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Karan C | June 8, 2013

When we were young

The first Mourinho season

March 2004. A chilly, unremarkable night in Manchester. An intense game of football has been played, almost to completion. A minute to the whistle, a free kick is awarded to the trailing side. Players line up. People in the stands begin to rise out of their seats. A defiant, intrepid manager looks on as a figure stands behind the ball.

A short blast of the ref's whistle, a run up and a swing. A scramble ensues. A moment later, the back of the net bulges. The manager bolts out of his seat, races down the stands, and out along the touchline, arms aloft, even as the expressions on the two sets of players on the pitch begin to exchange grimaces for grins. Two months later, he hoists the Champions League trophy. Europe lies at his feet. Two days on, he departs for a new challenge.

ACT I: Exposition

I have top players and I'm sorry, we have a top manager. Please do not call me arrogant because what I say is true. I'm European champion, I'm not one out of the bottle, I think I am a special one.

Alex Livesey / Getty Images

If there was one thing that was clear about Mourinho the day he set foot in England, it was that he possessed a rare blend of ego and ambition. Worryingly enough for his adversaries, it was an untamable formula that propagated hunger in everyone around him.

It was obvious from the outset that Mourinho was a man of principle and method. Without taking too long to bask in the success of his Porto side, he moved swiftly to lay down the groundwork for his new tenure.

Things started on a no-nonsense note from day one. Unlike earlier seasons, where the squad was given a three day window to register for pre-season training, the players were ordered to report on a single day, over 40 of them, reserve squad members included.

During the first session, the team were handed printed copies of Mourinho's guide, an extensive document that detailed everything from reporting times to cafeteria etiquette to curfews, spelling out stiff penalties for disobedience. Better yet, as a few of the players found out to their chagrin, everything in it was interconnected, meaning any attempt at belligerence and you stuck out like a sore thumb.

At the back of the guide was a personal letter from Mourinho to each of his players. The contents varied, but for one — at the bottom of each letter was scribbled Mourinho's golden equation:

Motivation + Ambition + Team + Spirit = SUCCESS

But distributing paper profiles has seldom earned a manager the obedience of his players. The Chelsea team of then, a nascent entity, lavishly assembled and littered with egos, was much like a growing infant — only beginning to discover the purpose of its individual limbs, feeling around, wanting to touch and try everything, testing boundaries and limits.

The players realized what they had on hand — an uptight, by-the-book upstart who'd arrived in a new country, in a hurry to impose his will upon his charges, a notion they took to be a sign of inner trepidation brought upon by pressure. As such, they wasted no time in beginning to probe for chinks in his armour.

Mourinho's first example was Argentinian primadonna Hernan Crespo

Ben Radford / Getty Images

They didn't have to look too long to be disabused of any notion that their new boss would be a pushover, however. A solid uppercut was delivered to their collective egos when Mourinho decided to make his first example. Hernan Crespo, the resident primadonna, signed from Inter a year ago by Claudio Ranieri, had been a difficult proposition for the Italian. He openly flouted team rules, frequently bringing his poodle to training, violating a rule that banned pets from training premises - imposed after an earlier incident where Cudicini's rottweiler had bitten a groundsman.

Crespo was no stranger to controversy, once famously misplacing his paycheque in the dressing room, only for it to resurface in the back pages of a national tabloid, which embarrassingly revealed him to be the club's highest earner at £94,000 a week. His cavalier attitude was a blemish on the image of a club already attracting ire for attempting to 'buy the league'.

So when Crespo arrived for training three days late, having made no contact with the club in the meantime, everybody was eager to see how the new manager would respond. No sooner than the recalcitrant Argentinian had arrived, Mourinho ordered him to his office, and it was time for the first of many Jose 'doses'.

The striker had barely begun to draw upon a laundry list of excuses when Mourinho turned around, raised his voice, and tore into the Argentinian, accusing him of feigning ignorance and showing a lack of professionalism. When Crespo pretended not to understand, the man who had for nine years earned his bread and butter as a translator immediately switched to the Argentinian's native Spanish and demanded to be told which language Crespo would like to receive the dressing down of his life in.

Exact versions of this story vary. One tells of the commotion from his office attracting the ears of everybody in adjoining rooms, with the players practicing downstairs dropping their balls and dumbbells, gathering by the wall, leaning in to pick up on every word of the pasting being delivered upstairs. Another mentions a staff member on cleaning duty walking down the corridor with his trolley, only to stop in his tracks upon seeing a pen-stand fly out of the manager's room and hit the opposite wall.

Much like the pens out in the hallway, Crespo's ego, and with it the doubts in the minds of the players, was scattered without abandon. This incident proved to be the first step of many that transformed the Chelsea squad then from an assortment of cliques to a unified entity, greater than the sum of its parts.

