Jose Mourinho’s time at Chelsea made him the ‘Special One’. However, his success at the club tells only half the story.
The Portuguese arrived in the Premier League back in 2004 off the back of his astonishing Champions League success with Porto. As one of the brightest and most flamboyant managers in Europe, Mourinho was just the man to lead Roman Abramovich’s expensive band of Premier League Galacticos.
Success was immediate. In 2005 Mourinho guided his side to a domestic treble. He repeated his Premier League success the following year, before an FA Cup and League Cup double followed in 2007.
While the silverware cabinet steadily filled up, rumours of unrest swirled through the hallways of power at Stamford Bridge.Russian owner Abramovich had made no secret of his desire for Europe’s biggest club prize, the Champions League. Despite Chelsea’s domestic success, Mourinho had been unable to repeat his heroics with Porto and tensions mounted at the club.
Mere weeks into the 2007/08 season, Mourinho departed the club by mutual consent. It appeared that manager and owner had finally had enough of each other.
While the Portuguese headed to Italy and Inter Milan, where he secured another Champions League title, Chelsea began what can only be described as a cut-throat campaign of managerial instalments.
The relatively unknown Avram Grant stepped in to replace Mourinho, where he oversaw the club’s first barren campaign since Abramovich’s first season as owner.
The Israel native was just the first in a list of six managers that were hired and fired over the course of the next five seasons as the Chelsea boss searched for glory.
Names like Luis Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink, Andre Villas-Boas, Carlo Ancelotti and Rafael Benitez all tried but it was interim manager and former player Roberto Di Matteo who, having taken over from Villas-Boas in March of the 2011/12 season, finally delivered the Champions League.
Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge for a second spell in 2013, where he secured another Premier League crown in 2015, Chelsea’s first since Ancelotti delivered the title back in 2010.
However, following a less than stellar start to the 2015/16 season, a sullen-looking Mourinho once again sparked rumours of unrest and, by December, the Special One was gone again.
As Chelsea turned to Hiddink once more to see out the remainder of the season, Mourinho disappeared from the managerial map.
While critics, pundits and fans wondered if the Special One was not so special after all, his legacy at Chelsea suggested otherwise.
The rate at which Abramovich has gone through managers is simply staggering. Despite the successes, of which there have been many, fans have seen no less than twelve managers in charge since the Russian took over in 2003.
Of these, only Mourinho and Ancelotti have lasted more than twelve months at the helm. While Ancelotti managed to oversee 109 games in charge, Mourinho recorded 321.
In what is clearly a difficult environment, Mourinho has shown that despite the challenges, he has far and away been Chelsea’s most resilient and successful manager under Abramovich.
Even now, rumours of unhappiness are swirling around current manager Antonio Conte. Despite securing another Premier League title last term, the Italian is restless in London and has already hinted of a return home.
Based on the evidence of the past decade, history could well repeat itself before long.
So what does all of this say about Mourinho?
His successes with Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid have made him one of the most decorated managers in Europe. His self-appointed ‘Special One’ tag is more than merited when reviewing his results.
However, can it also be suggested that when compared to his managerial counterparts at Chelsea, most of whom are world-renowned and similarly sought-after, Mourinho stands head and shoulders above them all?
Despite the rigours and stresses applied at Stamford Bridge, he withstood the pressure three times longer than his nearest counterpart and delivered consistently throughout.
Now at Manchester United, he has continued to absorb the pressures and expectations of a big club striving to reclaim greatness.
His nonchalant and uncompromising attitude swatted away criticisms in his first season in charge and despite a disappointing domestic campaign, he delivered United’s first Europa League title and with it Champions League football for this term.
Having re-shaped the squad to his liking, jettisoning many of the signings of recent seasons and spending big on some of the top names in Europe, United now find themselves at the summit of the Premier League for the first time in half a decade.
Where other top names may have been distracted by rumours and poor form, the Portuguese has stayed the course. His ability to juggle big egos, trust in his players’ abilities and coax the best out of each, for the greater good of the team, now once more sees United as a genuine force in Europe.
Under Sir Alex Ferguson, United were never beaten until the final whistle blew. So many times they delivered in the last quarter of a game. So many times they steamrolled opponents with displays of utter genius.
Now, after what was an agonising wait for fans, United are back doing the same again under Mourinho. With a new squad but with a similar swagger, fans can see all the same hallmarks of a winning squad.
Gone are the fears that their beloved club was set for a similar fate as the post-golden era at Liverpool. Mourinho has not only stopped the rot, he has broken new ground and transformed United into winners once more.
Jose Mourinho is still the Special One. Special for his successes, but perhaps even more importantly, special for his ability to deliver in spite of the pressures placed upon him.
Of all the signings since Ferguson’s departure, the Ibrahimovichs, Lukakus, Pogbas, Baillys and Matics, could it be that the greatest signing of them all is in fact Mourinho himself?
It’s certainly beginning to look that way.