José Mourinho is creating quite the conversation lately. After defeat to Tottenham, he not-so-kindly reminded a reporter that he’s won more Premier League titles than all of the current Premier League managers combined. The moment was very reminiscent of the time when he proudly proclaimed himself to be the Special One. The reception of that bold statement was much more amicably received by the public than the later one, but they are both textbook representations of José Mourinho’s style.
But that’s the thing! We know what Jose Mourinho’s style is. Most people are well-acquainted with the fact that Mourinho lead Inter Milan, Real Madrid, and Chelsea FC to countless victories, but just how did he get to this point?
Right now, Mourinho, one of the world’s most famous managers, is working for Manchester United, one of the world’s most famous clubs. The less-than-stellar results the team has been producing this season are a direct reflection on strained relationships that Mourinho has developed with the press, Manchester United board members, and his own players.
Nevertheless, Mourinho is the Manchester United coach for a reason. It’s because he’s become famous for his talents. There are thousands of football coaches around the world. Many of them have a measure of talent, but Mourinho has made it to become one of the hundred or so who are world-renowned. Although he seemed to appear on the world scene one day when he began managing Inter Milan, something had to happen for him to get to that level. What was it?
Football was a family business for Mourinho. His father was a professional player for much of his childhood. After being a player-coach, Mourinho Sr. became a first team-manager and went on to manage various Portuguese clubs until he retired from coaching when his son was 33.
The younger Mourinho’s path into coaching wasn’t quite as clear as his father’s. He spent time in a youth academy. Upon reaching adulthood, he went to college for sports science. Mourinho also had a seven-year playing career. He played for four clubs in that time, averaging slightly more than thirteen appearances per season. By the time he reached the age of 24, it was clear that his playing career wasn’t going very far.
Plenty of players go on and on for many years trying to make a professional career work. While it’s true that there are no age limits to success and more and more players are getting their big breaks later in life, Mourinho had the perception to realize that a big break was never coming for him as a player. He understood his worth, and he realized that his mind was much stronger than his feet. This self-worth wasn’t based on sheer ambition. Mourinho had been putting in a different type of work behind the scenes while he was a player.
Obviously, his early retirement from playing was not the end of Mourinho’s football journey. Although he wasn’t always able to translate his knowledge into concrete results as a player, Mourinho invested much time, money, and effort into his football IQ. His college degree was in sports science. He took plenty of coaching courses, some of which were abroad in Scotland and England.
Mourinho picked up a variety of ideas from a variety of places. In college, he learned classical philosophy. Through the in-depth knowledge of the goings on of the teams his father played for and later playing for some of those own teams himself, Mourinho acquired a strong understanding of the Portuguese football ethos. His courses in the United Kingdom introduced him to a different style of football.
The Portuguese was able to morph all these stores of knowledge into a soccer philosophy of his own that was eclectic and, quite honestly, revolutionary. He didn’t merely focus on wins and championships. He focused on the mindset that makes victory mentally attainable and the training necessary to translate that vision into results
Mourinho’s big break still was a long way off. Like many young professionals today, he had the knowledge to make an amazing manager for a team somewhere, but he lacked the experience necessary to get hired. He’s a good example of how taking that maddening advice to get a “foot in the door” job can actually lead to a dream job at times.
He started off as a youth coach, first for a school and later for the professional team in his hometown Vitoria de Setubal. Next, he moved to the adult side of coaching as an assistant coach for CF Estrela da Amadora. Later, he became a scout.
By this point, Mourinho was nearing his thirties. He didn’t reach his dreams of becoming a successful football player, and, although he had been an assistant for a top-flight club, his career seemed to be moving further and further away from becoming the manager of a top team. The next job he accepted could have been interpreted as giving up on a managerial career, but it proved to be a catalyst for his career.
Mourinho was fluent in English, and Sporting CP was looking for a translator for its newest coach, the great Sir Bobby Robson. In between translating for the footballing giant, Mourinho had the opportunity to express some of his ideas, and Robson recognized him as a diamond in the rough.
Robson and Mourinho became an inseparable partnership, as much for Mourinho’s interpreting ability as for his tactical insight. Robson made the translator an integral part of the group of staff members that travelled with him as his career took him from club to club. Eventually, those golden years for the two came to an end when Robson left Barcelona and Mourinho stayed.
The former England and PSV Eindhoven manager gave Mourinho a glowing recommendation to Louis van Gaal, the new manager at Barcelona. With van Gaal, Mourinho’s involvement at Barcelona transitioned from supplying ideas to the coach to being able to act as a coach himself. Mourinho’s time with the iconic Dutch coach was much like a work study of sorts. He learned a new style of football from the experienced manager, and van Gaal gradually gave him more authority within the team.
