Greatest Managers, No. 9: Mourinho
Marco Materazzi and Didier Drogba have both scored in major finals, won the Champions League and can be counted among the most physically imposing players to have graced a pitch in recent times. Another thing binds them, however: Both were left crying uncontrollably when Jose Mourinho ended his association with their respective clubs.
Drogba “wept like a child” -- according to team-mate Paulo Ferreira -- when Mourinho said his goodbyes to the Chelsea dressing room in 2007, while Materazzi was filmed sobbing into his manager’s shoulder after Inter Milan’s 2010 Champions League final victory, Mourinho’s last game for the Nerazzurri. “Those tears were because I had lost a friend,” the Italian later explained. “With Jose, I had a wonderful relationship not only because I enjoyed playing for him but because he gave me the feeling of being important.”
Mourinho possesses many managerial strengths but Materazzi confirmed the essence of what makes him the "Special One," as he so boldly declared when striding into his first Stamford Bridge news conference nine years ago. While many are capable of coaxing good performances out of their players, none have the ability to make men believe they are world beaters like Mourinho can.
Numerous players have performed well above their station to deliver trophies for Mourinho; Porto could admittedly call on the creative flair of Deco and the defensive solidity of Ricardo Carvalho when they won the Champions League in 2004, but could another coach really have led a side that included Derlei, Pedro Mendes and Nuno Valente to European glory? Six years later when Inter lifted the trophy, Diego Milito was their match-winner. Mourinho took a competent goal scorer and elevated him to European Club Footballer of the Year via a career-high 30-goal haul and a brace in the final against Bayern Munich.
Mourinho’s ability to speak several languages -- stemming from his days as an interpreter for Bobby Robson at Porto and Barcelona -- is certainly helpful in communicating with the cosmopolitan modern dressing room, but it is more than that. Football’s Portuguese man-of-war provokes a primal response from his warriors, creating a siege mentality that has made many of his teams utterly unstoppable at their peak. The Mourinho Doctrine is one that has physicality, teamwork and belief at its core. “No obstacle seemed too high for us,” Materazzi has said about Inter's treble-winning side.
Mourinho may have seamlessly earned the affections of the supporters of his clubs, but he has long been a polarising figure among those on the outside. His unflinching confidence is often read as conceit, his heart-on-the-sleeve emotion interpreted as egotism. Detractors claim Mourinho’s more unpalatable moments are down to him overcompensating for his failure to make it as a player, but Sir Alex Ferguson -- who witnessed a seminal moment when his opposite number exuberantly sprinted down the Old Trafford touchline when Porto eliminated Manchester United en route to Champions League glory in 2004 -- believes it is simply part of his character.
“I would never think a guy who hasn't played a game could be a top coach, but then you've got to look at his personality,” Ferguson reflected in 2012. “He's got a marvellous, strong personality and that bridges that gap. I remember his first press conference at Chelsea and I thought: 'Christ, he's a cocky bastard, him' … But it told all the players to have the belief they were going to win the league.”
Chelsea did just that, ending a half-century wait for the title and then consolidating it the following season, two of six trophies won at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho has never managed a club for more than three years and perhaps personifies the short-termism that is rife in modern football, but he is quite simply a guarantee of success. Twenty trophies in 11 years, across four leagues, is an outstanding record and, beyond the silverware, he became the youngest manager to win the Champions League with two different clubs and the youngest boss to reach 100 games in that same competition. His most recent position at Real Madrid may not have yielded quite the same return, but Mourinho still usurped a seemingly unbeatable Barcelona side to win the Primera Division title, and returned Los Blancos to the upper echelons of European football after eight years of failure to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Charismatic, controversial and still only 50 years old, there is every chance Mourinho could yet become the greatest of them all.
ESPN FC’s Top 20 Greatest Managers was determined by a polling process of over 20 regular columnists, contributors and editors at ESPN FC.