The free-kick was heading into the top corner. It wasn’t pinpoint, nor did it have much power, which is why Tim Howard’s parry into the path of goalscorer Costinha was roundly criticised in the papers the morning after Manchester United’s 3-2 aggregate defeat.
But the goalkeeper’s costly mistake wasn’t the biggest story of the night. No, attention was more on the bronze-skinned Porto manager who so outrageously charged down the touchline at Old Trafford upon his team’s goal, all in front of United fans who had never seen such temerity in their own backyard. It wouldn’t be the last time those fans were left red-faced by José Mourinho.
He spoke the now-immortalised words “I think am the Special One” three months after, at Chelsea’s Chobham training ground, just a week following’s Porto Champions League success. At the press conference, he sat next to a delighted Peter Kenyon who, by most accounts, found it hard to contain his joy, smirking and wiggling on his seat like a naughty schoolboy trying to suppress laughter from a teacher.
Mourinho wore a slight frown as he gazed. He leaned back on his chair, swivelling to the left at points. He spoke good English in response to questions cast by the British press, most of whom were mesmerised by the 41-year-old delivering line after line of “pure gold”.
Others – mainly reporters from working the beat of rival clubs – remained more sceptical of this latest import, thinking that the recent Champions League winner was playing up to a certain persona, that it just wasn’t feasible that someone so young, without a taste of life in the revered Premier League, could be so cocky, so assured, and so completely full of himself.
However, a newspaper article noted that a leading psychiatrist believed Mourinho was convinced he had been granted a special gift and was on a mission from God. But other than the All-Mighty, there was no one above Mourinho. “After God, me,” Mourinho had stated an interview before he had even won a game with Chelsea.
It might’ve been his bravado that landed him the job in west London, such was the British press’ obsession with the man. It could be argued that this headline attention struck Roman Abramovich.
The summer of 2004 marked a year since the Russian tycoon bought Chelsea. Claudio Ranieri, who was held in high esteem by supporters, had been let go. His side had finished runners-up in the Premier League and made it to a Champions League semi-final the season before, but this constituted failure for Chelsea’s new owner.
Abramovich had looked initially looked to Rafa Benítez as Raneri’s replacement but perhaps he, like most of the public, was so enthralled by Mourinho, watching him lead Porto to their first European Cup in 17 years, that choosing him just felt right, the galvanising force needed to break the two-horse United-Arsenal title race that had been ongoing for almost a decade.
Lavish sums of money had been spent by Chelsea during the summer before but Mourinho still wanted to give a drastic overhaul of the squad. Just days after his appointment, he firmly told journalists no player was safe. He then proceeded to sell ten first-team players in the summer window – and only Jesper Grønkjær’s £2.2m transfer to Birmingham City recouped any money.
In a time when many teams played 4-4-2, Mourinho set up Chelsea so that in midfield there would always be three against two options for the player with the ball. Claude Makélélé, dubbed the “battery” of the team, being just ahead of the defence, enforced the middle.
Many felt Mourinho’s safety-first style might have trouble fitting in with the lightening-quick Premier League and, indeed, his first few games at Chelsea were low-scoring affairs. Mourinho’s side went through their first eight matches only conceding one goal and only scored more than once on two occasions in the first ten.
After a defeat to Charlton in the Carling Cup, Mourinho declared that his side would go on to win the league, regardless of how many points Chelsea picked up next season. Some may call his style arrogant, others defiant, but in any case, after a loss to Manchester City, something resonated with the Chelsea squad.
In the league they won six of nine games by four or more goals, now on course for a title challenge. It only took until halfway through the season for the rivalry between Sir Alex Ferguson – who was going through a tricky patch with United – and Arsène Wenger to turn into a triple threat with Mourinho.
In November, Mourinho blasted Wenger as a “voyeur”, before saying that he would apologise for the remark, but only if Wenger said sorry as well. This is before he went in at Sir Alex Ferguson, saying the referee was influenced by Manchester United boss and this was the reason their January League Cup game played out to be a 0-0. “Maybe when I turn 60 and have been managing in the same league for 20 years and have the respect of everybody, I will have the power to speak to people and make them tremble a little bit,” he said.
