Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Man of the Year: Jose Mourinho

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Man of the Year: Jose Mourinho

Article excerpt

Soon after arriving in England in the summer of 2004 as coach of Chelsea, Jose Mourinho held a press conference at the Holiday Inn hotel near Heathrow Airport at which, just in case they had already forgotten, he helpfully reminded the gathered journalists of his recent triumphs: of how, in successive seasons, and before he was even 41 (football managers, like politicians, are considered young until they reach their mid-forties), he had won the Uefa Cup and then the Champions League with Porto--a distinguished club, but one outside the true elite of European football. "I'm not one who comes out of a bottle," he said. "I'm a special one."

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Mourinho delights in taunting the English media; his swagger, his sense of melodrama, ever-increasing wealth, polyglot sophistication and, above all, his confidence irritate them. He knew then that they were already waiting for him to trip up and fall flat on his handsome face. That afternoon, he said that had he desired a quiet life he would have remained at home in Portugal: "Beautiful blue chair, the Uefa Champions League trophy, God and, after God, me."

We are used to hyperbole in football but, in this instance, whatever could he mean? Whatever he meant, and I wonder now if even he knew quite what he meant (his English is not as good as some would have it and his vocabulary is limited), his remark was an expression of supreme self-confidence of the kind with which we are mostly unfamiliar in England, where self-deprecation and humility have long been encouraged and the old, lingering class anxieties act as brakes on our more treacherous, self-aggrandising desires.

Mourinho's confidence is that of a man at the head of the wealthiest football club in the world, a club whose very mission, under the ownership of the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, is to become the best, a "global brand" or "franchise" surpassing even Manchester United or Real Madrid. It is the confidence of a man who has the resources to buy whoever he wishes to enhance his formidable squad of champions and who is paid as much as [pounds sterling]100,000 per week, but still takes time out to endorse anything from mobile phones to credit cards. It is the confidence of a man who as a coach is used to winning, who is defined by winning, and for whom defeat is intolerable. But it is also the confidence of a man who is his own creation--one who dared to dream what he might become and became all that he wanted to be. He is, in every sense, a man of our times, and for our times.

Born in January 1963, Jose Mourinho grew up in a large extended middle-class family in Setubal, a town 25 miles south of Lisbon. His father, Felix, was a professional footballer, a goalkeeper who played on one occasion for Portugal, and his mother, Maria Julia, was a primary-school teacher from a wealthy family. The young Jose longed to emulate his father in becoming a footballer, but he was never more than a gifted amateur, without pace or power. By the time he was 22, he knew that if he was to succeed in the game it would not be on the field of play. It would be as a coach, but as no ordinary coach. He wanted to redefine the role, to become a football technocrat: theoretician, psychologist, motivator. To this end, he went to university to study for a degree in sports science; he taught physical education in several schools; and he gained his relevant coaching badges, while all the time waiting for his chance to show that he knew and what he could do, to show that his life would not be defined by his failure as a player.

His chance came when the former England manager Bobby Robson arrived in Portugal to coach Sporting Lisbon and Mourinho became his translator. Robson would soon be capriciously sacked by Sporting, as you often are in Iberian football, where most of the chairmen are aggressively autocratic. But he wanted to stay in Portugal and--fortunately for him and, indeed, for Mourinho--he was given another opportunity at Porto; Mourinho followed him north as his translator. …

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