“IN FOUR OR FIVE YEARS, probably nobody will remember that I was Chelsea manager, and it becomes absolutely normal, just because I left a couple of years ago.” It would be fair to say that José Mourinho has a way with words. In the press conference before his well-publicised return to Stamford Bridge as Manchester United manager, the Portuguese tactician shared his belief that the Chelsea faithful would forget about him, and that his time in London would be consigned to the dusty back pages of the football history books.
When hearing a Mourinho snippet for the first time, it is important to try and work out the true meaning behind it, as there will always be an ulterior motive disguised by his distinct Portuguese mother tongue. His words have fired his teams to victory, stirred up controversies that have turned both staff and players against him, and ultimately led him to be one of the most divisive figures in world football.
But when Mourinho was first named as the new Chelsea manager in 2004 things were very different. A three-year contract was signed, and the Portuguese was thrust in front of the press. He had announced himself in England as Porto manager earlier that year when his side travelled to Old Trafford and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Mourinho’s exuberant touchline run after Costinha’s goal immediately endeared him in the hearts of many a football fan. Of course, Porto then went on to win the Champions League in an explosive display of defiance to their doubters.
Many expected the new Chelsea manager to be a confident, assured character, one who wasn’t afraid to bloody a few noses on the way to victory. “Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one.” It was just as expected, and the ‘Special One’ had well and truly arrived.
Mourinho brought along his favoured backroom staff from Porto for his new adventure on English soil, including his trusted right-hand men Rui Faria and Silvino Louro. The sight of Faria in particular would be enough to strike fear into any steward or fourth official stood near him when a questionable decision went the wrong way. This is something that Mourinho would perhaps take great pride in.
With his coaching set-up sorted, Mourinho went to work on new signings. Just like his predecessor Claudio Ranieri, Mourinho was heavily backed by club owner Roman Abramovich in his first transfer window. In came Tiago from Benfica, Michael Essien, Didier Drogba, Mateja Kežman and the Porto pairing of Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira. Roughly £70 million was spent on incomings, and with the rest of the squad containing a mix of talent and maturity, Mourinho’s side shot up into first place in the Premier League at Christmas, along with a place in the Champions League knock-out stages.
A couple of months later, the Special One picked up his first piece of silverware for his new club. Liverpool were Chelsea’s opponents in the League Cup final. In front of a blockbuster 78,000 crowd at the Millennium Stadium, Liverpool opened the scoring in the first minute through John Arne Riise. However, Chelsea fought back and equalised after a Steven Gerrard own-goal.
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Upon the leveller, Mourinho was banished down the tunnel by police after aggravating Liverpool supporters with an ill-timed shushing gesture. The manager was forced to watch his team’s victory in extra time from a room deep in the bowels of the stadium. In the post-match conference, he famously said: “The policeman is not a football man. They are there to control the crowd. If I made a mistake, then I apologise. I am happy that I am not going to jail and that I can enjoy the cup with my players.”
This first piece of controversy revealed another side that made up the complex persona of José Mourinho, and would steadily become more prominent as the seasons drifted by.
After progressing to the Champions League round of 16, Chelsea were paired with Spanish giants Barcelona. Despite the Blues taking an early lead through Juliano Belletti’s own goal, second-half goals from Maxi López and Samuel Eto’o followed Didier Drogba’s sending off to cap a disappointing first leg at the Camp Nou.
But back in London, Mourinho’s men were able to turn the tie on its head. Goals from Eidur Gudjohnsen, Frank Lampard and Damien Duff came in the first 20 minutes, before John Terry scored Chelsea’s fourth late on to send them through, despite Ronaldinho’s brace keeping the Blues faithful on tenterhooks.
Bayern Munich were the next European giant to be dispatched by a deadly combination of the Special One’s tactics and the attacking prowess on show from the likes of Drogba and Lampard. Both players were on the scoresheet along with Joe Cole in the first leg as Chelsea triumphed in a 4-2 victory. Despite a 3-2 defeat at the Allianz Arena in the return leg, the Blues had reached the semi-finals.
