’s greatest achievement to date. However, with the current standard of quality being exceptionally high in European club football, with the potential to face more difficult opponents then ever before, could domestic and European success this season be Mourinho’s crowning achievement?
May 2004, the Veltins Arena Gelsenkirchen: Uefa Cup winners Porto took on Monaco in the Champions League final. After a close opening thirty minutes, in which both sides had chances to go ahead, Porto struck five minutes before half time and went on to win the game 3-0. This was the second time the Portuguese side had been crowned European champions and it was Mourinho’s first. Porto’s Champions League triumph will be remembered for a number of reasons, not just because it was such a surprise, but also because it demonstrated that Europe’s elite competition could still be won by teams not considered the main heavyweights. Whilst Porto were certainly not seen as minnows, they were far from being seen as a strong contender to become European Champions, when the season began.
Yet, while this was one of the great shocks of European football, it is also true that Porto did receive a relative degree of luck, with the route they were handed to the final. In the Last 16 Porto faced Manchester United, the only side they faced who were marked as clear favourites to beat them. Porto gained a thoroughly deserved 2-1 victory in the first leg and a last minute Costinha equaliser, after a Roy Carroll mistake, at Old Trafford saw Porto qualify for the Quarter Finals. There they defeated Lyon, who were by no means an easy task, this was the side that won the French Ligue 1 seven years in a row, between 2002 and 2008. However in Europe, despite several big upsets, mainly in the group stages, Lyon were never able to advance beyond this stage and, with respect to Lyon, Porto must have been relieved to avoid potential ties with Real Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal and AC Milan. In the Semi Finals they were drawn against Deportivo La Coruna, the team who had stunned AC Milan by overturning a 4-1 deficit in the first leg of their Quarter Final, to qualify for the last four. The tie was a cagey affair, with a single goal the difference. A second half penalty from Derlei in the Riazor proved vital and saw Porto into the final. It was a season for shock results, with Porto’s opponents in the final, Monaco, providing two of them in knocking out both Real Madrid and Chelsea. The peculiarly large amount of surprises in the tournament that year was definitely a benefit to Mourinho and his team, but it would be a great injustice to suggest that Porto’s victory was not extraordinary, or deserved.
Since leaving Porto, Mourinho has managed three sides and won five league titles, five domestic cups and in 2010 he won his second Champions League title. This time his Inter Milan side defeated Bayern Munich 2-0. Just as with Porto, this victory proved to be his last as manager of the club and on the back of this triumph Mourinho relocated to Spain. There he had three relatively successful and highly controversial seasons at Real Madrid. In his second season he managed to bring the La Liga title back to the capital, after several years of Barcelona dominance and he was able to break Madrid’s European curse of not getting further than the Last 16 for the six years before he arrived. Although they did not win the tournament under Mourinho, they certainly came close, losing at the Semi Final stage every year he was in charge. Then, when things seemed to be going well for him, it all fell apart. In his final year he fell out with the media, the board, the Real Madrid fans and even some of their most senior players. To make matters worse the season ended trophyless. A move away from Madrid was desperately needed and a move to Chelsea was an offer he didn’t need to consider.
Last year Mourinho did his utmost to dissuade anyone from thinking that Chelsea could be genuine title contenders and as it transpired he was right, they weren’t quite good enough. This year everything is different. Mourinho’s Chelsea side have started the season in very impressive form, and in the Premier League, they look a class apart from everyone else around them. They already sit at the top of the table, with a strong lead over the other expected title challengers. People are already beginning to suggest that the challenge this season is no longer to simply win the league, but to also finish unbeaten. A feat which has not been matched since Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ achieved it in the 2003/04 season. In addition, Mourinho’s side are still competing in four competitions and with them looking like they may be racing away from their competition in the league, there seems to be no reason why Mourinho cannot focus on winning every tournament they are still involved in.
Aside from winning the Premiership, European success would surely be the most important to Mourinho and his players, although it will also be the most difficult. Come February we will see the tournament really get going, when the knockout rounds begin, and with that harder tests are sure to come Mourinho’s way. The teams that Mourinho and his Chelsea players may have to overcome will include star studded sides such as: Champions League holders Real Madrid, equipped with the world’s best player Cristiano Ronaldo; Pep Guardiola’s German title winners Bayern Munich, littered with players from Germany’s World Cup winning squad; and Barcelona, boasting potentially the most threatening forward line in world football, with Messi, Neymar and the always controversial, but equally brilliant, Luis Suarez. Moreover, Chelsea may be required to defeat La Liga winners Atletico Madrid, or Borussia Dortmund, the two most recent sides to knock Mourinho sides out of the competition. There is also the prospect of Italian sides Juventus and Roma who would pose extremely difficult opposition, as would any of the English sides, should they manage to qualify.
There are so many strong sides in the tournament that no game will be easy. Instead, for Mourinho and his Chelsea team to be successful in the Champions League, he will need to use all of his main attributes that make him such a fantastic coach. Mourinho sides have always had a strong centre, from defence to attack, full of physical and talented players, who are very difficult to play against. In his first experience with Chelsea he had Cech, Terry, Carvalho, Essien, Lampard and Drogba. Now he has built a side around Courtois, Terry, Cahill, Matic, Fabregas and Costa, all strong, determined players, with a desire to win, just like those in Mourinho’s first Chelsea side. The focus and consistency of these players are what make them such a threat. While other teams may have equally talented players, they often struggle with complacency. Jose Mourinho chooses players he knows will not have this problem and it is no surprise that they already seem to have found themselves in a fantastic position to win the Premier League this year.
As well as developing a strong foundation to the team, Mourinho will need to find a way to get the best out of the all the players in his squad. Throughout his managerial career Mourinho has worked with some incredibly gifted individuals, including the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Inter Milan and Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid. However, great talent does not necessarily ensure great results. The very best players are often at their best when they are managed by someone with the ability to utilise them to their full potential. Before Mourinho joined Porto, midfielder Deco, who was 26 when Mourinho arrived, had not won a single international cap. However Deco went on to gain 75 caps for Portugal and win UEFA Midfielder of the Year twice, and it is not a surprise that Deco’s exceptional development, into a world class midfielder, began under Mourinho’s guidance. This season, if Mourinho can utilise the talents of his flair players like Oscar, Willian and the most dangerous of them all, Eden Hazard, together with the sides strong centre, Chelsea will unquestionably be one of the competition’s toughest teams.
Finally what is possibly Mourinho’s most potent skill, is his ability to out-think his opponents. While some managers struggle or refuse to adapt their playing philosophy, Mourinho has a plan for every game his team plays. This will be crucial as the Champions League goes further and Chelsea come up against some of the other tournament favourites. While other sides might keep the ball better and may even have more threatening players, these games will not simply depend on which team is more technically gifted, they will also be a tactical battle. This will not be something Mourinho and his side will fear, as his teams usually flourish in these circumstances and will no doubt have continued success in the future.
Perhaps discussing how many trophies Chelsea will win this season is rather premature and it is still entirely plausible that come May, Mourinho and his Chelsea side have lost out on everything. It is not always enough to have great players, a truly great side must be able to play to their best football in the games that really count. Time will tell exactly how good this team is, but so far Chelsea are looking formidable and have already faced some of there toughest challenges in the league, without losing a game. If they can maintain their frightening form thus far and find success in Europe, as well domestically, this Chelsea side will be remembered as one of world football’s greatest ever sides and will surely be Mourinho’s greatest achievement.