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Mourinho is carving out his legend. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

Behind the bench: Mourinho, soccer’s witch doctor

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Henry Winter of the Daily Telegraph once said, “When [José] Mourinho walks into a press conference, he makes Machiavelli look like an innocent schoolboy.”

It’s a hyperbole, but it’s not untrue. Over the course of his illustrious career, Mourinho—the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’—has turned every team that he has coached into champions. His psychological impact on his players and opponents is unquestionable. He is a living legend; and looking at each of his teams, one begins to truly appreciate the aura of magnificence he has built around himself.

Mourinho’s first professional coaching job was with little-known FC Porto in Portugal’s Primeira Liga. In the span of two years, Porto went from being unknowns to European Champions, beating heavyweights like Real Madrid and Manchester United on their way to the title. Even after shedding its underdog status, Porto continued to roll, winning six titles in two years. Mourinho’s uncanny ability to instill confidence in his players was a central factor in Porto’s early success. Though Porto had always been successful in Portugal, its success on the world stage only came under Mourinho. Thanks to him, Portuguese soccer was back on the map.

Shortly afterwards, Chelsea came calling with a huge contract and a promise to spend big on new transfers. Mourinho accepted the offer and moved to West London. Chelsea hadn’t won the Premier League in 50 years and had always struggled against the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, and Liverpool. That all changed with the arrival of Mourinho. New players from his old club, Porto, and a few big signings created a strong team that would go on to win seven titles in three years. By the 2005-2006 season, Chelsea had become the unquestioned hegemon in the Premier League. Rival managers Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) and Alex Ferguson (Manchester United) had become mere spectators of Chelsea’s meteoric rise.

He has the desire to win by any means necessary, and he ingrains it into every player he coaches.

After his relationship with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich soured, Mourinho departed for sunny Inter Milan in 2008. Inter had a good team at the time, yet could never quite overtake top teams such as AC Milan and Juventus. Over the next two years, Inter won five titles, including Mourinho’s second Champions League title. Mourinho once again instilled discipline into his players, and Inter pulled of a historic upset against Pep Guardiola’s near-unbeatable Barcelona squad. Barcelona’s ‘tiki-taka’ system was undone in spectacular fashion for the first time, and Inter had officially risen to the pinnacle of European soccer. According to Mourinho, Inter was an average team, but it never, in his words, “ran away from pressure.”

After winning the Champions League in 2010 with Inter, Mourinho resolved to move onto what would be the greatest challenge of his career: Coaching Real Madrid.

The Galáctico superstars of Europe—Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Kaká—provided Mourinho with a world-class supporting cast. Unfortunately, Mourinho ran into Messi’s Barcelona team at the height of the latter’s dominance, and not even the greatness of Mourinho could prevent the attacking prowess of Guardiola’s revamped tiki-taka system. Nonetheless, he did manage to win three titles with Real Madrid, including the league title and the Copa del Rey.

Mourinho has built every team with a unique blend of discipline and unwavering confidence. In press conferences, his catchphrase is: “We cannot lose.” He has the desire to win by any means necessary, and he ingrains it into every player he coaches. He is a strategic genius who can adapt to any opponent, on any stage. His impact on the game of soccer today is undeniable and before all is said and done, he will go down as one of the best coaches ever.

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