Jose Mourinho has become one of the world’s most well-known and successful football coaches, winning no fewer than 25 trophies, including titles in all four countries that he’s managed.
He’s had some of the world’s greatest players at his disposal at Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Manchester United and now Tottenham Hotspur, but one of his most famous achievements wasn’t down to individual stars, but a team ethic and a club culture.
In the recently released Netflix series, The Playbook: A Coach’s Rules For Life, Mourinho is one of five successful figures from different sports who reflect on key moments in their career and consider what it takes to be a top coach.
While Mourinho’s time as an assistant to Bobby Robson and Louis Van Gaal has been well-documented, less so has his subsequent spells as manager at Benfica, a short nine-game run at the start of the 2000/2001 season, which was followed the next campaign by a move to União de Leiria, where he began to really make a name for himself.
During his time at Leiria, his unfancied side were challenging for a place in the top three and went on an eight game unbeaten run to put them fourth in the table by January 2002, one point ahead of Porto, one point behind of Benfica. Mourinho was then recruited by Porto after their disappointing start to the season under Octavio Machado.
The coach was back at the club where he worked with Robson during a successful period in the 1990s, but Porto had gone nearly three seasons without a title, a long time for a club used to success. Mourinho, confident and dogged, had a plan and promised to return the Portuguese giants to winning ways.
“I arrived at Porto in a very difficult moment for the club. The feeling was the team could only get worse,” says Mourinho, speaking in the Netflix docuseries.
“Fans were going away and we needed to bring them back, give them something they identify with. You are born loving a club and you are going to die loving the same club, you don’t change. But sometimes you are not in love with your team.”
He continues: “The north of Portugal, where Porto is, is an area of hard-working people, an area where people feel a big connection with the club. The club represents the values of the people, they demand spirit, sacrifice.
“The first thing the club had to recover were the principles that make people become in love again with their team.”
With a philosophy and objective in mind, Mourinho set to work on his plan. By the end of that season, Porto ended the campaign in third, laying the foundations to bring silverware back to the club. The coach recognised key players at the club who would help him revive the fans’ love of their team, while also cultivating a winning culture.
Meanwhile, he recruited astutely, bringing in Nuno Valente and Derlei from his former club União de Leiria, Paulo Ferreira from Vitória de Setúbal, Pedro Emanuel from Boavista, and Edgaras Jankauskas and Maniche, who were both out of contract at Benfica.
“One of the criteria was the psychological profile of the player. We wanted home-grown players, players who had a deep feeling for the club and who people could say ‘this one is one of us’, players with that sense of competitiveness, aggression, sacrifice,” adds Mourinho.
“We had to make recruitment from smaller clubs. We got players without titles, without international experience. We were not a team of movie stars. They were ready to do anything and the boys went to the limits.”
With his new team, Mourinho’s first full season in 2002-03 couldn’t have been much better as Porto won the league 11 points clear of Benfica, beat Leiria to win the Cup, and wrapped up a neat treble by overcoming Celtic in the UEFA Cup Final.
The following season will go down as one of the most remarkable achievements in European football. Having claimed the league title again, they missed out on the Cup losing in the final to Benfica, but they had also been enjoying a run in the Champions League, which included a memorable victory over Manchester United.
Mourinho’s celebratory run down the Old Trafford touchline was the moment he announced himself on the world stage.
Victories over Lyon and Deportivo La Coruna then set up a meeting with As Monaco in Gelsenkirchen in the final, and Porto were unstoppable, running out convincing 3-0 winners.
“The fans saw a team with a wild desire of winning. I felt the people were in love with the team again. Our home became a fortress and in two years in the Portuguese League, Portuguese Cup, UEFA Cup and Champions League, we didn’t lose one single match at home,” he says.
“I think the reason was the profile of the team. To bring that club in that country to a different level was a special moment.”
“We were not the best team, but we found a strategy that opened the door for Porto to go on and win the Champions League. It was a new life for all of us.”
Mourinho had built something at Porto, based on the club’s culture and his desire to get the fans back loving their team by playing with passion, fighting for the cause, and ultimately winning trophies. A feat which will be hard to top.