Here is a man who ascended from a coaching role in schools football to the status of arguably the world’s most recognisable football manager, winning the league in four different countries and landing the greatest prize of all, the UEFA Champions League, with two different clubs.
The son of a Portuguese goalkeeper, football was in Mourinho’s blood but instead of following his father into the professional game, he pursued an academic path at first, studying sports science at university and later teaching in schools while also working as a youth team coach. Then, in 1992, he became Sir Bobby Robson’s interpreter at Sporting Lisbon and the pair quickly forged a master and apprentice relationship, which continued when the former England manager moved on to Barcelona in 1996.
Robson left the Catalan club a year later but as a valued member of the backroom staff, Mourinho remained at Camp Nou to work under the newly-appointed Louis van Gaal, who gave him the responsibility of managing the A and B teams. Barça legend Xavi was coming through the ranks at that time, and was instantly impressed by Mourinho. “He was excellent in his three years at Barça,” said Xavi recently. “They said he was a translator. Rubbish. He was the assistant coach, someone who understood the philosophy of Barça. He was very respected by the players. I’m surprised that he became known for another type of football, more defensive, because he wasn’t like that with us.”
With his reputation growing within football, Mourinho returned home to manage Portuguese giants Benfica in September 2000 and this proved to be short lived, but his second job as boss of Uniao de Leiria was later a great success.
FC Porto were next up and this was a match made in heaven. Most importantly, it required the club to make room in their trophy cabinet for a fresh haul of prizes that included the 2004 Champions League, after Mourinho followed up his preceding UEFA Cup success by lifting club football’s biggest prize. It was also that triumph that truly introduced Mourinho to an English audience, after he chose celebrate a knockout stage win over United with a wild sprint down the touchline at Old Trafford.
Guiding a Portuguese team to the Champions League did not go unnoticed and Mourinho joined Chelsea that summer, with Blues owner Roman Abramovich ready to fund his every wish. The press conference to unveil him went down in history, too, following a now iconic quote that famously earned his ‘Special One’ moniker. “Please do not call me arrogant because what I say is true,” Jose told reporters. “I’m European champion, I’m not one out of the bottle. I think I’m a special one.
”The allure of Mourinho is that he often follows up such bold statements and, true to his word, back-to-back Premier League titles were claimed at Stamford Bridge, as well as two League Cups and the 2007 FA Cup (when he beat United). All this success made his departure from Chelsea all the more surprising – he parted company with the Blues for the first time in September 2007, just days before his team played at Old Trafford.
Mourinho’s next job was at Inter Milan and, during another lively unveiling, he spoke entirely in Italian while claiming he had learned the language in just three weeks. It was a typically confident start and his reign at the San Siro resulted in unprecedented success by winning two Serie A titles, the Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana and the 2010 Champions League. He also struck up a crucial alliance with temperamental star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. “He’s the leader of his army,” the Swede later wrote in his autobiography. “But he cares, too. He would text me all the time, wondering how I was doing. Mourinho would eventually become a guy I was basically willing to die for.”
In 2010, Mourinho joined Real Madrid to help Los Blancos end a run of underachievement that was inextricably linked to Barcelona’s period of dominance under Pep Guardiola. Despite taking on arguably the most pressurised job in the game, and going head-to-head with a team many claimed were the greatest club side in history, Jose remained calm and even had another eye-catching quote for reporters. “The more pressure there is, the stronger I am,” he said. “In Portugal, we say the bigger the ship, the stronger the storm. Fortunately for me, I have always been in big ships. FC Porto was a very big ship in Portugal, Chelsea was also a big ship in England and Inter was a great ship in Italy. Now I’m at Real Madrid, which is considered the biggest ship on the planet.”
Real finished second in La Liga under Mourinho’s guidance in 2010/11, but won the title at the second attempt in 2011/12 when the Portuguese’s side set club records by registering 100 points and scoring 121 league goals, 46 of them coming from his countryman Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s worth noting that while the Messi-inspired Barcelona still had the critics purring about their brand of football, Mourinho’s Real Madrid outscored Barça in two of his three seasons in La Liga. He also claimed the Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup trophies, but frustratingly failed to advance beyond the semi-finals of the Champions League during his stint at the Bernabeu.
Mourinho made an emotional return to Chelsea in 2013, this time declaring himself to be “The Happy One”, and he quickly constructed another great side at Stamford Bridge. In his second campaign back at the club, 2014/15, the Blues won the title by eight points, as well as the Capital One Cup. After a difficult start to the title defence, with just four wins in the first 16 Barclays Premier League games, Mourinho’s second Chelsea reign came to an end in December 2015.
Mourinho next took over at Manchester United, leading the club to Europa League and EFL Cup success in 2017. The following season United were runners-up in both Premier league and FA Cup.
Mourinho left Old Trafford in December 2018, and became Tottenham manager in October 2019 leading the club into the Europa League.