Here's how one of the younger players who'd been around for Crespo's chastening described the result:

It was f***ing brilliant! He'd been taking the piss for a year... ever since he got here.

On his first delivery at the bat, Mourinho had struck something akin to a six and a grand slam rolled into one.

In no time, the once ego-riddled dressing room was cowering at Mourinho's authority and robust rule, even as their observation of his work ethic and professional commitment evoked admiration. Juan Sebastien Veron and Hernan Crespo, only months ago pulling the strings in the dressing room, found themselves shipped out to Italy on season-long loans. Suddenly, the kit man and the lady at the training compound's reception found themselves being greeted and treated with the sort of respect usually reserved for diplomats.

Perverse elements eliminated, Mourinho set about establishing his grip on the Chelsea dressing room. This was achieved over two stages. The first was the recruitment of Rui Faria and Silvino Louro, his fitness and goalkeeping coaches from Porto. The signings of Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira soon followed as Mourinho surrounded himself with familiar faces and old generals. The second was gaining the trust of Frank Lampard and John Terry, arguably the outstanding English talents in the country at that time.

The day he brought them his side was the day his audacious bid to transform the fortunes of the club began in earnest.

From here each practice, each game, each minute of your social life must centre on the aim of being champions. 'First teamer' will not be a correct word. I need all of you. You need each other. We are a TEAM.

Richard Heathcote / Getty Images

The coming months were a busy period for the new Chelsea side. New talent filtered in, notably via the signings of Drogba, Robben, and a Ranieri capture, Petr Cech. The situation on the ground changed as well.

Mourinho believed that practice must mirror what the players were required to do the day of the game. All were put through their paces as Jose and his team introduced a series of new modules; all of the training was now done with a ball.

He also brought the reserve players into closer proximity to the first team. While previously the two sets of players were used to reporting at Harlington different times of the day and week, they were now arriving, training, eating and leaving together. It was a deliberate attempt by Mourinho to show the youngsters that the step up was possible, to show them where they could be if they worked hard, and show the stars the step down, remind them where they were not so long ago, to keep them humble and close to their roots.

The team had an enormously fruitful pre-season. New relationships among the players developed. There was an unshakeable group dynamic beginning to emerge, all because of one man's insistence on bringing every element of his project, every single shade of it onto the same palette — the players, the coaches, the staff and youngsters, and making sure they were mixed exactly right.

I go inside their minds. After a few months I will control them blind folded.

Alex Livesey / Getty Images

All the players respect him. I represent a player at Porto — Pedro Emanuel — and he says no other coach he has worked under is comparable to Mourinho.

- Jorge Gama, Portuguese agent

Mourinho's influence at the club, meanwhile, continued to expand. A particular late incident that endeared him to his group occurred as follows. On the team's flight back to London after a month-long pre-season tour, Mourinho stood up, and with everyone's attention on him, said he had an announcement to make. An impromptu round of pre-season awards followed.

When he got to the last one, the 'most valuable person', the players and coaches could scarcely believe he was going to, against his stated principles, name an actual favourite. To everyone's surprise, Mourinho announced the name of the first-team kit handler, Stuart Baxter, presenting him with an expensive piece of artwork; that and the ensuing applause a fitting award for a staff back-bencher who'd quietly toiled about loading and unloading kits on buses, and carrying them while the team went about doing their thing.

Clearly, it was Jose's ability to connect with people on an intrinsic, deeply personal level that formed such a key ingredient for what further constituted the backbone of his success, motivation. Mourinho knew everything, right from his players' favourite city hangout down to their child's birthday. Inside the press room, he called himself 'Special'. Inside the dressing room, it was his players who were made to feel that way.

All eyes were on the Blues as the season began. The Special One emerged from the tunnel, stubbled and scowling, his trademark trench-coat flapping after him. The talk had been talked. Against an adversary he had, months ago, eliminated on his path to Champions League glory, Manchester United, it was time to walk the walk.

Mourinho's eager band of talented upstarts went up against Sir Alex's tempered, thoroughbred champions. When the whistle went at the end of the 90, Eidur Gudjohnsen's goal separated the sides. The Portuguese manager had drawn first blood. It was to be the first of many resounding victories over previously superior opposition.

While in his first two games, Mourinho had resorted to the then traditional English 4-4-2, he wasted no time in stamping his signature upon even the playing style of his team.

Crystal Palace were the first to feel the full force of the 4-3-3. But it was not so much the formation as it was the style Mourinho and the new Chelsea impressed upon the English game. It was a function of what he did with his resources. Teams that labored to keep unstoppable force of Drogba, Robben, Lampard and Joe Cole at bay now found a hitherto unseen proposition in the industrious and energetic duo of Paulo Ferreira and Wayne Bridge running at them with pace, creating overloads and pinning sides back to an extent they'd never have previously anticipated or accepted. A mini-evolution been installed with the introduction of wing-backs.