But he won the war of words. United lost the return leg 2-1 and Mourinho went on to win the League Cup, his first trophy with Chelsea.
But the final in Cardiff, too, wasn’t without incident: Mourinho had again used the touchline as the perfect stage to play pantomime villain and had to be escorted away for taunting Liverpool fans by putting his finger to his lips, completely unfazed, if not ignited and encouraged by, the whistling and jeering antagonism bellowing from thousands of Reds supporters behind him.
Their other domestic cup campaign didn’t go as well. A nine-man Chelsea – Čech was sent off and Wayne Bridge going off injured after Mourinho used all three subs – lost to Newcastle in the FA Cup fifth round, marking a sour end in a competition the former Porto boss revered growing up.
Porto may have been the Champions League holders but it was Mourinho who truly saw the trophy as his to lose. Ironically, it would be his former side and Chelsea who were pitted together. They progressed from Group H in first and second respectively, knocking out CSKA Moscow and Paris Saint-Germain.
Chelsea were then seeded against Barcelona in the round of 16. It turned into a classic two-legged tie, the London side winning 5-4. While Ronaldinho’s unorthodox toe-punt was the highlight of the second leg, talk still raged about Mourinho’s behaviour in the first at the Camp Nou.
After the 2-1 loss, he refused to attend the post-match press conference, then got Chelsea to release a statement suggesting that Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard held discussions with referee Anders Frisk at half-time.
The Swede, a respected referee and a self-confessed Chelsea supporter, subsequently quit the game a month after the February encounter, saying he had received death threats from Chelsea fans. “I have been subjected to things that I couldn’t even imagine,” he said. “I won’t ever go out on a football pitch again. I am too scared. It is not worth it. I’ve had enough.”
Mourinho was given a two-game ban but cleared by UEFA on the charge that he was the direct cause of Frisk’s resignation.
Chelsea were duly knocked out by Liverpool in the semi-finals – the eventual champions – the same point at which Ranieri suffered the season prior.
Mourinho, retaining the limelight, claimed the lineman showed favouritism to Liverpool, that he had been whipped into the home side’s corner by the fervent Anfield atmosphere, allowing Lucia García’s decisive opening goal to stand, despite doubts surrounding whether the ball has crossed the line.
“What everyone was speaking about, the power of Anfield Road, was magnificent,” said Mourinho, at first seemingly looking gracious in defeat. “It didn’t interfere with my players or my team but maybe it did interfere with other people and with the result. Bring out the linesman and ask him why he awarded the goal.”
The wounds were firmly licked, however, when Chelsea clinched the Premier League title late April away to Bolton, with four games remaining. Frank Lampard – the club’s top goalscorer that season with 19 – grabbed a brace.
Had Arsenal not gone unbeaten the year before, it would have been an unprecedented league victory. Chelsea were undefeated in 18 straight games – one off going the entirety of the campaign without a loss. It represented a remarkable achievement in a maiden Premier League season for Mourinho.
From nibbling at the heels of the elite for just over ten years, Chelsea won their first Premier League title, their first top tier glory since 1955. Not only this, Mourinho’s tactics earned them countless league records: most wins in a season, most away wins, most points (95) and least goals conceded, just 15.
Although Mourinho made headlines and stirred controversy it shouldn’t shadow his ability as a tactician and man-manager. He wasn’t paid to be popular; he was paid to win trophies for Chelsea. He dragged both Chelsea and the Premier League into a new era: astute analysis, unconventional formations, below-the-belt mind games, and a dominant tactical blueprint that would guide the London side to further success the year after.
Despite his young age, José Mourinho had firmly installed himself as one of the greatest in world football, but now – like Ferguson – he had to add longevity to his successes.
By Jacque Talbot @jac_talbot