At one point, Mourinho was the manager of Barcelona B, and, although not given the official title of manager with the senior side, van Gaal gave Mourinho complete control at certain points within the season. After Barcelona won the Copa Catalunya and van Gaal made it known that Mourinho had made key decisions during that tournament, the world started to take note of his talents.
Mourinho recognized an opportunity for further growth with Benfica, one of the biggest clubs back in his native Portugal. Mourinho’s Barcelona mentor Louis van Gaal discouraged the move since Mourinho would be an assistant coach. Van Gaal was well aware that Mourinho was capable of more than that, and he felt that Mourinho should only take another position where he could be the head coach.
In his first season with Benfica, Mourinho received the role van Gaal always knew he would be great for. He filled the vacancy that was left when Jupp Heynckes jumped on the opportunity to manage Athletic Bilbao in La Liga.
Mourinho took the reins at Benfica during a particularly turbulent period for the club, and his course with the club would ultimately face an extreme diversion due to those circumstances. Benfica has always been one of the most successful, famous, and important clubs in Portugal, but in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the team was struggling on the field and off. The problems the club faced can in some ways be blamed on its status as one of the best teams in Portugal.
When you’re already at the top, there’s an immense pressure to stay there. To remain competitive in a changing landscape, Benfica initiated a vicious cycle. Rather than working to improve the existing squad, players and managers were hired and fired in a frenzy. Each new arrival was held up as a magic pill that was supposed to cure all the ailments of the club. When the results didn’t come, the signing and coaches were cast aside in favor of the next big thing.
The team was experiencing a chronic, self-inflicted problem with turnover as is exemplified by the fact that Mourinho was one of eleven managers who worked for the club in a period of nine years. As much as this pattern was futile from a football prospective, it was also incredibly punishing from a financial perspective because all of those signings meant more and more people to add to the payroll.
Mourinho had the potential to be the even keel for a club that was being tossed to and fro by the waves of change, but that did not happen. Shortly after Mourinho came into power at Benfica, another person with more power took control.
Manuel Vilarinho became the club’s President. In his election efforts, he made a lot of promises, one of which was to make Toni, a fan favorite from the club’s golden years, the manager. That promise should have been frustrated by the fact that Mourinho had recently been appointed head coach, and he was doing a great job.
Mourinho had been with the club already as assistant coach, and he continued the momentum that he and Heynckes had started. The up-and-coming became popular in the eyes of Benfica fans when just nine games into his time as manager he led the club to a victory against the club’s arch nemesis, Sporting CP.
While he received plenty of fanfare over this accomplishment, Mourinho could not rest easy. He knew of the campaign promises Vilarinho had made, and he couldn’t just ignore them. Being the insightful man that he is, he used this time of heightened public approval to ascertain how secure of a position he had with the new President.
Mourinho requested a contract extension, and Vilarinho rejected it. Mourinho understood this to mean that no matter how well he performed over the duration of his existing contract, his days at the club were numbered. Toni, Vilarinho’s promised selection, was going to be the next Benfica manager. Mourinho was not satisfied with waiting to be fired. Instead, he left the job himself.
Although Mourinho’s time with Benfica was very short lived, the stint did much to publicize Mourinho’s talents. He’d grown from the translator turned coach who was touted by Robson and van Gaal to be a manager who was respected because of the way he’d proven himself with his nine-game career at Benfica.
Mourinho went on to become the manager of another Primeria Liga club, União de Leiria. Since he was only with the club from the summer of 2001 to the winter of 2002, it’s difficult to judge Mourinho’s time by any silverware or standings. That being said, the club finished one place five place higher than the previous year after roughly half a season with Mourinho.
During his time at União, Mourinho’s mental tactics were also put in display. In an interview with the Guardian, Vitor Pontes, one of Mourinho’s keepers at União de Leiria, said that Mourinho helped him to change his mentality. In the season before Mourinho came, the club finished tenth in the table. Mourinho gave his team pregame motivation by reading them remarks from opponents that had been printed. According to Pontes, this practice helped to increase their drive. Mourinho could have had a long and storied history in Leiria, but FC Porto expressed interest in him in 2002, and the rest is history.
That’s how Jose Mourinho made it big. He has always been acutely aware of his own worth. At times, that knowledge has been displayed in ways that others perceive as arrogance, but, like it or not, Mourinho is the renowned manger we know today because he’s fashioned his career based on that belief. He’s made calculated, insightful career moves, and he’s an expert at his job no matter the situation.