Game Changers: José Mourinho’s Porto And Their Champions League Triumph

José Mourinho took a flagging Porto side and turned them into Champions League winners. He made the club great again, and the club helped him make his name in turn.

by Will Magee
May 25 2016, 4:23pm

PA Images

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.

Blue striped shirts flutter past the halfway line. The forwards counterattack at speed. Deco receives the ball on the edge of the box, takes a touch, then side-foots it past Flavio Roma and watches it nestle in the back of the net. He raises both arms in divine supplication. The Champions League Final is as good as over, and José Mourinho's Porto are the victors.

This is the scene on 26 May 2004. Barely a month later, Mourinho is named Chelsea manager. Winning the Champions League with Porto was, without doubt, the catalyst for his personal domination of European football. It was the start of his reign of terror, the foundation upon which his all-conquering empire was built. Tremors from that day reverberated through time, shaking the earth from London, to Milan, to Madrid, and back again. Now, 12 years later, Mourinho looks to make Manchester his imperial seat, and threatens to vanquish Europe once more.

While Porto's surprise Champions League triumph was the culmination of Mourinho's time at the club, the two-and-a-half seasons he spent there meant more than just silverware. Porto gave Mourinho an opportunity to develop his style of management; to set out his tactical blueprint and establish his identity within the game. Ultimately, the lessons Mourinho learned at Porto have come to shape the face of elite football as we know it. It was there that he started to consider himself special, and from there that he was unleashed on the world.

A young Mourinho translates for Bobby Robson // EPA Images/Francisco Neves

The basic tenets of Mourinho's management were established before he took over at Porto. He had worked as an interpreter for Bobby Robson during his time in Portugal, before graduating to full-time coach when the pair moved to Barcelona in 1996. He stayed on at Barca after Robson's departure a year later, and was promoted to the position of assistant manager under Louis van Gaal. As the Dutchman now reflects on his premature departure from Manchester United, he might think about his former subordinate with a rueful smile.

Robson nurtured Mourinho and – difficult as it may be to square the Englishman's benign charm with his protégé's steely Machiavellianism – had a major influence on the young coach. Van Gaal's tactical nous and meticulous eye for detail were traits that José came to emulate. Nonetheless, it was only once he struck out on his own that he truly flourished. Only once he strode forth into the realm of first-team management did he become the Mourinho we know today.

Mourinho takes a press conference as Benfica manager // Via Youtube

Though it didn't bring the success he was hoping for, Mourinho's first job in top-tier management was a taste of things to come. He took over at Benfica in September 2000, achieved a series of impressive victories, fell out with the club hierarchy, and left in a storm of controversy only three months later. In fairness to José, the controversy was not of his own making. Having joined the club under president João Vale e Azevedo, he soon found himself working under a new boss in the form of charismatic businessman Manuel Vilarinho. They were anything but compatible and – in a show of characteristic pride – Mourinho asked for a contract extension and, once refused, resigned his post.

Just over six months later, Mourinho was coaching Primeira Liga minnows União de Leiria. Despite the club's modest aspirations, he hauled them as high as third in the table, ahead of both Porto and Benfica. Portugal's biggest clubs were soon circling once more and, in January 2002, it was Porto who secured his services.

José shakes hands with Porto president Pinto da Costa, just after joining the club // EPA Images/Joao Abreu Miranda

Now, Mourinho was faced with the biggest challenge of his career. He was tasked with turning around a flagging side with massive expectations. He was charged with restoring Porto to their former glories. This was despite the fact the team had failed to win the league for the past three years, and were massively off the pace.

Having joined the club halfway through the season, Mourinho's immediate task was to improve their league position. Porto were fifth when he took over, had been knocked out of the Portuguese Cup, were set to crash out at the Champions League second group stage, and look generally listless all over the pitch. José straightaway set about organising the team, tightening them up defensively while restoring the players' confidence. He brought charisma, conviction and a fierce tribalism to the group, and it soon began to pay dividends.