Months into his tenure, Jose Mourinho had changed the face and feel of the Premiership. The most staunch Premier League defences collapsed before the veritable power and raw force of Chelsea's attack. The club was racking up results and scorelines barely seen before on such a consistent basis in the league. Four-goal victories against Newcastle, Fulham, Norwich, and Charlton followed.

The Blues were pulverizing opponents left and right. Light work was made of a tricky Champions League group. Porto, PSG, and CSKA Moskva were each swatted aside in quick succession. A team that had, across decades, forgotten what being at the league's summit felt like, now cantered to the top spot with games to spare and points in hand over the chasing pack. It was only December.

But it wasn't just the league that Jose transformed. Inside the Chelsea tactics room, a paradigm shift in the approach to the game was already beginning to take place. Mourinho wasn't just methodical, he was also meticulous.

Every player was provided with a detailed four-page dossier prior to games. The first pages were same for all, with set-piece instructions and suggestions on general tactical awareness. The other half of the reports was unique to every player, explaining how they were expected to play their individual positions, who their opposite number would be and what they would try to do. The defenders even received DVDs highlighting the players they'd be marking.


At the beginning of the season, the Special One had stated:

I think I can win all the tournaments because my team has the ability to do it. We have four trophies to play for. I think we can win four. I already feel it. Opponents talk about us differently. People feel that if we don't win something this year it will be next year.

As the season progressed, the Chelsea juggernaut rolled on. Mourinho now turned his attention to the first trophy available to him: The Carling Cup. Chelsea had battled to the final, where they were pitted against a then powerful Liverpool, themselves led by their own recently arrived manager: Rafa Benitez.

A difficult match wore deep into extra time. The Blues struggled to break the Reds' defence down, with gleeful Liverpool fans wasting no opportunity to direct abuse Mourinho's way. It was then that a little-known Ivorian, one who Mourinho had stood up for all season, fighting off criticism whenever it surfaced, decided to announce his arrival. Didier Drogba struck in the 107th minute.

As he sprinted to the touchline, ripping the shirt off his chest, Mourinho turned to the Liverpool fans, the cocksure scowl returning to his features, a finger raised to his lips. One Mateja Kezman goal later, Chelsea had won the Carling Cup. It would be the first of a slew of greater successes.

Prior to the cup victory, the Blues had travelled to Camp Nou for the first of their Champions League knockout encounters. An enterprising Chelsea's hopes were put paid to when Swedish referee Anders Frisk sent Drogba off. A 2-1 defeat at the hands of Barcelona ensued.

The incident left Mourinho bristling. In the post-match formalities, the Chelsea boss cut loose with allegations of corruption and collusion. One trademark cynical tirade later the heat was back on UEFA.

Three days passed. With the Carling Cup in the bag, Mourinho now turned his attention to Europe once again.

There was no denying Barcelona had laid down the gauntlet. In beating Chelsea the way they did, Barcelona had handed Chelsea what would, for years, come to be seen as their most powerful motivation. Mourinho was first to spot it.

Us against the world. The quintessential Chelsea siege mentality was born.

As a manager, he's brilliant with his team, he's brilliant with individuals, and I think he's brilliant with the press. I know it creates a storm but he does protect his players.

-Frank Lampard

Ben Radford / Getty Images

Coaches around the Premiership realized a few things about Jose Mourinho as the months rolled on. The sturdy, tough-as-nails persona his team exhibited on the pitch apparently didn't just end there. It emanated from every aspect of his person, and so, quite naturally, extended to his press room demeanour as well.

It had only been months since he'd arrived in England, but already Mourinho was an imperious presence in the conference room. An endless repartee containing expansive metaphors, philosophy, innuendo and barbs in equal measure meant the journalists hung onto the Portuguese's every word, and managers around the league were kept on their toes.

Sir Alex's mind games paled in comparison to Mourinho's ripostes. Wenger's annoyed tittering gathered no moss. Every time a footballing personality deigned to wrongly criticize a Chelsea player, a stinging Mourinho rebuke sent them packing. Here was a man who broke the ranks to step out, firing polemics at whomever dared to persecute his players. He was a father figure. His team's spirit wouldn't be eroded at any cost. If there was anyone who could tell his men what to do, it was Jose alone.

The second leg of the Barcelona encounter arrived. Mourinho sent out a team spitting fire. For 45 minutes, a shell-shocked Barcelona wilted under a furious onslaught, as an 11 minute spell yielded three goals. Those who'd arrived expecting a blistering contest were treated to an exhibition of barnstormingly brutal counter-attacking. It was purely one-way traffic.