A controversial Luís Garcia finish at Anfield was enough to send Liverpool through to the final, where they would famously go on to lift the coveted trophy. Despite the disappointment at being denied the chance to win the Champions League for two consecutive seasons, Mourinho would lead his new team to the Premier League title. The Portuguese also set records in the process as Chelsea picked up their first top-flight title in 50 years, with the most points ever achieved in Premier League history and also the fewest number of goals conceded.
The next season would also turn out just as successful. The Blues would retain their title and Stamford Bridge would turn out to be a fortress as Mourinho’s men remained unbeaten at home. Manchester United finished second but were comfortably eight points behind the winners. Chelsea also lifted the Community Shield at the start of the season after a 2-1 victory over rivals Arsenal, but were knocked out in the third round of the League Cup in a shock early exit at the hands of Charlton. Another defeat to Liverpool in a semi-final also denied Mourinho the chance to lift the FA Cup.
Read | José Mourinho: the Porto years
In Europe, Chelsea would succumb to Barcelona in the Round of 16, losing 3-2 on aggregate. Despite the Blues’ success domestically, the premature exit in the Champions League would fire Mourinho into action in the transfer market for the next season.
Amid growing speculation of a tussle for power between the club’s sporting director Frank Arnesen and Mourinho, the future of the club’s coaching staff suddenly became unsure. Business began as usual, but the record signing of Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko caused rising tensions between the manager and Roman Abramovich.
The signing from AC Milan was hailed as one of Europe’s top strikers, but Shevchenko endured a poor first season at Stamford Bridge after scoring only four league goals. The competition for a starting berth was no contest, with Drogba regularly picking up goals. Mourinho started the Ivorian ahead of the big-money summer signing regularly, something that unsettled Abramovich, a close friend of the Ukrainian.
Aside from the trouble at boardroom level, on the pitch Chelsea would earn success once again as the Blues lifted the League Cup, beating Arsenal in the final. However, away from the victory at the Millenium Stadium, Chelsea would lose out on the Premier League title to Manchester United and also fail to progress to the latter stages of the Champions League.
At the end of the season, Mourinho was forced to fend off speculation about his future and guided his team to FA Cup glory, securing the last remaining piece of domestic silverware that had evaded him since his appointment at Stamford Bridge.
On 20 September 2007, the Special One departed Chelsea and shocked the football world. The Blues’ board held a so-called crisis meeting to discuss the poor start to the 2007/08 campaign, which saw a shock defeat to Aston Villa and a stalemate in front of a home crowd of just 28,000 against Rosenborg in the Champions League. The end result was to part ways with Mourinho, supposedly by mutual consent, although a multitude of reports detailing tension between Abramovich, Avram Grant and the manager revealed a very different side to the shock divorce.
Mourinho walked away from Stamford Bridge as the club’s most successful manager, having lifted six trophies during his three years in London. As a result of this, after periods of varying success at Inter Milan, where he would lead his team to Champions League glory, and a mixed spell at Spanish giants Real Madrid, Jose would be welcomed back to Chelsea with open arms.
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June 3, 2013: Mourinho is back in front of the ChelseaTV cameras upon his high-profile return to the Premier League. “In my career I’ve had two great passions, Inter and Chelsea, and Chelsea is more than important for me. It was very, very hard to play against Chelsea, and I did it only twice which was not so bad. Now I promise exactly the same things I promised in 2004 with this difference to add: I’m one of you.”
The Special One returned a different character altogether. His time at Real Madrid warped him; he became bitter at the supposed favouritism towards Barcelona and departed the Bernabéu after the self-proclaimed “worse season of his life”. But upon the official announcement of his return a week after, Mourinho declared himself the ‘Happy One’ – a testament to how times had changed in the years he had been away.
