Thursday, April 28, 2011
Mourinho makes his mark on Europe
On Thursday evening, Porto play Villarreal in the semi-finals of the Europa League. It is eight years since Porto became the first Portuguese club to triumph in Europe's secondary competition when Jose Mourinho announced himself to a wider audience with a dramatic victory over Martin O'Neill's Celtic.
Before he became only the third man to win the European Cup with different clubs, before he had made an indelible mark on the culture of two of football's great nations, and before he titled himself the 'Special One', Jose Mourinho's year zero as a coach came with Porto in the 2002-03 season. That was the campaign that established his reputation, started his cult of personality and cultivated his legend.
It was the season that established the image of Mourinho as a winner, with three medals adorning his neck, but also as a winner at all costs, a man for whom the ends always justified the means. His subsequent successes at Chelsea, Inter and Real were achieved with varying levels of pragmatism, but Porto's triumph over Celtic was particularly notable for the way in which it left a bitter taste in the mouths of the travelling hordes from Glasgow.
Mourinho, though, would no doubt counter that it was also the springboard for possibly Porto's greatest ever side to claim Champions League glory the following season, with nine players starting both European finals, and for the coach himself to become one of modern football's most magnetic figures.
Strangely, despite his later success, it is well documented that Mourinho was a player of little repute. Instead, he set about emulating Arrigo Sacchi, the great Milan manager, who had no experience of playing the game himself but argued: "I never realised that in order to become a jockey you have to have been a horse first".
A PE teacher and then a youth coach, Mourinho's chance to enter the elite world of top-level football came in 1992 when he was appointed as an interpreter to Bobby Robson at Sporting. The widely respected Robson took Mourinho - then known as Ze, rather than the 'Special One' - under his wing, telling ESPNsoccernetin 2003: "When I first arrived at Sporting, the president, Sousa Cintra, told me he had two staff members who could work with me. They were Jose Mourinho and Manuel Fernandes. The idea was for Ze to be my interpreter, while Manuel Fernandes would work with me on the training pitch. But what struck me about Mourinho was that he was a student of football. He was very intelligent, enthusiastic and was very keen to learn. He never said to me that he wanted to be a head coach, but I had a feeling that one day he would go a long way in the game. He had great confidence in his own ability."
The young Portuguese assistant followed his mentor to Porto and then Barcelona, taking on more responsibility for scouting opponents and preparing training sessions. He remained at Camp Nou when Robson left in 1998, honing his tactical acumen under Dutchman Louis van Gaal, and struck out on his own in 2000 with an impressive yet short-lived spell with Benfica as he attempted to use a win over Sporting as leverage for an improved contract from a new president. The move backfired, yet Mourinho restated his credentials when subsequently taking Uniao Leiria to fifth place. It was this success that convinced Porto to appoint him ahead of the 2002-03 season.
Mourinho immediately targeted domestic success, bringing full-back Nuno Valente and Brazilian forward Derlei with him from Leiria. Paulo Ferreira was also recruited from Vitoria Setubal and Maniche arrived from Benfica, complementing a team that already boasted the Brazilian-born Deco - a wonderful playmaker around whom Mourinho would build his team. Inspired by their thoughtful and driven coach, Porto secured the league title when leading Benfica by 11 points and added the Taca de Portugal to guarantee a domestic Double. However, it was Porto's European exploits that had caught the eye of clubs and presidents across the continent.
With Deco assuming control in midfield and Derlei scoring a competition-high 12 goals that season, Porto's progression through the UEFA Cup was largely smooth, an 8-3 aggregate defeat of Denizlispor in the fourth round demonstrating their potency. Though Panathinaikos proved more problematic, winning 1-0 in Portugal before that deficit was overturned in Greece, Lazio were defeated 4-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals to ensure a meeting with Martin O'Neill's Celtic in the final in Seville on May 21.
Celtic would see rivals Rangers win the domestic Treble that season, but operating outside of Scottish football's duopoly, it was arguable that O'Neill's feats were more impressive than those at Ibrox. Despite the inherent weakness of the SPL, Celtic succeeded in negotiating their way past Blackburn Rovers, Celta Vigo, Stuttgart and Liverpool before defeating Boavista in the semi-final to prevent an all-Portuguese denouement. Their outstanding player was Henrik Larsson, scorer of 242 Celtic goals before his move to Barcelona in 2004, 11 of which came in the UEFA Cup in the 2002-03 season.
