The time has come for Europe’s most divisive elite manager to build something that stands as more than a monument to his own achievement.
The knockout stage of the Champions League returns this week and, with it, the theatre that Jose Mourinho relishes the most.
His triumphs in the competition have doubled as two of the defining moments of a phenomenal career. Shocking Europe with Porto in 2004 made him ‘The Special One’, while returning to the summit with Inter in 2010 established him as the greatest managerial winner of his generation.
Even some of the failures along the way have enhanced the Mourinho cult; Chelsea’s close and controversial semi-final tussles with Liverpool in 2005 and 2007 did more than anything to provoke the enduring animosity with Rafa Benitez. Also at Real Madrid, the two-legged war with Pep Guardiola that formed part of four toxic Clasicos in 17 days in 2011 forever etched him into the Catalan mindset as Barcelona’s most hated enemy.
Win or lose, Mourinho has been one of the Champions League’s key protagonists over the past decade. Only he and three other managers – Benitez, Guardiola and Sir Alex Ferguson – who have coached more than 25 knockout matches boast a win percentage of at least 50 per cent (Carlo Ancelotti’s record is 49%).
Mourinho belongs among the elite, and history is calling again in 2015. Victory with Chelsea would give him a peerless record of Champions League triumphs with three different clubs, as well as ticking a box that has remained at the back of his mind since he first departed Stamford Bridge in September 2007.
But as satisfying as that outcome would be for all involved, the one remaining question mark hanging over Mourinho’s managerial legacy cannot be answered by anything he achieves this season.
We are talking, of course, about dynasties. Many brilliant managers win trophies, but the true greats invariably go further and help build something at a club that stands as more than simply a monument to their own achievements.
The scale of Ferguson’s contribution to United transcended 20 years of domination, though the longevity alone was enough. He recast the values and expectations of an already massive club in line with his own and was rewarded with a named stand and statue in his honour. Arsene Wenger, no match for Mourinho in the simple terms of building a winning team, will one day be awarded similar honours for doing the same at Arsenal.
You might call it an English footballing phenomenon, and certainly no coach of Europe’s other major clubs has enjoyed comparable longevity. But Ancelotti will always be associated with Milan after winning two European Cups under Arrigo Sacchi as a player and two Champions League titles as a coach. Guardiola, meanwhile, provided a literal and philosophical link back to Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team and re-established Barcelona’s unique identity as the envy of the world by building a side widely regarded as one of the greatest of all time.
Mourinho’s lack of an elite playing career meant he had no such pre-ordained link to a club when he embarked on management, and nothing since has changed the dynamic. He is adored for historic achievements by fans of Porto, Chelsea and Inter, but all the glory came with the impression of a man passing through, barely pausing to enjoy the spoils before darting off to the next conquest.
There is also a sense, made stronger with every swift departure, that Mourinho’s warring nature necessitates a nomadic career; that for all the trophies, many are eventually happy to wave goodbye to the relentless external posturing and internal politics. It is this reputation that supposedly tipped Barcelona in favour of appointing Guardiola in the summer of 2008, and convinced Ferguson that David Moyes was the safer choice as his United successor five years later.
Mourinho, then, has a point to prove, and where better to prove it than at Chelsea, a club fondly familiar with his ways and undermined by managerial instability and a lack of long-term strategy ever since his first spell in charge.
The timing appears right for both parties. Financial Fair Play has introduced some long overdue common sense to the corridors of power at Stamford Bridge, while Mourinho is saying all the right things about laying down roots and taking his share of responsibility for youth development. Wherever you look, there is an encouraging unity of purpose.
He is also in charge of one of the most dynamic and talented squads in Europe, well-placed to win now and in the future. Of the domestic rivals Manchester City must either refresh or rebuild soon, United remain a disjointed mess and regardless of Arsenal’s peaks and troughs, Mourinho has the measure of Wenger.
Silverware this season is a must, and a third Champions League win would be a timely and emphatic validation of an exceptional manager. But however Mourinho fares, it would be a shame if trophies earned in a second spell at Stamford Bridge were considered no more than feathers added to an already well-plumed cap