José Mourinho grew up in Setúbal, Portugal, a port city on a peninsula roughly 20 miles southeast of Lisbon. Mourinho’s father, Felix, played professional soccer as a goalie, once representing his birth nation in an international game, and his uncle Mario Ledo helped build the stadium of the local team Vitória de Setúbal. Naturally, young José followed his elders into the sport.
Mourinho’s playing career was short lived. His coaching career, on the other hand, is one of the most prolific to date. He honed his craft under legendary coaches Sir Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal before he got his big break at Porto Football Club, or Porto FC. Since then he’s experienced a disproportionate series of ups to a few uncharacteristic downs. Mourinho is the only coach to win league titles in England, Italy, and Spain. He has won the coveted Champions League—an interleague tournament in Europe between the continent’s best teams—twice, with two different clubs. At 51-years-old, only a cadre of active and retired coaches matches his pedigree.
Mourinho returned to England this season for a second stint at the helm of Chelsea FC in London. The move triggered media alertness on par with tabloid celebrities and heads of state. For one, his kempt fashion sense and good looks make him a natural focal point for newspapers and magazines. This month, British GQ and Esquire UK ran features on him that probed about his style as much as his coaching philosophy. (FYI: He doesn’t think Madrid is a fashionable city; the quality of the clothes is more important to him than the look; he has a sentimental attachment to a pair of Prada shoes he wore once during a Champions League final). But the British media’s fascination with Mourinho goes deeper than a thread count.
The intrigue started a decade ago, after his first Champions League victory with Porto FC in 2004, when Mourinho was appointed the coach of storied Chelsea FC in London. The club had hit a dry spell for trophies after the millennium, but big ambitions loomed when Russian billionaire Roman Ambromovich purchased the club in July 2003 and spent $100 million on new players. Mourinho was the man to lead the revolution.
In his first press conference in charge of Chelsea FC, Mourinho gave anything but humble answers. “I’m not one who comes straight out of a bottle—I’m a special one,” he said. This hubris remains a staple of his character (“The Special One” and his given name are nearly interchangeable) but it overshadows his true penchant for psychological supremacy.
Mourinho has made a mini-career of getting inside people’s heads. His pre- and post-game mental jujitsu is more than a benign form of gamesmanship. These “mind games” main purpose are to unhinge opponents outside the field of play; side effects include viral sound bites and media frenzy. Recently, Mourinho stated, with the deadpan ease of a lying congressman, that his team will not win England’s prestigious Premier League title despite sitting in first place with a two game cushion. In another episode of scathing sarcasm, he called Arsène Wenger, a fellow coach who led a team to the only undefeated season in 115 years, an expert in losing.
This preternatural focus on the psyche extends to the players he coaches, too. “But, as Mourinho accepts, thousands of coaches know everything about football; where he believes he can make the greatest difference is the psychology of players,” says Tim Lewis in Esquire UK. Sometimes it backfires, and players, such as Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos at Real Madrid, become publically fed up with his tactics. Yet there is an army of impassioned followers. Zlatan Ibrahimovich, a Swedish forward known for his acrobatic goals and bloated ego, played for Mourinho at Inter Milan in Italy. In his autobiography, Ibrahimovich described him as, “a guy I was basically willing to die for.” The Portuguese coach goes as far as to confront players’ wives and girlfriends to make sure his men are happy, and text former players going through a rough time, according to Lewis.
Amid all the personal touches, he’s not afraid to dust off his iron fist and remind his co-workers who’s the boss. No matter how illogical the act appears from the outside looking in. This past January, Mourinho sold one of the team’s brightest young players named Juan Mata. The 25-year-old Spanish midfielder, Chelsea FC’s player of the year the last two seasons, was shipped to arch nemesis Manchester United in exchange for around $50 million. Time will tell whether or not that move proves Mourinho is still “The Special One” as a coach. To the media, though, he’ll never lose that title.
To read the full articles in Esquire UK and British GQ, click the links below.
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