The Swede was the darling of the Celtic support, and the name sung by the reported 80,000 Bhoys fans who headed to Seville ahead of the final. It was, according to UEFA, the biggest travelling support for a single game that European football had seen. Streets were thronged with Celtic fans, Seville cathedral was transformed into their HQ, and Flaherty's bar sold two months' worth of beer in four days. Celtic fans proved perfect ambassadors, and would be awarded both UEFA and FIFA's Fair Play awards in 2003 on account of their impeccable behaviour and pleasant demeanour.
While Celtic were making friends abroad, British newspapers were for the first time properly analysing Mourinho and his success story. The Daily Express profiled Robson's protégé, with one quote from the Porto boss demonstrating at an early stage his incredible self-assurance. Mourinho said: "I'm so sure of my potential, my abilities and my competence that it's not by winning or losing titles that I'm going to be less self-confident."
He also said he expected a "quality, quality final", while O'Neill warned Porto of over-confidence. He said: "People have said the side has not been good enough, we didn't play well and they are ready to beat us. Every single team, from Blackburn onwards, have said the same thing with the exception of Liverpool. But we are in the final and they're out and none more recent than Boavista, who said they would come and take us apart."
As it transpired, both men would be proved correct in an unforgettable encounter in the Andalucian heat.
A compelling encounter saw Porto edge in front in first-half injury time. Deco released Russian midfielder Dmitri Alenichev and his shot was palmed into the path of Derlei by Celtic goalkeeper Rab Douglas. However, Larsson responded just two minutes after the break when producing a towering header from a Didier Agathe cross for his 200th Celtic goal. When Deco again opened up the Celtic defence for Alenichev to score the second on 54 minutes, Larsson responded once more, this time within two minutes as he converted another fine header. Larsson had given everything he could, and though it would prove insufficient, his efforts moved O'Neill to say some years later: "Of all the games Henrik Larsson played for us during my time as manager, that was his finest hour. He was fantastic."
Extra-time was ushered in but Celtic promptly lost Bobo Balde to a rash challenge on Derlei. With a one-man advantage, Porto claimed the winning goal with five minutes left through their Brazilian forward, and could even afford to lose Nuno Valente to a second yellow card in the final seconds. Porto had won their first continental trophy since the European Cup of 1987; Celtic had been denied their first since Jock Stein's Lisbon Lions in 1967.
Celtic's support, hailed for their warmth in the streets of Seville, booed Porto as they accepted their medals. It was a judgment delivered in response to the gamesmanship employed by Mourinho's side as they cynically played for fouls and wound the clock down. O'Neill said he was disappointed: "I will probably get into trouble for this, but it was poor sportsmanship. The rolling over, the time wasting ... I wasn't pleased. They are very talented footballers but you saw the reception they had from our supporters when they collected their medals. Celtic fans are as fair-minded as there are and you saw their reaction."
Mourinho's response was typically forthright. "I'd prefer to ask whether the behaviour of the Celtic players was normal in your country," he said. "What Balde did to Deco in front of me could have ended his career ... there was a lot of commitment in Celtic's game, commitment, toughness and aggression. I'm tempted to use another word - but I won't."
Embroiled in controversy, criticism flying in his direction, but with a medal in his possession: just how Mourinho likes it.
Some of Europe's biggest clubs were already taking a keen interest in the Porto coach after his success in beating Celtic, but greater feats awaited him the following season in Portugal. As a proud Robson said: "Eight years as an interpreter and then a couple of years later, here he is winning everything in sight as coach at Porto. Amazing! Meteoric! A fairy story and I am absolutely thrilled for him. I've urged him to wait, to stay on at Porto another year. He's had a flyer but needs more experience. Let's see if he can do it again next year. Then he'll be ready."
What happened next? Mourinho retained the league title the following season and remarkably secured the Champions League with a 3-0 victory to Monaco, earning himself a move to Chelsea, where he declared himself to be the 'Special One'. Deco earned a move to Barcelona in 2004, where he excelled over four years, but Derlei's career nosedived after a move to Dinamo Moscow in 2005.