Porto won 11 of their last 15 league matches, enough to secure a third-place finish. Having galvanised the erstwhile underachievers, Mourinho set about making them in his own image. He earmarked Ricardo Carvalho, Deco and Hélder Postiga as the stars of the future, while adding Paulo Ferreira and Maniche to the squad. Carvalho, Ferreira and Maniche would all go on to play for him at Chelsea. He picked them for their talents, but he also picked them for their loyalty, commitment and character.

By the summer of 2003, Mourinho had won a trio of trophies. Porto were Primeira Liga champions, having finished 11 points ahead of Benfica. They had lost only twice all season, and accrued a league-record 86 points as a result. Carvalho, Deco and co. had also won the Taça de Portugal, and triumphed over Celtic in the UEFA Cup Final. Little did they know, that was merely the beginning.

Mourinho congratulates Deco after the final of the Taça de Portugal in 2003 // EPA Images/Manuel De Almeira

Porto would canter to another league title the following season, and add a Portuguese Super Cup to their burgeoning trophy cabinet. However, it was their Champions League campaign that would come to define the manager and the team. Porto were drawn in a tough group that included Marseille, Partizan Belgrade and the imperious might of Real Madrid. Mourinho masterminded progression, with a single defeat to Los Blancos the only blemish on his record.

Though they were occasionally fallible, Porto's defence came to the rescue on several occasions. They fought a heroic rearguard action at the Bernabeu to secure a 1-1 draw against a Real side that included Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Brazilian legend Ronaldo. Mourinho's ability to marshal his players into a dynamic defensive unit was crucial to their success, while his tactical flexibility was apparent in abundance. Meanwhile, he also managed to get the best out of his front line. Balance in the team was paramount, and nine goals in six group games acted as proof that his team could thrive on the front foot – as well as survive on the back.

In the first knockout round, Porto came up against Manchester United. Having won the Premier League the previous season, Alex Ferguson's team were firm favourites to progress. In the first leg at the Estádio do Dragão, Porto thrashed out a gritty 2-1 victory, before Ferguson and Mourinho clashed in a heated post-match exchange. It was a wake-up call to United, who promised to be a much tougher proposition under the bright lights of Old Trafford.

The second leg was a pitched battle. Leading through Paul Scholes right up until the 90th minute, Ferguson's men looked set to progress on away goals. Then, with the sands of time about to run dry, Tim Howard clumsily parried a free kick into the path of Costinha. The young midfielder slotted home the winner, before Mourinho jumped from his brick dugout and charged down the touchline. In a trademark moment, he leapt up and punched the skies in elation.

See Mourinho's touchline celebration from 0:40 onwards

If Mourinho was making a name for himself as one of the best coaches on the planet, he was also establishing his penchant for riling the opposition. In a spontaneous outburst on the sidelines, his abrasive and flamboyant personality had come forth onto the European stage. While Ferguson congratulated Porto on progression, his simmering resentment was there for all to see. One of José's many rivalries had roared to life, and he had been more than happy to stoke the fire.

Porto went on to demolish Lyon in the quarter-finals, before edging past Deportivo de La Coruña in the semis. That set up a grand finale against Monaco, who had upset Chelsea to progress. The final took place on a warm evening in Gelsenkirchen, and was played out in front of just over 53,000 fans. This was Mourinho's chance to elevate his career to the next level. He would not allow the moment to pass him by.

Against an outclassed Monaco outfit, Porto produced the ultimate Mourinho performance. Incredibly well organised and dogged at the back, they contained the opposition while gradually probing them for weaknesses. In the 39th minute, youngster Carlos Alberto put them ahead. Then, with 20 minutes to go, Deco finished off a fine move to clinch the game. Dmitri Alenichev added another goal a few minutes later, but by that point it was all over. Monaco had been ruthlessly crushed, and had long ago breathed their last.

While Porto's victory that night ensured that Mourinho would be snapped up by Chelsea, it also showed that his brand of football could bring Europe to heel. That same brand of football has seen José claim titles in England, Italy and Spain since then, as well as another Champions League winners' medal and numerous individual accolades. Some will criticise Mourinho for his egotism, some for his pragmatism and some for his caustic attitude, but nobody can deny his legacy of relentless success. That legacy was conceived at Porto, and born in a blue striped shirt.


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