Mourinho brings specialness to Madrid
The coach has been a winner everywhere and now will try to lift the Spanish giant
LOS ANGELES -- It was Jose Mourinho who anointed himself the "Special One," and if it seemed an arrogant proclamation, it also turned out to be most prescient.
The enigmatic Portuguese manager's success the past seven seasons, and the aplomb with which he has gathered trophies, has made him the game's one true superstar coach, as celebrated as the biggest names on his star-studded teams, almost certainly more so.
He has guided Portugal's FC Porto, England's Chelsea FC and Italy's Internazionale to heights either unprecedented or last met eons earlier, and now he has taken on an assignment as massive as his ego and his desire.
Mourinho won't be able, as he has been in his three previous posts, to exceed expectations at Real Madrid, a global giant that demands to win -- league, cup and Europe -- every year. The Merengues have never achieved the "treble," and nobody realistically believes they will accomplish it over the next season, but if anyone can work miracles, well, they've got the man who can.
"I know that in the DNA of Real Madrid, they want to win everything in the first season," Mourinho, 47, told Portuguese daily sports newspaper Record earlier this week. "I like that pressure."
He's taking his first steps toward that in Southern California, his favorite preseason destination, and on Saturday will guide Real Madrid against the Galaxy in a friendly that just might fill the Rose Bowl. Ticket sales were approaching 70,000 through Thursday.
Mourinho, who made the move to Real Madrid in May, just days after winning the UEFA Champions League with Inter Milan, has prospered everywhere he has worked though a modern approach to the game. His attention to detail, his meticulous analysis of his team and of opponents, his understanding of how everything surrounding the game impacts the game -- all are unparalleled. He's a master psychologist who breeds uncommon chemistry within his teams, then uses the media to get inside his foes' heads.
It has made him a controversial figure, complete with feuds with Manchester United's Alex Ferguson (who now says he's a fan of Mourinho's) and with Italian coaches Carlo Ancelotti and Claudio Ranieri, whom he battled while leading Inter to its fourth and fifth successive Serie A titles the past two seasons.
Piero Chiambretti, a talk-show host on Italian television, once noted the difference between Mourinho and God was that God didn't believe he was Mourinho.
Ancelotti, who was in charge of cross-stadium rival AC Milan before taking charge at Chelsea last summer, ridiculed Mourinho in his autobiography as the "Great Commander," "King of the Media," "High Lord Specialness" and "His Mourinhoness," comparing himself to Jesus.
Mourinho's response: "Even Jesus isn't loved by everybody."
Mourinho grew up with the game -- his father, Felix, was a goalkeeper who played one game with Portugal's national team and later was a coach in the country's top division -- and demonstrated as a teen the qualities that have made him so successful.
"When he was 15 or 16, he told me he wanted to be a manager," Felix Mourinho told the Sunday Mirror newspaper six years ago. "He started to watch the teams we were going to play and prepare reports. ... He began very early to deal with tactics and systems of play."
Mourinho, a defender, recognized he had no future as a player, so he started working with the youth teams at hometown club Vitoria Setubal, was an assistant at Estrela da Amadora, then volunteered as an interpreter when English coaching legend Bobby Robson became Sporting Lisbon's coach in 1992. Mourinho impressed Robson and was soon asked to scout upcoming opponents.
"He'd come back and hand me a dossier that was absolutely first class," Robson told Patrick Barclay, author of "Anatomy of a Winner," a biography of Mourinho. "As good as anything I've ever received. Here he was, in his early 30s, never been a player, never been a coach to speak of either, giving me reports as good as anything I ever got."
Scott French covers the Southern California soccer scene and beyond for ESPNLA.com.
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Mourinho followed Robson in moves to FC Porto and Barcelona, then started his head-coaching career, first at Benfica, then at Uniao de Leiria, then with Porto. In two seasons, he took Porto to two Portuguese league titles, two domestic cup championships and, in 2004, the UEFA Champions League crown.
Chelsea, a mid-level London club on the rise thanks to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich's riches, lured Mourinho to the English Premier League in 2004. And that's where he got his nickname.
"Please don't call me arrogant," he told those gathered for his introductory news conference, "but I'm European champion, and I think I'm a special one."
In his first season with Chelsea, he guided the side to its first top-tier league title in 50 years, then repeated the following year. His Blues reached the UEFA Champions League semifinals twice in three seasons.
He went to Inter Milan in 2008, becoming the world's highest-paid coach at about $16 million a year, and won the league title in his first season and the "treble" -- Serie A, Coppa Italia and the Champions League -- last spring. On a club that counted Wesley Sneijder, Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar and defenders Lucio and Maicon, Argentine midfielder Esteban Cambiasso and defender Javier Zanetti and Cameroonian forward Samuel Eto'o among its talents, the real star power was Mourinho's.
"It can't be all about Jose. It's got to be about the club and the team as well, but of course the clubs and the teams are a marvelous vehicle for him," Richard Williams, of The Guardian newspaper, said a few days after Inter's Champions League triumph. "I don't think he's enough of an egotist just to see a football team as a vehicle for the expression of his immaculate genius. Nevertheless, what he has spent the last seven years doing is proving that he is a very clever man who is probably better than anybody else in the world at the moment at manipulating a football team into doing exactly what he wants it to do on the pitch."
What is it that makes him so, er, special?
"He knew how to get into people's heads," English midfielder Frank Lampard, a star at Chelsea, told the Daily Mail newspaper. "He got into mine the moment he came. He has that air of arrogance, that confidence, and it rubs off. I have never had a manager who, while I'm standing in the shower, tells me I'm the best player in the world. He did that. I'll never forget it. So casual."
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"He knows exactly how to manage both on an individual level and for the whole team ..." Sneijder told Champions League magazine before Inter's Champions League triumph. "He will give us information nobody else can. That is the power of Mourinho."
Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas could see it immediately.
"Many people spoke of him and all of his greatness before he arrived," Casillas said this week. "All of it is true, and more. ... When Mourinho talks, people listen. When he was at Inter, when he was at Chelsea ... he has credentials nobody else has."
Real Madrid, which has won a record 31 La Liga titles and an unprecedented nine European club championships, is a very different challenge, a far bigger club than any Mourinho has coached before. He isn't fazed.
"I am Jose Mourinho, and I don't change," he said upon accepting the job. "I arrive with all my qualities and my defects. My attraction to Real Madrid is due to its history, its frustrations in recent years and its expectations to win. It's a unique club, and I believe that not to coach Real leaves a void in a coach's career.
"Luckily, I've had a beautiful career, and it makes me proud to have come here. I am very enthusiastic. I want my players to think that way. The beauty is not so much to train or play at Real, but to win at Real Madrid."
Scott French writes the "Football Futbol Soccer" blog for ESPNLosAngeles.com.