However, as his first season back in the Stamford Bridge dugout unfolded, with a shock home defeat to Sunderland along the way – his first home defeat in charge of the Blues – Mourinho played down Chelsea’s title chances, insisting that it was a season of transition. At the end of the campaign the Portuguese had led his team to third place in the Premier League, just four points behind Manchester City, and the semi-finals of the Champions League.
After the mixed success of his first year back in England, Mourinho began to shape his squad into his image. David Luiz departed for Paris Saint-Germain with a £50 million price tag, while long-standing servants Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard would both leave for free. Strikers Demba Ba and Romelu Lukaku would also exit Stamford Bridge, leaving for Beşiktaş and Everton respectively.
In came Cesc Fàbregas, Diego Costa and Felipe Luis, all from LaLiga, before the return of Drogba on a free transfer. Loïc Rémy topped off the summer transfer business for Chelsea, who kicked off the Premier League season with three successive victories.
The Blues led the way from the very start and wrapped up the league title on 3 May after edging past Crystal Palace 1-0 at Stamford Bridge. The triumph was Mourinho’s third domestic trophy in England, and put him joint-level with Arsène Wenger for the second highest number of Premier League wins. The Happy One would also pick up the LMA Manager of the Year award, as well as the Premier League Manager of the Season.
A fourth-round exit to Bradford City in the FA Cup marred Mourinho’s second season upon his return to Chelsea, and the Blues were also knocked out of the Champions League on away goals by Paris Saint-Germain – but the next year would be where Mourinho would truly self-destruct.
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Chelsea would come out the other side of pre-season without having picked up a victory, and this was topped off by a 1-0 defeat to Wenger’s Arsenal in the Community Shield a couple of weeks later. It was the first time the Frenchman had defeated a Mourinho side in 14 matches, in a result that would signal the beginning of the end for the Portuguese’s reign at Stamford Bridge.
A 2-2 home draw with Swansea City saw Thibaut Courtois shown a red card, and Mourinho vehemently criticising the actions of physio Eva Carneiro, who rushed onto the pitch to treat Eden Hazard. Carneiro would later take the club to court, and would come away with a £5 million settlement.
A 3-0 defeat to Manchester City and 2-1 home loss to Crystal Palace wrapped up August in the worst possible way for Chelsea. Further shock defeats against Southampton, West Ham, Stoke and Bournemouth piled the pressure on Mourinho ahead of an away trip to Leicester in December. Goals from Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez fired the Foxes into a comfortable lead, before Rémy pulled one back for the Blues. Claudio Ranieri’s team held on for all three points, leaving Chelsea languishing in 16th place. In a sombre post-match interview, Mourinho announced his belief that his side’s hopes of a Champions League spot had gone.
But, of course, it wasn’t to be his side for much longer. Just three days after the defeat at the King Power Stadium, Chelsea announced that Mourinho had departed the club for the second and, more than likely, the final time.
A year later, Manchester United would come calling for his services, where Mourinho would be greeted back at his old stomping ground with a resounding 4-0 defeat and humiliation at the hands of Antonio Conte. A mild reception from the Chelsea faithful led to the Portuguese gesturing to the crowd, demonstrating how many league titles he had won while in charge of the Blues. In one last display of petulance, José was gone down the tunnel and would guide United to sixth while Chelsea stormed to the league title.
The competition between Conte and Mourinho is certainly an attractive one to the neutral, as the long-standing rivalry between Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge begins to heat up once again. The instigator is, of course, that plucky tactician who introduced himself in England by charging down a wet Mancunian touchline and lit the fuse for his future domination over the Premier League.
And even though people love to hate him, there can be no denying Mourinho’s character and success he brings with him wherever he goes. The sullenness and controversy must be considered mandatory baggage if the Special One is to achieve glory, and his time at Stamford Bridge is certainly divisive. But what an adventure it was.