The match finished 4-2. A spirited Chelsea had blown Rijkaard's Barcelona away.


As the season wore on and Chelsea crept ever closer to ending their league title drought, the foibles of inexperience began to play up. Draws against City, Birmingham and Arsenal manifested in quick succession. In Europe, the side came very close to shooting itself in the foot, barely edging past Bayern 6-5 on aggregate.

At the time Mourinho was known for being a brilliant reactive manager. He was even better at being proactive. Now he made use of the latter quality. A team meeting was promptly called. At one point over the course of it, Mourinho paused, pointed to a few of his players, notably Lampard, Terry and Gallas, and in the presence of the entire team, berated them for their lackadaisical performances.

He told them that, despite having all the potential and talent in the world, they had no past successes to be proud of, no measurable legacy to look back on, and most of all, few medals to point to as validations of their achievements. He challenged them to change that. He told them to think of this every time they stepped onto the pitch and heard the Premier League anthem blare out.

An unwelcoming, cold morning in the northwest arrived. Points dropped elsewhere meant that a win at Bolton would see Chelsea crowned champions. An insipid first half from the Blues saw the hosts push the indignant would-be-champions around the pitch.

As the first half ended and the two teams trudged towards the tunnel, a none-too-pleased Mourinho waited for the last of his players to filter in before storming down the tunnel. Downstairs, Mourinho ripped into his listless stars — they hadn't seemed to have taken a hint from that meeting only days ago.

Give me the shirt! Give Steve [Clarke] the shirt! We'll go out and work harder than you lot. You are 45 minutes from this Premiership. Go out and show how much you want this championship!

Galvanized, this time his charges responded. A pair of lusty Lampard strikes later, the contest was over.

The ball was punted upfield. The referee's whistle was nearly drowned out by an impassioned chorus from the rafters. The stands erupted. As fans rose to their feet, the players sunk to theirs. 50 years of agony and longing dissolved, giving way to delirium. There were tears, handshakes, hugs. West London sunk into revelry. He had done it. They had done it. The Premier League title was Chelsea's.

The team scarcely had time to reflect upon what it'd achieved when it was time to hit the ground again, as an all-important semi-final battle with Liverpool loomed. The first leg at Stamford Bridge had ended in a tame, goalless draw.

The second leg was at Anfield, in those days an electrifying battleground with a special flavour for Champions League clashes. The ante was sure to be upped. Although both managers had arrived in England at the beginning of the season on the back of stellar credentials propped by European successes, Mourinho's heroics had, by and large, upstaged Benitez's.

Could he top wins in the league and the Carling Cup final with a Champions League victory? In the match that mattered most, the Spaniard had the last laugh. A valiant Chelsea were undone by a now-famous Luis Garcia 'phantom goal'. Mourinho's dream of making two successive Champions League finals was shattered.

The fans, still riding the wave of the title clincher from the previous week, were rudely reminded, that on the biggest stage of them all, money couldn't pay dividends unless backed by serendipity. A fairytale run had been brought to a halt by an officiating error.

An adventurous season was drawing to a close. The coup de grâce arrived, fittingly against the same adversary the Blue cavalcade had begun its imperious march eight months ago.

"The lads who've been here two, three, four years were desperate for silverware, ... we've got it by bringing in players and management who had the taste for it. With the youth and hunger from the other lads it was a great mix.

-John Terry

Ben Radford / Getty Images

Manchester United, who welcomed the new champions to Old Trafford with a guard of honour, were dispatched with clinical efficiency, a 3-1 result stamping out the last dregs of any remaining doubt as to where the muscle and momentum now lay.

A week later, Jose Mourinho, John Terry, Frank Lampard, and the rest of the Blues hoisted the English Premier League trophy.

Even an FA Cup upset against Newcastle and bowing out of the Champions League in acrimonious fashion weren't enough to dampen what Chelsea had achieved that season.

The record books lay in tatters by the time Mourinho's inspired troops finished their season-long mission. The ruthless efficacy with which a new generation of stars went about their challenge left every rival in the league panting in the aftermath of a barely survivable assault.

In an era which was quickly coming to be defined by the exploits of Arsenal and Manchester United, who had arguably changed the dynamics of the game, an adamant Portuguese rose to change the very game itself. With characteristic temerity, he had upset the established order. The imprint he'd leave behind would endure for seasons to come.

A baton had changed hands. A new giant had risen, one that had proven hitherto impossible to quell, and would perhaps remain, for years to come. The balance of power had shifted. And at the helm of it all was a Portuguese man. An agitator, he did what his kind do best.

About the Author

23, political strategist, India.

Can be found on twitter at @MeteorMash7