Spare a thought for Tiago, the overlooked Chelsea - Mourinho - Atletico connection

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

Tiago was once a fixture in Jose Mourinho's Premier League-winning Chelsea side; now he gets to face his former team in a competitive match for the first time since 2009.

Tiago, oh oh oh, he comes from Portugal, he hates the Arsenal.

In a Champions League semifinal loaded with story-lines, perhaps it's understandable that Tiago has been mostly overlooked.  After all, in most circles, his name does not reverberate as much as Fernando Torres, Diego Costa, Jose Mourinho, or even Thibaut Courtois.  He is just a journeyman 32-year-old midfielder, battle-tested in all of Europe's biggest leagues, except Germany.  He is the long-haired busy body, far more likely to collect a yellow card as he is do something spectacular, whose sale was supposedly called a "big mistake" by Jose Mourinho.  He is Tiago Cardoso Mendes and he was once, for one whole season, absolutely indispensable to Chelsea.

That season was Jose's first ever at the club.  As supposedly the Steven Gerrard Plan B, 23-year-old Tiago was his sixth signing that summer; I mostly seem to recall groaning about yet another, mostly unknown foreign league import.  Little did I know he would be just the first in a line of very successful signings from Benfica over the next decade.

Featuring in 34 Premier League matches for Chelsea (49 in all competitions; both still career highs), Tiago is your classic Mourinho-type player, if we buy into the notion of a Mourinho-type player for a second: tremendous work rate, technique, vision, plus a wonder goal against Manchester United that left even José gasping for air.  The perfect complement to Lampard and Makélélé in midfield, he was Ramires with a touch, David Luiz with discipline, Meireles with consistency.  He was no Michael Essien, which is why he left after just one year, essentially swapping spots with the best midfielder in the world at Olympique Lyonnais.

In France, playing a slightly more anchoring role, he won back-to-back titles with OL.  In between those two, he also helped Portugal to the semifinals of World Cup 2006, at which point he was dropped by Scolari for whatever reason and Portugal promptly lost to a Zinedine Zidane penalty.  A year later, Tiago moved to Juventus but unlike in the Premier League and Ligue 1, he failed to establish himself in Serie A.  A few injuries, not many more appearances*, and a bizarre toilet incident later, he washed up on Atlético Madrid's shores in January 2010.

* One of those appearances did come against Chelsea, in the first leg of first knockout round of the 2008/09 Champions League, when Guus Hiddink's Chelsea saw off Juve 1-0 at Stamford Bridge.

While he was now at least getting games, he didn't necessarily win over all the fans.  But when Diego Simeone was appointed in December 2011, the pair clicked, not unlike the season with Mourinho.

"In terms of their winning mentality and the way it comes through in the work they do every day, they are not just similar, they are identical.  Simeone's mere presence on the touchline is enough to lift us. He lives every minute of the game and the energy he transmits strengthens us."

"Mourinho does the same but in a different way. He motivates you through the week building up to the game. It's perhaps more of a mental thing with him because he gets inside your head."

-Tiago; source: Independent

As the most senior non-goalkeeper in Atlético's squad (seven months older than David Villa), Tiago's role has been slowly diminishing this season.  But just like in both legs against Barcelona in the quarterfinals, he is expected to be out there tonight from the start, ready to control the midfield and show the young bucks of Mourinho's new generation just how it's done.

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